Purdue: 'It's going to be us against the world'

Brian Neubert, GoldandBlack.com staff
Gold and Black

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Most of the season, Purdue's played the favorite.

It had a number next to its name in the rankings from start to finish, played through an entire Big Ten season as one of the league's premiere teams and has been led by one of college basketball's most recognized faces, Caleb Swanigan.

It came to the point that when the Boilermakers struggled at times, it became reasonable to wonder how well they'd handled that role of kingpin, the team more likely than others to draw the best opponents can give, because of its reputation.

But for one of the few times this season and first time in a long while, Purdue may now take the floor as an underdog.

Not because the Boilermakers aren't playing well — they've moved into the Sweet 16 and have lost to just one team since Feb. 1 — but because of the challenge they've been handed.

Thursday, Midwest No. 4 seed Purdue meets No. 1 seed Kansas.

In Kansas City, about 40 miles from Lawrence.

It will be the Jayhawks' fifth game this season in the Sprint Center.

"I think we're a heck of a team and we've had a great year, but they're a great team, as well," Purdue point guard P.J. Thompson said. "They're a No. 1 seed for a reason. I think it's going to be an underdog situation, because we're playing Kansas in Kansas City, but I felt like the Iowa State game was almost a home game for them. I know we had a lot of fans there, but I saw a lot of Iowa State fans. It felt like they packed the place."

Purdue was outnumbered in Milwaukee on Saturday night, yes.

This might be an entirely different deal.

"I believe (Purdue fans) are going to do their best to be supportive," forward Vincent Edwards said, "… but it's going to be us against the world, or that's how it's going to feel on that court. We have to do a good job sticking together, talking to each other and keeping our composure."

Purdue won the Big Ten this season because it was able win closely contested games in difficult environments. Maryland might have been the game that turned the Boilermakers' season in a championship direction. Michigan State was one of the most impressive wins Purdue's recorded in recent seasons, but a game where the Boilermakers had to dominate in the final minutes to win as comfortably as they did. Indiana and Ohio State didn't have great seasons by their standards, but that didn't make Purdue's narrow wins in Bloomington and Columbus, respectively, particularly easy.

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Purdue points to these experiences as reasons to be confident heading into the regional semifinal. It points to its experiences — not all of them positive — of the past two seasons as making those experiences possible.

"Our experiences from the past two years have shaped us for this moment," guard Dakota Mathias said. "We're just excited to get there and play."

Purdue took steps this season, clear reflections of growth in important areas.

It struggled at times to win close games last season. This year, it won enough of them to win a Big Ten title.

NCAA Tournament success eluded the Boilermakers the past two seasons. Now, after victories over Vermont and Iowa State in Milwaukee, they're back in the Round of 16 for the first time since 2010.

Composure has mattered. Developing it took time, but Purdue's reaping the benefits now.

"I think a lot of our guys, we thrive on the road. We like the hatred, people booing us and stuff like that," Mathias said.

"We've won in a lot of hostile environments and a lot of big-time places. This isn't going to be any different (an environment)."

While NCAA Tournament environments typically are balanced by venue size, geographic distance and ticket allocation, this might be set up nicely for the Jayhawks to play in front of as one-sided a crowd as there can be in this event.

For Purdue, the formula has been the same all year no matter the venue, starting with limiting turnovers and rebounding.

Matt Painter said the offensive end will loom large for Purdue, because it must keep Kansas out of transition, same as has been the case for almost every opponent this season.

"We're just going to play the game," Thompson said. "You can't control who you're playing, but you can control what you do. We're going to do the same things we've done all year — stick to our offensive and defensive principles. Obviously we're going to have a scheme specifically for Kansas, but we're going to do what we did all year. That's what's gotten us here, doing what Coach Paint wants us to do."

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