Minium: ODU's Goal Against Purdue is to Continue Conference USA's Role as a Bracket Buster

March 17, 2019
By ODU Athletics
ODU Athletics

By Harry Minium

Goal No. 1? Win the Conference USA basketball title.

Old Dominion accomplished that task in dramatic fashion, staging comeback victories over Louisiana Tech, UAB and Western Kentucky in the C-USA tournament this past weekend in Frisco, Texas.

Goal No. 2? Continue Conference USA’s role as a bracket buster.

And that will be a much tougher nut to crack.

ODU learned on Sunday that it will play third-seeded Purdue Thursday in the NCAA tournament in Hartford, Conn.

Players and coaches cheered, as did several hundred fans, when ODU heard its name called on the NCAA tournament show for the first time in eight seasons during a watch party at the Mitchum Performance Center.

The game is set for Thursday about 9:50 p.m. and will be televised by TBS.

ODU basketball players react to hearing they are being sent to Hartford, Conn. to take on Purdue. 

ODU will be a considerable underdog -- oddsmakers tabbed Purdue an early 12.5-point favorite late Sunday. Conference USA gets little respect from the NCAA tournament committee and that was again apparent as ODU (26-8) was seeded 14th.

Purdue (23-9) was ranked 13th in the last Associated Press regular-season poll and is coached by Matt Painter, who has widely been viewed as a national coach of the year candidate.

A Purdue graduate, Painter’s position was viewed as vulnerable following the 2014 season, when the Boilermakers finished 15-17. However, Purdue has claimed NCAA tournament bids in all five seasons since, and advanced to the Sweet 16 the last two seasons.

That’s just the kind of program that C-USA teams have knocked off in recent years.

 In 2015, UAB shocked fourth-seeded Iowa State.

Middle Tennessee then upset higher seeds in the next two NCAA tournaments – No. 2 Michigan State in 2016 and No. 5 Minnesota in 2017.

Then last year, Marshall stunned No. 4 Wichita State.

“We’re not going to the NCAA tournament just to be there,” said B.J. Stith, the C-USA Player of the Year, after the victory over WKU.

“Our goal is to win.”

Point guard Ahmad Caver and coach Jeff Jones watch the NCAA tournament show Sunday night. 

Both had surprisingly good seasons compared to preseason expectations.

ODU was picked third in C-USA. After losing four seniors who averaged a combined 51 points, Purdue was picked in the middle of the Big Ten.

The Boilermakers began the season with a 6-5 record, but then coasted to a share of the Big Ten title before being upset by Minnesota 75-73 in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Virginia Tech, Florida State, Michigan and Notre Dame were among the early teams to knock off Purdue.

In spite of the loss to Minnesota, CBS basketball analyst Seth Davis picked Purdue to go to the Final Four.

ODU upset No. 25 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome and rallied from a 17-point deficit to upend Atlantic 10 regular-season champion VCU in Norfolk. The Monarchs won the C-USA regular-season title, their first league title since 2011.

Purdue is led by Carsen Edwards, a 6-foot-1 junior guard from Atascocita, Texas, who averaged 23 points and will warrant mention on most All-American teams.

Edwards tailed off toward the end of the season, including a 4-of-17 shooting performance against Minnesota. Andy Katz of the Big Ten Network reported that Edwards has a tweaked back.

When asked about Edwards’ back on Sunday, Painter shrugged and said he’s not sure how bad the injury is. He said he will rely on his training staff to determine Edwards’ status for Thursday.

B.J. Stith basks in the confetti after ODU's victory over Western Kentucky in the Conference USA championship game.

In some ways Purdue and ODU are mirror images. They’re both defensive oriented and love to get physical. ODU is eighth in the nation, holding opponents to 61.2 points per game. Purdue is 51st, and surrenders just 66.5 points per game.

However, Purdue is taller than ODU. Carsen is 6-1, but every other Purdue starter is 6-6 or taller.

Purdue’s tallest player is 7-3, 250-pound sophomore Matt Haarms, who is from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. He averaged nine points and 5.4 rebounds. Point guard Ryan Cline, a 6-6 senior from Carmel, Ind., averages 11.9 points.

ODU coach Jeff Jones and Painter both said Sunday they are not familiar with their opponents and will scramble to assemble scouting reports.

"We don't know much about Old Dominion, but every team earns its way into the NCAA tournament," Painter said.

ODU point guard Ahmad Caver says the Monarchs won’t feel any pressure.

“It will be fun,” he said. “Going to the NCAA tournament is what you dream about as a basketball player.

“I’m glad the young guys get to experience it. I’m glad I get to experience it.”

So is Jones, who is taking his third school to the NCAA tournament – he previously coached at Virginia and American.

“We came into the season maybe not knowing what to expect,” Jones said. “We lost some guys from last year and had a lot of young guys come in.

“This group worked hard. But what they really did was become a team early on. That’s a tribute to the leadership of B.J. and Ahmad.

“We’re going to enjoy this. It’s going to be pretty special. We’re absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity.”

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