Just over a month ago, I watched a short-handed Notre Dame team hang 88 on Purdue (52 in the second half) in a fairly easy 88-80 win in the Crossroads Classic. The loss was Purdue's fifth of the season and it left them 0-for-4 in non-conference matchups with Power 5 opponents. After losing four seniors and players struggling in new roles, it appeared Purdue's NCAA Tournament status was on shaky ground.
Fast forward to late January - seven wins in eight games later - and Purdue is one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Boilers captured another solid road win, albeit against a reeling Ohio State team, last night in Columbus to run their conference record to 6-2. That sets he stage for a huge showdown with Big Ten leader Michigan State, the lone unbeaten in the league at 8-0.
Instead of making the NCAA Tournament, the question has become: Can Purdue actually win the Big Ten?
Purdue now has Top 15 ranks in KenPom (8), NET (10), and RPI (14) and their second-half Big Ten slate is far easier. Purdue's only remaining game against a team that currently has a winning Big Ten record is Maryland (2/12), and they don't have return games against Iowa, Wisconsin, or Michigan. Compare that to Michigan State, who still has to go at Iowa (tonight), at Purdue (Sunday), at Wisconsin (2/12), and at Michigan (2/24).
It may still be a leap to put Purdue in the conversation with Michigan State and Michigan, who are also viewed as national championship contenders, but a win Sunday at Mackey over the Spartans would have to give them a seat at the table.