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Bracketology: One stat makes clear that Purdue is the national championship favorite

Vincent Edwards is a key part of what might be the finest frontcourt in Division I. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)

Over the previous 10 seasons, just three teams finished in the top five of the efficiency rankings in both offense and defense: 2008 Kansas, 2010 Duke and 2016 Villanova. The common thread running through the three is not difficult to identify.

All three of those teams won the national championship, which is the sort of thing certain to boost a ranking that includes NCAA tournament performance. For example, Villanova was 15th in adjusted offensive efficiency and seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency heading into the 2016 postseason. It finished third in offense and fifth in defense.

The point of this brief history lesson is to take note of a team that’s already in the top five in both categories a week or so past the midpoint of the regular season (No. 4 offense, No. 3 defense). That would be Purdue, which hasn’t lost since Thanksgiving and has won 10 of its last 11 games by double-digit margins.

The Boilermakers (19-2, 8-0 Big Ten) rightfully check in as a No. 1 seed in this week’s Washington Post bracket projection, and there’s a good chance they stay there until Selection Sunday. The relative dearth of quality Big Ten teams is part of the equation, but a much more important variable is how well Matt Painter’s lineup fits together.

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Carsen Edwards has become one of the country’s top guards as a sophomore. Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson are dangerous perimeter threats. Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas are a potent force in the paint. Toss in 7-foot-3 freshman Matt Haarms as an exceptional rim protector off the bench, and Purdue might have the finest frontcourt in Division I.

The Boilermakers might not prove to be the best team in the country, though they have developed into Painter’s best bunch despite the departure of Caleb Swanigan after last season. At the very least, Purdue’s combination of balance and strength at both ends of the floor suggests it will take an exceptional performance for anyone to get the better of it in the postseason. The Boilermakers aren’t unbeatable, but they’re highly unlikely to produce a dud, either.


Field notes

Last four included: Providence, Southern Methodist, Houston, Syracuse
Four on the outside: Boise State, St. Bonaventure, Maryland, Georgia
Next four on the outside: UCLA, Louisiana State, N.C. State, Central Florida
Moving in: Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Bethune-Cookman, Canisius, Hawaii, Kansas State, Loyola Chicago, Missouri, Providence, Southern Methodist, Wagner
Moving out: Boise State, Cal State Fullerton, Drake, Iona, Jackson State, Louisiana State, North Carolina A&T, Robert Morris, St. Bonaventure, UCLA
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (9), Southeastern (8), Big East (7), Big 12 (7), American Athletic (4), Big Ten (4), Pac-12 (3), West Coast (2)


Latest bracket projection

(1) BIG EAST/Villanova vs. (16) IVY/Penn – NORTHEAST/Wagner winner
(8) WEST COAST/Saint Mary’s vs. (9) Florida State

Boise, Idaho
(5) Kentucky vs. (12) SUMMIT/South Dakota State
(4) Clemson vs. (13) COLONIAL/William & Mary

(3) Michigan State vs. (14) AMERICA EAST/Vermont
(6) Arizona State vs. (11) Houston – Providence winner

(7) ATLANTIC 10/Rhode Island vs. (10) Arkansas
(2) West Virginia vs. (12) METRO ATLANTIC/Canisius

There weren’t many teams that helped themselves more in the last week than Saint Mary’s (though Kansas State also stands out). The Gaels’ victory at Gonzaga is a validating performance and provides some wiggle room as they navigate the WCC regular season schedule. … Clemson hangs in as a No. 4 seed, but losing Donte Grantham to a torn anterior cruciate ligament is a crushing development for a team that isn’t especially deep. …
You can make a case by the numbers that Michigan State is a bit overseeded here. … Don’t look now, but Providence has won four in a row. Ed Cooley continues to find ways to keep the Friars relevant. … Would’ve been fun to shoehorn Michigan into the 7-10 game and make it a “John Beilein, This Is Your Life” subregional in Pittsburgh. The Wolverines’ coach had previous stops at West Virginia and Canisius.

(1) Duke vs. (16) SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC/Arkansas-Pine Bluff – ATLANTIC SUN/Florida Gulf Coast winner
(8) Texas Christian vs. (9) Butler

(5) Tennessee vs. (12) Southern Methodist – Syracuse winner
(4) Ohio State vs. (13) MISSOURI VALLEY/Loyola of Chicago

(3) Oklahoma vs. (14) OHIO VALLEY/Belmont
(6) Wichita State vs. (11) Missouri

(7) Miami vs. (10) Southern California
(2) Xavier vs. (15) PATRIOT/Bucknell

Sure, why not have Duke and Butler possibly meet in the NCAA tournament, even if the stakes couldn’t possibly be higher than the last time around. … TCU helped itself immensely with its victory over West Virginia on Monday. … SMU might be 2-5 away from Moody Coliseum, but those victories came at Wichita State and against Arizona in the Bahamas. Not bad. …

Wichita State takes a tumble after dropping consecutive league games for the first time since 2013. Of course, that worked out okay for the Shockers. … Miami vs. Southern Cal is the matchup everyone assumed would happen in the Diamond Head Classic title game. … If not Xavier on the No. 2 line, then who? The same question could be asked for fellow projected No. 2 seeds North Carolina and West Virginia as well.

(1) BIG TEN/Purdue vs. (16) BIG WEST/Hawaii
(8) MOUNTAIN WEST/Nevada vs. (9) Texas

San Diego
(5) Louisville vs. (12) WESTERN ATHLETIC/New Mexico State
(4) Florida vs. (13) SOUTHERN/East Tennessee State

(3) Texas Tech vs. (14) HORIZON/Wright State
(6) Seton Hall vs. (11) CONFERENCE USA/Middle Tennessee

(7) Gonzaga vs. (10) Alabama
(2) North Carolina vs. (15) BIG SOUTH/Radford

In the NCAA’s new team sheets, Purdue has six victories against teams in Quadrant 1 (i.e. triumphs over the top 30 at home, top 50 on neutral floor and top 75 on the road). Only Kansas matches that total. … Florida jumps up a bit from last week. That’s partially a function of winning at Kentucky and partially a matter of correcting a previous underseed. …

Losses at Texas and Iowa State revive the old questions of whether Texas Tech can win on the road. Of course, the Red Raiders have handled Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse already this month. … How does setting up a possible rematch of last year’s title game in the round of 32 sound?

(1) ATLANTIC COAST/Virginia vs. (16) MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC/North Carolina A&T
(8) Creighton vs. (9) Kansas State

Boise, Idaho
(5) AMERICAN ATHLETIC/Cincinnati vs. (12) MID-AMERICAN/Buffalo
(4) SOUTHEASTERN/Auburn vs. (13) SUN BELT/UL Lafayette

San Diego
(3) PAC-12/Arizona vs. (14) BIG SKY/Montana
(6) Michigan vs. (11) Notre Dame

(7) Texas A&M vs. (10) Marquette
(2) BIG 12/Kansas vs. (15) SOUTHLAND/Stephen F. Austin

See, Virginia fans? There’s no bad memories embedded in this week’s bracket. … Cincinnati’s seeding is going to be interesting to monitor, possibly right up to Selection Sunday if the Bearcats dominate the American. For what it’s worth, they have three victories over this projected field — Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Buffalo and SMU. …

Arizona’s a bit like Michigan State — perhaps a little overseeded here, but there’s a good chance the Wildcats lap the field in the Pac-12, post a gaudy record and end up with a solid seed in the West. … With so many SEC teams on the Nos. 4 and 5 lines, Texas A&M got bumped up to a No. 7 seed to avoid a potential conference rematch any sooner than was necessary.

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