MILWAUKEE, Wis. – North Carolina’s 93-86 overtime upset of Baylor was concluding Saturday afternoon at the same time Purdue coach Matt Painter was addressing the media at the Fiserv Forum.
The Tar Heels’ victory over the defending national champion and top-seeded Bears left No. 3 Purdue (28-7) as the highest remaining seed in the East Region.
But Painter wasn’t about to touch that topic as the Boilermakers prepare for Sunday night’s second-round NCAA Tournament matchup against sixth-seeded Texas (22-11).
“We know how hard this game is going to be,” Painter said. “I think they’re a great defensive team. They have a great experience at the guards. They’ve taken – I think when you take a lot of transfers it takes a little bit of time, but by the end of the year you’re a great team. And they’re a great team. ”
In his first year with the Longhorns, coach Chris Beard imported six impact transfers, including three of the top five players on ESPN’s list of the nation’s best available talent.
That was enough for Texas to be ranked fifth in the Associated Press preseason poll, two spots higher than Purdue.
It didn’t all come together immediately, but there is a plenty of evidence to suggest the Longhorns have more talent than their record and seeding indicates.
Texas ranks No. 15 in the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings – one spot below the Boilermakers – and those same rankings show this could be an intriguing contrast of styles.
The Longhorns rank 14th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, allowing 91.3 points per 100 possessions. Purdue is second in the nation in offensive efficiency, trailing only No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga with 121.2 points per 100 possessions.
On paper, it’s a matchup better suited for the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight than the Round of 32, and the NCAA’s broadcast partners seem to agree. Tipoff is scheduled for prime time – 8:40 pm ET on TNT.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Beard said. “I think we’ll have to play our best game of the season, period. We have no backup plan for that. We’re not going to get through this one unless we’re hitting on all cylinders, but that’s what the NCAA Tournament is.
“You’ve got to play your best game at some point, and for us that’s definitely (Sunday) night.”
Texas is coming off a pretty strong performance in its 81-73 first-round victory against Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion Virginia Tech.
Five players scored in double figures, led by Andrew Jones with 21 points, and the Longhorns shot a blistering 64% from the field in the second half when they outscored the Hokies 47-41.
That was a welcome sight for the Texas faithful, but defense is what drives this team. That’s always been the case with Beard’s programs, including the Texas Tech team he took to the national championship game in 2019.
“As far as the Big 12, it’s a physical conference, so I’m already knowing they’re going to be very physical come (Sunday),” Purdue sophomore guard Jaden Ivey said. “We just got to be ready for it. And we’ve been in some physical battles all year, so we just got to embrace it. “
Senior guard Eric Hunter Jr. identified Indiana and Michigan State as physical defensive teams similar to the Longhorns. Painter later added Rutgers, Ohio State and Villanova to the list among Boilermakers teams have faced this season.
Purdue went 5-3 in eight combined games against those opponents, averaging 73.4 points – more than six points below its season average (79.7).
But the Boilers won four of the last five meetings – including a 75-70 decision against Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinals – and the three losses came by a combined eight points.
Ivey is likely to be a key figure. He drew seven fouls in a little over 27 minutes during the 78-56 first-round victory against Yale, going 7-of-9 from the free-throw line and finishing with 22 points.
Texas was whistled for 22 fouls in its win against Virginia Tech, and forwards Timmy Allen and Brock Cunningham fouled out. But the Loghorns’ starting guard trio of Jones, Marcus Carr and Courtney Ramey were charged with just five combined fouls – matching their total for steals.
“They’re all big, physical guards that cause issues for you, but just the freedom of movement in dribbling the basketball – especially with a guy like Jaden Ivey – that’s been the big (officiating) emphasis this year,” Painter said. “That’s So that’s the emphasis that they’ve made and they really talked about from a refereeing standpoint. So we’ll see. We’ll see if they allow two hands (on the ballhandler) or they allow that or they’re going to actually call it the way they say they’re going to call it. “
The other matchup to watch – as usual with the Boilermakers – will be in the paint. Texas has no player taller than 6-foot-9 and no starter taller than 6-7.
That can be both a benefit and a challenge for Purdue bigs Zach Edey (7-4) and Trevion Williams (6-10).
As they did against Yale when they combined for 24 points and 19 rebounds, the duo should have an opportunity to post impressive numbers in the box score.
But they’ve also got to deal with smaller and perhaps more athletic opponents on the defensive end.
Like seemingly all other things with this matchup, determining who has the advantage is a matter of perspective.
“Definitely, in my opinion, a part of Purdue’s identity is their size,” Beard said. “Coach Painter’s teams always seem to have some of the biggest players in college basketball, so all sorts of challenges with that. I think they show challenges on the other end, too, though. It goes both ways. ”