|Purdue ready to open with Cal State Fullerton|
Purdue coach Matt Painter is trying to keep things simple as the No. 2 seed Boilermakers prepare to face 15th-seeded Cal State Fullerton in the East Region opening-round game of the NCAA Tournament Friday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
Purdue (28-6) finished the season ranked 11th and was projected as a two seed for several weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, but has not played since falling to Michigan 75-66 in the Big Ten championship on March 3, its worst loss of the season. The Boilermakers lost their previous five games by a combined 15 points, three of which were decided by one possession.
"I think for us, sometimes we get away from the simplicity of the game when it comes to our defense," Painter said. "If we'll do our job and stick to our rules and start off in a good defensive position, normally good things happen. When we get behind plays is when (bad) things happen. Just this week, just trying to watch a little film, get some shots up, but also sharpen up on some basic things on the defensive end."
This is Purdue's third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth and the 11th under Painter, and marks the highest seeding the Boilermakers have received since 1998.
The Titans (20-11) are winners of five of their last six, having secured an automatic bid by winning the Big West Tournament as a No. 4 seed. It's the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Cal State Fullerton since 2008, and the first under coach Dedrique Taylor. Taylor has reportedly received a tournament bonus of $18,035, the equivalent of one month's base salary.
As a team with just one senior on the roster --starting forward Arkim Robertson -- Taylor credited the Titans' resolve throughout the Big West Tournament.
"They executed our game plan on both ends of the floor to a tee, and it's a special credit to them and what they've done for this program," Taylor said of his team. "One of the dreams that I had for this program was literally to be able to do this, and for us to be able to take that dream and bring it full circle to fruition, it's nothing but humbling."
Taylor also credited Cal State Fullerton's fan base for its attendance throughout the Big West Tournament, and stressed the importance of its continued support as the team gears up for just the third NCAA Tournament berth in school history.
"You have to acknowledge all of those people that came out that were waiting for this moment," Taylor said. "Now, I hope what we can do is bottle this thing up and continue to galvanize our community, continue to drum up some support, so that they understand that no matter who we're playing, the Titans are playing. And I believe at this point, we're worthy of their attendance at our games and their involvement and engagement with our program."
The Titans' game plan against Purdue will likely emphasize crashing the glass and getting to the foul line, both of which have been weaknesses for the Boilermakers this season. This will be the first meeting ever between the schools, and the first Big West opponent Purdue has faced in nearly a decade.
Cal State Fullerton boasts one of the highest free-throw rates in the nation, averaging nearly 24 attempts per game. Guards Kyle Allman and Khalil Ahmad average 19.4 and 15.3 points per game respectively, accounting for almost half of the team's offensive production.
"They can break you down and get into a pull-up 3, or pull up once they get an angle or get to the basket," Painter said of the prolific duo. "Allman is a guy that is very similar to Corey Sanders in our league in terms of his ability to make plays. Ahmad is a guy that will post you a little bit, knock down 3's, and will drive you. Allman's the same way. ... They're two very, very good players and good backcourt mates."
While Purdue is dangerous at all five positions, Taylor is most concerned with containing the Boilermakers' frontcourt anchor Isaac Haas, who stands 7-foot-2 and averages 14.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game.
The Titans have a fairly undersized roster by comparison, the tallest player being 6-foot-10 freshman Josh Pitts, who has logged only 83 minutes of playing time on the season.
"We have not figured out how to deal with (Haas) yet," Taylor told the Orange County Register Tuesday. "He's more mobile than you would expect from someone that size. We'll have our work cut out for us with him."
Whichever team advances will face the winner of No. 7 seed Arkansas and No. 10 seed Butler in the second round of the East Regional on Sunday, March 18.