The defending national champions come to Mackey Arena tonight.
That alone would be more than enough to get Purdue excited for this game, but there is the added element that No. 5 Virginia, which won the first NCAA title in program history last season, clawed its way through the Boilermakers on their way to that championship.
The Purdue-Virginia matchup in the 2019 Elite Eight, in which the Boilermakers came excruciatingly close to winning in regulation before a miracle floater at the buzzer saved the Cavaliers and propelled them to an overtime win, will hang over tonight's rematch in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
“I think the Purdue game, (is the best) as a player, a coach, and an assistant, maybe that I've been a part of as a far as a high-level, elite game,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said before this season began. “For what was at stake to get to a Final Four, not just how it ended, but from start to finish.
“The dramatics at the end just added to it. That was probably the best one ever.”
Despite all of the painful memories that will likely come flooding back for Purdue players, coaches and fans when the orange and blue run onto Keady Court tonight, these are vastly different teams than the ones that met last season. Carsen Edwards, who had 42 points against the Cavaliers, is in the professional ranks, as are Virginia's DeAndre Hunter, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome.
Purdue coach Matt Painter said that even though the teams played less than nine months ago, there is likely little to learn from that game film because there has been so much change on both rosters. The key, in Painter's mind, is to run your own system as efficiently as possible, an area where Virginia has excelled.
“They've been the king of that in college basketball,” Painter said of the Cavaliers. “Their roster turned over maybe more than anybody's. ... They lost three guys to the draft early, which is really hard. ... You have to give them credit for what they've been able to do defensively.”
Despite losing Guy, the team's top scorer, and Hunter and Jerome, a pair of elite defenders, the Cavaliers are 7-0 this season.
Once again, the defense is frightening, giving up a national-low 40.3 points per game and holding opponents to 28.8% shooting.
The Cavaliers are only averaging 55 points on offense, but that is because they play at one of the slowest paces in the country, forcing opposing defenses to work for the entire shot clock.
“They play a lot slower than any normal team,” Purdue guard Nojel Eastern said. “So you just gotta stay locked into the game. Obviously, offensively they play slower than anybody. ... We're going to use our defense as well and ... try to play them at their own game and beat them at their own game.”
Even if Purdue's defense, which ranks 17th nationally giving up only 58.4 points per game, keeps it close, the Boilers will still have to find some offense to win. That hasn't been easy this season, especially in the Emerald Coast Classic last week, where Purdue averaged 21 turnovers in two games.
“We're not fundamentally sound enough,” Painter said of Purdue's offense. “We're not passing and catching and being strong with the basketball and throwing the ball away from the defense, very simple things, and at the end what I always talk about is that's Purdue beating Purdue.”
Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Purdue vs. Virginia
When: 7:15 p.m. today
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
Records: Purdue (4-3), No. 5 Virginia (7-0)
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM