Photo Credit: The Spun
#5 Auburn may be the lowest seeded team remaining, but they aren’t the team underdog-lovers and cinderella-stans should be pulling for. That title goes to the #3 seeded Purdue Boilermakers. Yes, Purdue was co-Big Ten Champion and has a Naismith Player of the Year candidate but coming into the 2018-2019 season Purdue wasn’t supposed to be in the tournament, let alone the Elite 8.
This year was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Matt Painter’s squad, with only one returning starter and only 3 seniors on the roster. Last season’s Purdue Boilermakers were arguably the best team assembled under Matt Painter. Led by seniors Isaac Haas, PJ Thompson, Vincent Edwards, and Dakota Mathias, Purdue finished second in the Big Ten and was a trendy Final Four pick. Then Isaac Haas got injured and their season ended prematurely in the Sweet 16. With the senior core gone Purdue was primed for a reset and rebuild year that pointed to missing the tournament, with making the Elite 8 nothing but a pipe dream. Things looked to be trending that way when Purdue started the season 6-5 including an embarrassing loss to a Notre Dame team that was far from talented and was relatively depleted from injuries. Following that game, the Boilers turned into a juggernaut, losing only 3 more games the rest of the regular season.
On top of long odds, an NCAA Tournament cinderella needs a player fans and the media can latch on to. For Purdue that title belongs to Naismith Player of the Year candidate Carsen Edwards. Edwards is the motor that turns the Boilermakers’ gears. Without his near 24 points per game and clutch shooting, the Purdue season would have been in complete shambles. He’s averaging over 32 points per game in the NCAA tournament including a 42 point explosion in the second round blowout win over defending champions, Villanova. Carsen is an instant bucket and he’s carrying a team that has maybe one or two legitimate offensive threats outside of him to heights even the most optimistic Purdue fans couldn’t have imagined. Outside of Zion Williamson, Carsen Edwards is the most exciting and explosive player in this tournament.
Every good NCAA Tournament has a cinderella fans can get behind. This year’s tournament may have lacked the upsets and lower seeds advancing farther in the tournament like previous years, but Purdue is just as worthy of being called a cinderella as last year’s Loyola-Chicago team. In a year where traditional Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State are all in the Elite 8, Purdue is a team fans of the cinderella story can get behind. The Boilermakers have overcome the long odds of losing 4/5 starters from a Sweet 16 team and has an explosive and compelling player in Carsen Edwards to become a true Final 4 contender and the cinderella this tournament needed.