Purdue begins another NCAA tourney atop the Midwest Region after losing to a 16-seed a year ago

Purdue coach Matt Painter, reigning AP player of the year Zach Edey and the rest of the Boilermakers have had to carry with them all season the stink of becoming the second No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

They can truly put that loss to Fairleigh Dickinson behind them when they play Montana State or Grambling State.

The Boilermakers once again earned a No. 1 seed on Sunday, one day after losing to Wisconsin in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and will begin their trek toward their first Final Four appearance since 1980 in nearby Indianapolis facing the winner of the First Four game between the Big Sky champs and the champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

“I don’t think we’re really worried about what happened last year,” the Boilermakers’ Braden Smith said. “We’re focused on now. That’s in the past. I’ve said it multiple times, they beat us that day, and they played better than us, and I don’t think it will happen again. We’re all super excited and ready for this upcoming week.”

If the Boilermakers get through their opening game, the path forward is pockmarked with high-profile programs.

They could face fourth-seeded Kansas or No. 5 seed Gonzaga, two teams accustomed to much better seeds this time of year, and a trip to the Final Four could involve beating second-seeded Tennessee or No. 3 seed Creighton.

The Vols lost to Mississippi State in the quarterfinals of the SEC tourney and the Bluejays fell to Providence in the same round of the Big East tourney, and two teams that accomplished much this season suddenly have a lot to prove.

“Understand that there’s no more fixing. It’s done,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “You got to get it done right now.”

Perhaps the biggest question mark involves the Jayhawks, who were the preseason No. 1 and got off to a tremendous start behind Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson. They struggled once conference play began, when Kevin McCullar Jr. began having knee trouble, and then lost their 7-foot centerpiece to a shoulder injury in a 30-point loss to Houston a week ago.

Bill Self played without both in the Big 12 Tournament, where Kansas was waylaid by Cincinnati by 20 in the second round, but the Hall of Fame coach expects Dickinson and McCullar to practice Monday and be ready for the NCAA Tournament.

“We have struggled of late. But we haven’t been whole yet, either,” said Self, whose team matched its worst seeding since he took over the program before the 2003-04 season. “If we can get whole we can play with anybody. We’ve proven that.”

I’LL SHOW YOU

Will Wade has McNeese dancing for the first time since 2002 in his first year at the school. He previously led VCU and LSU to the NCAA tourney before the Tigers fired him in March 2022 amid an investigation into recruiting violations.

Wade missed the first 10 games of this season and was given a two-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA, but that didn’t stop the Cowboys from going 30-3 and winning the Southland to earn the No. 12 seed and a first-round game with Gonzaga.

OFF THE BUBBLE AND IN

Virginia was among the handful of teams teetering on the NCAA Tournament bubble after Tony Bennett’s crew was beaten in overtime by eventual ACC tourney champ North Carolina State. The Cavaliers got in as the No. 10 seed in the Midwest, but they will have to earn a matchup with seventh-seeded Texas by beating Colorado State in a First Four game.

FAMILIAR FACES

If Montana State can get through Grambling State — making its first NCAA Tournament appearance — and somehow upset Purdue, the Bobcats could face eighth-seeded Utah State. The Aggies, who would need to beat No. 9 seed TCU, are coached by Danny Sprinkle, who led Montana State to the tourney each of the past two seasons.

FAIRY TALES HAPPEN

Sixth-seeded South Carolina, led by second-year coach Lamont Paris, is back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017, when the No. 7 seed Gamecocks made a surprising Final Four run. It will open against No. 11 seed Oregon.

That’s nothing compared to the stunner Saint Peter’s pulled with its Elite Eight run in 2022. And just like then, when it started off by beating Kentucky, the Peacocks are the No. 15 seed and will open against an SEC opponent in Tennessee.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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