Who: #10 Purdue Boilermakers (21-12, 10-8 Big Ten) vs. #7 Saint Mary’s Gaels (27-5, 14-2 WCC)
When: Friday, March 16, 7:27 EST on TruTV
Where: Omaha, Nebraska
Favorite: Virtually a PK. The line opened at Purdue (-1), and has since shifted to Saint Mary’s (-1/2).
Looking ahead: The winner will face the winner of #2 Kansas vs. #15 Detroit on Sunday
Why Purdue will win: Robbie Hummel closed the Big Ten regular season on a strong note. He struggled in the Big Ten Conference tournament, but perhaps fatigue played a factor. Purdue will be coming off a full week of rest, and you have to think Matt Painter will have everyone ready to play. Purdue’s perimeter shooting, as always, will be key. Purdue does not have a true center, so expect them to be especially careful with the ball (they’re #1 in the country in turnover %) and wait for open shots. If Ryne Smith and DJ Byrd get going, it’s going to be one and done for Saint Mary’s.
Why Saint Mary’s will win: Their PG, Matt Dellavedova is a very solid player. He can score the ball, and set up his opponents for open shots. Also expect Rob Jones to play a pretty big factor in this game. He’s 6’6″, 240 lbs, and is averaging 14.8 PPG and 10.7 RPG. Purdue has trouble competing with bigs in the paint, and got consistently out rebounded throughout the season. Jones could potentially dominate the glass, and give Saint Mary’s a lot of second chance point opportunities. Another guard, Stephen Holt, has been out for about a month with a knee injury. If he comes back, it gives the Gael’s another offensive threat.
Prediction: At first blush, I thought this was a very tough match-up for the Boilermakers, and was convinced they were going to lose. I’ve since softened my stance, and I think Purdue will pull the 7/10 “upset”. The game will go down to the wire, but Purdue wins: 72-68.