Zlionsfan and the Three Sports
Saturday, the wisdom of Morgan Burke offered us a rare opportunity: the chance to see games in three different sports in the same day. Naturally, I took advantage of this, because I leave no stone unturned when it comes to reporting on Purdue athletics for you, the readers. Below the cut, I share my experiences from a full day of Purdue sports.
12:00 PM, Football vs. Indiana
haha j/k you didn't really think I went to this right
4:00 PM, Volleyball vs. Wisconsin
The Boilers rolled into Thanksgiving Week on a five-match winning streak, including a five-set win over then-#3 Minnesota last Saturday in Holloway. A sweep this week against Michigan State and Wisconsin would give them a share of third place in the conference and a likely top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament, which would mean 1st- and 2nd-round matches at home, but a dispiriting five-set loss to the second-tier Spartans put those dreams to rest, leaving just pride to play for on Senior Day. (Well, that and a slightly-better tournament seed; the Boilers could use another quality win.)
The volleyball team has had a bad habit of playing at the level of their competition, which led to some pretty weak performance even before the MSU loss (losing a set at 4-27 Rutgers and a set at home to 14-19 Maryland), but also provided some excitement (five-set home wins over Illinois and Minnesota). Unfortunately, there was a third category, one that we saw at home against Nebraska: the match where both teams play right about at their strength.
That was how Saturday's match went. Despite inspired performances by seniors Amanda Neill (15 digs) and Annie Drews (14 kills), Wisconsin swept the Boilers, 22-25, 19-25, 19-25. The same maladies that have weighed down the Good Gals struck again: poor setting, weak defense, and conservative serving, although the Badgers did gift Purdue three aces early by showing surprising struggles on Purdue's serves. Wisconsin outplayed Purdue in every area of the match, showing that the Badgers and not the Boilers are the team that belongs in the top tier of the best volleyball conference in the country ... and that's likely to continue into next season, as Wisconsin graduates just one player (libero Taylor Morey), while Dave Shondell must replace not only two-year libero Neill and honorable mention All-American Drews, but DS Kate Workman (without whom the defense would have been even worse), OH Sam Epenesa (who was never really able to take on the defensive role that Shondell asked of her) and MB Kaisley Fisher (who provided key depth after battling back from injury twice).
Next year's Purdue squad will feature zero upperclassmen with experience in the back; true freshman Brooke Peters is likely to win the libero job practically by default, as she'll be the lone returning DS with any kind of playing time. While MB is set with sophomore Danielle Cuttino and redshirt junior Faye Adelaja both returning, someone will have to become the primary hitter with Drews' departure, and neither sophomore Azariah Stahl nor true freshman Alexa Smith has shown the consistency outside that you'd want for a high-volume hitter. It may be true that better play from the setters would help the entire Boiler attack, but redshirt sophomore Ashley Evans has two years of eligibility left, and with OH/S sophomore Lydia Dimke apparently relegated to spot duty at OH, Shondell seems to have placed all of his eggs in Evans' basket. Unless 2016 freshman Lexi Dorn is able to wrest the starting spot away, it's hard to see next year's team finishing as well as the 2015 Boilers have.
For now, we'll wait for Sunday's draw to find out where Neill, Drews, Epenesa, Workman and Fisher will finish their careers. It's highly unlikely they'll miss the tournament altogether, but a low-ish RPI (32 coming into these matches) will probably send them to an unfriendly court; while Purdue was 8-4 on the road this year, they'll probably have to post a 9th road win to get back to the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in five years. The 2014 and 2009 teams did not make the tournament, but Shondell's teams haven't lost in the first two rounds since 2007.
7:00 PM, MBB vs. Lehigh
My esteemed colleague RRT-ONE has already covered this one, but I'll add my thoughts below.
The fellow Purdue grad that I go to v-ball with suggested that we grab discount seats for this one, so we picked up a pair of $10 tickets at the box office (STEAL; the other bonus was that I didn't have to move my car after v-ball, so I basically had a free F-lot pass for this game) and headed up ... up ... up to our seats. I hadn't sat that high in Mackey since I was a charter member of the John Brugos Fan Club. We got to our seats early and watched with mild surprise as Mackey filled in pretty well - a strong showing by local fans and by students sticking around through break, as there really weren't any open areas and the smaller Paint Crew still made plenty of noise.
We hoped to see a top-10 team easily put away a weak opponent, and we were not disappointed ... well, actually we were, kind of, because it was the kind of game where Purdue never was in any danger, but then they never really crushed the life out of the Mountain Hawks, either. In large part, that was due to the one looming issue in Purdue's Four Factors: lack of forced turnovers. The D-I average is 18.5%; Purdue's defense sits at 14.6, 318th in D-I. That seems mostly because Painter is content to let foolish mortals approach the Paint of No Return, but Lehigh had this annoying habit of scrambling for loose-ball rebounds, and they stayed close to even on the glass with Purdue until maybe halfway through the second half. That, plus a mysterious lid on the basket nearer us (thankfully that worked in both halves), were two of the three things that let the Hawks hang around.
The other thing that kept Lehigh close (but not quite in the game) was shot selection from young Mr. Swanigan. It didn't take long to establish that neither Tim Kempton nor Jesse Chuku could keep Isaac Haas from scoring, but Biggie was feeling it tonight, and he would not be denied his opportunities. In fairness, IIRC he did hit his first three, but he launched a number of ill-advised shots afterward that really didn't seem to be what Painter had in mind in this offense. In the second half, once everyone was on the same page, the offensive plan was pretty clear: feed Haas and watch the points roll in, and roll they did, despite the team's inability to knock down open threes (4-19 from distance).
Defensively, the Good Guys gave up a few perimeter looks early, enough to keep the Hawks hanging around for 10 minutes or so, but those slowly dried up, leaving Lehigh with a bunch of bad opportunities. If they hadn't hit the boards so effectively (14 offensive rebounds, .275 at that end), they'd have probably lost by 30. Seven blocks and a few more affected shots kept Lehigh well under 1 PPP - 0.77, thanks to .340 shooting inside the arc and .190 shooting outside it.
While the Boilers definitely missed the presence of Rapheal Davis, their play showed that at least against third-tier competition, they wouldn't miss a beat while he's recovering. Hopefully Aneesh can work his magic as the Good Guys visit Pittsburgh next. Did you know that kenpom now has the Boilers as a one-point favorite there? I was all ready to write about how this was one of just four games where kenpom has Purdue as a one-point underdog (at Iowa, at Maryland, at IU), but now there are just three.
Feature image from Purdue Athletics