Even a No. 1 seed can find areas of improvement as the NCAA Tournament begins.
Such is the case with top-seeded Purdue as it prepares to play No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson on Friday in an East Region first-round game at Columbus, Ohio.
Fairleigh Dickinson earned the matchup against the Boilermakers by virtue of their 84-61 win over Texas Southern on Wednesday in a First Four matchup at Dayton, Ohio.
Purdue (29-5) enters the tournament having won five consecutive games and their 29 wins are the second-highest total in school history.
Purdue won the Big Ten regular season crown by three games then held off Penn State 67-65 for the conference tournament title. Now the Boilermakers look for the trifecta with a run to a first-ever national championship.
This is the fourth time Purdue has earned a No. 1 seed and first since 1996.
But Purdue coach Matt Painter would like to see his team handle the ball better, a problem that cropped up late in the Big Ten regular season.
Purdue’s only rough patch came in February when they lost three of four and four of six. In losses to Indiana and Northwestern they turned the ball over 16 times. In a win over Iowa, they committed 17. In three Big Ten tourney wins, they committed just 25 total.
“The one thing that kind of bothers us is that we had a stretch in the Big Ten where we turned it over 16 or 17 times and then we go the Big Ten tournament, and we don’t turn it over,” Painter said. “From a volume standpoint, it was just the costly turnovers and how we did it. But our total turnover number was really good in the Big Ten tournament.”
Purdue is led by 7-foot-4 All-American center Zach Edey. The junior has eight games this season with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. He is sixth nationally in scoring (22.3 points) and second in rebounding (12.8).
FDU (20-15), coached by Iowa native Tobin Anderson, will be meeting up against Purdue for the second time in tournament history. In 1988, the Boilermakers were matched up against the Knights and prevailed 94-79, while also playing as a No. 1 seed.
“I’m an Iowa guy, grew up in the Midwest. I’m a Big Ten, Iowa basketball (follower). I’ve watched Purdue play,” Anderson said. “I think Matt Painter is one of the best coaches anywhere. He’s incredible. We run a motion offense. A lot of stuff we get is from Purdue, how they play.
“Yeah, I’ve seen them play a lot. They’re a special team, great coach, unbelievable program, tremendous respect for them. Love watching them play, but we’re going to go try to — let’s play on Friday night.”
Ansley Almonor led FDU with 23 points in the win over Texas Southern but the task for the 6-foot-6 forward will literally be much bigger when he and the front court try to contain Edey on Friday.
“He’s a special guy because he’s not just a big guy, he can play, got great hands,” Anderson said. “He knows how to play. It’s going to be a tall, tall task for us on Friday night.
In the moments after FDU’s First Four win, Almonor already was looking ahead.
“I never met anybody who was 7-4,” Almonor said. “I’ll try to get into his legs a little bit, because tall guys don’t like when people get into their legs. So, I’ll just take it one step at a time. We’re going to scout him and go from there.”
–Field Level Media