Utah State eyes upset of 1-seed Purdue and spot in Sweet 16 – Cache Valley Daily

Utah State players celebrate on the bench in the second half of a first-round college basketball game against TCU in the NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 22, 2024, in Indianapolis. Utah State won 88-72. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN — Utah State hasn’t exactly been in this position often. Since the NCAA Tournament moved to 64 teams in the mid-80s, the Aggies have participated in the Round of 32 just twice, with this season becoming a third instance.

But as tricky as finally getting out of the opening round was, with 10 straight defeats across 23 seasons, game only get harder the further a team gets into the tournament.

And boy does the second round bring a new rude awakening for Utah State.

Purdue, the No. 3 overall team in the country according to the AP Top 25 Poll, KenPom, the NET, just about any reputable ranking has the Boilermakers in the top three. They’re the No. 1 seed of the Midwest region and just completed a 28-point dismantling of Grambling State.

Most importantly of all, Purdue is the home of Zach Edey, the reigning AP and Naismith Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and a heavy favorite to repeat that feat again this year. The 7-foot-4 center is on his second straight season of averaging north of 20 points, 10 rebounds. This year’s averages for Edey include career-bests in points (24.6) and blocks (2.2) to go with 12.0 rebounds.

Edey’s most recent game saw him go for 30 points, 21 rebounds against Grambling State. The Tigers simply had no response to his post presence.

As hard as it may seem to say, the Aggies may not have much a response either. Grambling State may not have the multiple 7-footers USU has with Isaac Johnson and Kalifa Sakho, but even that duo of centers will look short in comparison to Edey, who pairs elite post skills with his enormous physical size.

“Sometimes you can’t [stop Edey],” Johnson said. “But I think what we can do is stop the rest of the team from doing some of the things that they do.”

The “rest of the team” for Purdue consists of numerous shooters, all of whom thrive off the gravity Edey creates. The Boilermakers have one of the highest rates of unguarded catch-and-shoot jump shots in the country and its led to them ranking second in Division I in 3-pointer percentage (40.7 percent as a team). Purdue has five players on its team that attempt at least one 3-pointer a game and shoot north of 40 percent from deep.

“They’re a tremendous offensive team. Nobody’s really stopped them all year,” Sprinkle said. “We’re going to have to hope they miss some shots and, like last night, we have to come up with those rebounds when they do. They’re too talented of a team and too well-shooting to give them second-chance points.”

When the Aggies are on offense, things don’t get a whole lot easier. Edey is a beast inside as a rim protector and that gives them confidence on the perimeter to guard opponents very close — Purdue is 42nd in the country in 3-point defense.

The one potential advantage could be Johnson, who will demand attention on the perimeter, presumably from Edey. That could open things up, assuming Purdue can’t find ways around that fairly obvious tactic Sprinkle noted that his team will have to “try and pull (Edey) out a little bit” with either shooting bigs or ball screens, but he also said they’ll need to be aggressive in going at the big man.

“You’re not going to make all of ’em, but even if you can get (Edey) to contest it and you get over the top of him, you might be able to offensive rebound on the back side if you do miss.”

Those two tactics on offense will put a big burden for winning this game on the likes of Johnson, who will need to shoot well from outside to force Purdue to adjust, but also Mason Falslev and Ian Martinez who are two key slashing guards that will look to attack Edey and challenge him at the rim.

Winning this game would be a pretty massive upset, but upsets are quite common in Purdue’s recent tournament history. As a three seed in 2022, the Boilermakers were in the Sweet 16, right on track for a big run in the Big Dance, but then fell victim to the Cinderella run of 15-seed Saint Peter’s. Then, in 2023, Purdue became just the second one seed in tournament history to lose in the first round, falling to Farleigh Dickinson

Can Utah State add to the list of upsets? Purdue isn’t exactly eager to repeat previous errors. Purdue head coach Matt Painter said “there’s no way we are looking past” Utah State.

“Everybody in the NCAA Tournament is really good. Now, when you go to that 32, everybody is that much better,” Purdue head coach Matt Painter said. “They’re a really, really good basketball team. They are well coached. This is going to be a dog fight.”

Perhaps the most descriptive stat that can be shared about this game, one that shows the steep odds and what an upset this would be for Utah State, is the fact that the Aggies are 0-11 in the NCAA Tournament when its opponent is ranked in the AP Top 25. The Aggies have never beaten a team ranked third or better in the AP Poll.

Those a pretty long odds. But it’s not like this team isn’t used to doing the impossible.

Projected Starters

Utah State: 28-6

  • G — Darius Brown (6-2, Sr.) – 12.4 points | 4.4 rebounds | 6.5 assists
  • G — Mason Falslev (6-3, Fr.) – 11.7 points | 4.5 rebounds | 2.5 assists
  • G — Ian Martinez (6-3, Jr.) – 13.0 points | 3.8 rebounds | 1.7 assists
  • F — Great Osobor (6-8, Jr.) – 17.5 points | 8.9 rebounds | 2.9 assists
  • C — Isaac Johnson (7-0, So.) – 6.3 points | 3.1 rebounds | 0.9 assists

Purdue: 30-4

  • G — Braden Smith (6-0, So.) — 12.5 points | 5.8 rebounds | 7.4 assists
  • G — Lance Jones (6-1, Sr.) — 12.1 points | 2.7 rebounds | 2.0 assists
  • G — Fletcher Loyer (6-4, So.) – 10.4 points | 2.1 rebounds | 1.8 assists
  • F — Trey Kaufman-Renn (6-9, So.) – 6.2 points | 4.1 rebounds | 1.0 assists
  • C — Zach Edey (7-4, Sr.) – 24.6 points | 12.0 rebounds | 2.1 assists

Source link

Share This Article



Related Articles