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Purdue Boilermakers: Are They For Real?

   by Matt Fargo - 02/14/2008

Michigan St., Indiana, Ohio St. and Wisconsin came into the season being the four teams that were going to fight it out for the Big Ten title. While all four remain at the top of the standings, they are all looking up at a team that has no business sitting in first place. Or does it? Purdue is coming off a solid 22-12 campaign last year but it lost its two best players, David Teague and Carl Landry and the Boilermakers were picked to finish as low as 8th by certain publications so what they have accomplished is simply incredible.

Purdue came into this year with the 2nd ranked recruiting class in the Big Ten highlighted by talented freshmen E’Twaun Moore and Scott Martin so the future was looking very bright, just not this soon. This season, four of the top fiver scorers are freshmen and the starting lineup consists of one junior, one sophomore and three freshmen. Along the way, this group has done many things that other teams could not do and that is saying a lot considering Purdue has put some very good teams on the court in the past.

The Boilermakers are coming off back-to-back victories over Wisconsin and Michigan St., two games that many did not give them a chance. The win over the Badgers was the first ever win at the Kohl Center as Purdue was 0-9 in its first nine visits there. After defeating Michigan St. on Tuesday, Purdue went to 11-1 in the Big Ten, its best ever start in conference play. That win by the Boilermakers also capped the first time they have ever has won consecutive games against top ten opponents in school history.

While the freshman class was pegged as one of the best, it has been an all-around effort and not just one or two players making the difference. That makes the Boilermakers even more dangerous since they have options everywhere. The Boilermakers have seven players averaging 6.0 or more ppg this season and nine players averaging 16 or more minutes per game. 26 times this season, seven different players have scored 15 points or more in a game. That is very impressive.

Looking at what it has accomplished may come as a surprise considering Purdue has not exactly been dominating. The Boilermakers are actually getting outshot on the season and its assist/turnover ratio is right at breakeven at 1.00. Those two factors normally point to a very average team but the Boilermakers are able to keep winning by not excessively being bad at any one particular aspect. Sometimes being all-around average is better than excelling in some areas and stinking it up in others.

Purdue started the season playing some inconsistent basketball, going 7-4 in its first four games including an embarrassing home loss against Wofford. The Boilermakers followed that up with another bad performance at Iowa St. but since then, it has gone 13-1 with the one loss coming at Michigan St. by just three points, a game in which the Boilermakers overcame a 16-point deficit to tie it with less than two minutes to play. Overall, four losses have been by three points and the five losses have been by an average of 4.4 ppg.

What can we expect the rest of the way from Purdue? Seeing that the toughest part of the schedule has been concluded, the Boilermakers are in the driver’s seat for the most part. Both of Wisconsin's league losses this season have been to Purdue, which gives the Boilermakers the tie-breaking edge. Remaining on the schedule are last place Northwestern twice, 10th place Michigan, 5th place Minnesota and 4th place Ohio St. The Buckeyes are the only of the bunch that has a winning conference record.

However, there is one game left that can go a long way for a lot of teams. Purdue travels to Indiana this coming Tuesday for their one and only meeting this season. Indiana is a game and a half back and a Purdue win in Bloomington should all but lock up the regular season title barring a monumental collapse. A loss and we once again have a wide open race. Even then, with the tough remaining schedules for the Hoosiers and Spartans, who still play each other twice, the Boilermakers would still have the inside track.

The first meeting against Northwestern takes place this Saturday and Purdue needs to very weary of a lookahead. The Boilermakers are 6-1 ATS on the road this season and they have covered 10 of their last 11 games so they are one of the most profitable teams over the last month. The problem now is that the window is close to being shut if it isn’t already. The soft lines won’t be there anymore following back-to-back wins over Wisconsin and Michigan St. and for the first time, Purdue could be overvalued.

Purdue is not a team that has blown out many opponents as of their 20 wins, 12 have come by single digits and it has a scoring margin of just +7.7 ppg. Once these lines do start getting larger, the Boilermakers might not have what it takes to win by big margins. Come postseason time, can freshmen lead this team a long way? When you have Matt Painter as head coach who took Southern Illinois to a 25-5 record in his lone year as head man there, anything is possible.

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