491 days ago, a basketball game between Tennessee and Purdue took place in the Bahamas. The game started at noon Eastern, it was part of the Battle 4 Atlantis (awful title, come on), and it wasn’t even the biggest game of the first round. In fact, it might not have been the second-biggest: #2 Arizona was playing North Carolina State, while SMU, who’d won 30 games the previous season, played a Northern Iowa team just 20 months removed from a Round of 32 NCAA Tournament appearance. Tennessee entered the game coming off of the third straight 15 or 16-win season; fans were merely hoping to make the NCAA Tournament. Purdue had just wrapped a Sweet Sixteen run, but they’d lost their best player to graduation. They were expected to be a 5 or 6 seed that maybe made a Sweet Sixteen run again, but not much more.
Tennessee, as you remember, won that game 78-75 in overtime. Somehow, it kick-started incredibly memorable seasons for both sides. Tennessee won 26 games and had the program’s best season since the 2010 Elite Eight run; Purdue would rise as high as #2 in KenPom, won 30 games for the first time in program history, and was arguably a hook-and-hold injury away from the first Elite Eight since 2000. Considering Tennessee’s next game was against Villanova, who’d go on to win the title, you could argue whoever Tennessee touched that Tournament briefly turned to gold.
Now, 16 months later, the game has shifted massively for both programs. Tennessee has tied the program record for wins (31) with a season for the ages; Purdue recovered from an unlucky 6-5 start to co-win the Big Ten. Matt Painter’s name is very close to being etched alongside Gene Keady’s among Purdue coaches; all he’s missing is his first Elite Eight bid. For Rick Barnes, the game is the same; he would match Bruce Pearl’s biggest accomplishment a season before Pearl did and would clinch the school record for most wins in a season. Two snake-bitten programs, two excellent stories, one combined Top 100 recruit (Nojel Eastern of Purdue) between the two. Of course it’s going to end really badly for one of them.