Purdue can win the NCAA title if: it doesn't give opponents second and third chances
As terrific a defensive team as Purdue has been this season under first-year coach Sharon Versyp, even the Boilers can't afford to spot their opponents too many extra possessions as the month of March progresses.
There aren't many more impressive defensive résumés than the one Versyp's squad has put together this season. Purdue limits opponents to 34.6 percent shooting from the floor, including 28.8 percent from behind the arc. The first mark ties the Boilermakers with North Carolina for sixth in the nation, behind only LSU, Duke, Connecticut, Oklahoma and Stanford.
And unlike some merely good defensive teams, the Boilermakers don't sit back and wait to stymie opponents in the half-court game. They force 19 turnovers a game, block nearly twice as many shots as their opponents (180-98) and come away with vastly more steals (342-257).
Playing 40 minutes against that kind of pressure isn't just work, it's hard labor that reaches ditch-digging proportions.
All of which might point to Purdue as a championship favorite if not for the fact that the Boilers have a tendency to let teams off the hook by giving them too many chances to crack that suffocating defense.
Go back to the list of the best shooting defenses in the country and it jumps out that LSU, Stanford and Connecticut also rank among the top 50 in fewest turnovers committed per game. Duke doesn't quite make that statistical cut but still ranks ahead of Purdue, which commits almost 16 turnovers per game.
Versyp's high-intensity style shares some of its traits with the systems Brenda Frese and Sylvia Hatchell run at Maryland and North Carolina, respectively, and some number of turnovers are acceptable in exchange for pushing tempo. That's all the more true with a freshman point guard like FahKara Malone learning on the job. But Versyp's team has a problem that Maryland and North Carolina do not: Purdue is merely average on the boards.
The Boilers have a razor-thin rebounding margin for the season and have given up offensive rebounds on more than 30 percent of the field goals missed by opponents.
When you give up more turnovers than most of the teams you're likely to face late in the bracket and don't rebound as well as they do, that's a lot of extra possessions on which you need defensive stops.
But if the Boilermakers either take a step up in protecting the ball without sacrificing tempo, led by the decision-making of Malone, or gain control of the glass, led by Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton and Erin Lawless, they'll enable the team's defense and Katie Geralds' shooting to carry them a long way.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.