A Good Season Comes To An End
The same as you guys, I watched the season screech to a halt. A better team punched my Boilers in the face, and they simply couldn't recover. Kansas had better athletes, a higher level of skill AND a gameplan that was superior to Purdue's. So of course they lost...by a lot.
Caleb Swanigan summed it up well while sitting in front of his locker after last night's game:
"You lose by 30...it’s the end of the season...Yeah, it’ll change how you perceive the season."
Of my pals that I've spoken with after the game, most don't really know how to feel about what we watched last night. As Biggie said, it taints it. Winning a pre-con tourney is good. FINALLY winning a game in the Crossroads Classic mattered. Sweeping IU is always fun (regardless of the state of that program). Being ranked from start to finish is pretty great...and winning an outright B1G regular season title was really fun to watch.
To reach those goals, Purdue had to beat ranked teams on the road, play with consistency. These Boilers had to establish a new offensive identity. The Forces of Good had to overcome the loss of two defensive monsters to try to patch together a solid defense that would help create offensive opportunities...and they did it.
At the same time, Matty had to exorcise some demons of his own- He needed to have restraint as he substituted, especially during road games down the stretch. His coaching staff needed to find ways to manufacture points from all over the court in spite of having only a couple of guys who can truly create for themselves...and, of course, these coaches needed to get their squad out of Milwaukee, onto the second weekend, so they could build toward something bigger...both in 2017 and beyond.
We don't know yet what the long term ramifications of two NCAA tourney victories will be on the recruiting trail...but we can rest assured that those two wins helped the cause. Butler, Notre Dame, MSU, Xavier and others have been winning head-to-head recruiting battles versus Paint's staff for the last few years...To get even better, Purdue needs to land more top-priority targets.
But back to the 'now'.
This season was good...and it was important. Just how important and how good this season really was, might not be able to measured for a few years. If it were in a vacuum, 2016-2017 would stand up quite well on its own merits. Purdue gets to put a few more notches on the walls of Mackey Arena...Making that mark on history matters. Where as players like Hammons and Davis don't get to see anything that points directly to their time in God's Country when they visit; this group of players will have plenty of reminders of what they accomplished. That matters.
The measuring stick of an overall-successful season in my eyes was the composite of what happened in the regular season and reaching the second weekend of the tournament. The way The Good Guys lost, doesn't affect my view really, after I've had a short night to sleep on it. It was a successful season...and tons of programs, both within the B1G and outside of the conference would have loved to have this type of campaign. This lovable Junior class, Biggie, Cline, Boogie and Spike stabilized the program and gave us something to look forward to at the same time; mission accomplished.
Taking the ethereal Next Steps is what we might look forward to in the coming seasons. Maybe going to a few more Sweet 16s after competing for a few B1G titles in the next three or four years would go a long way in showing what major progress was made as a direct result of this year's accomplishments...but that discussion is for another day...another year, really.
Charles Barkley said something last week that struck me- He talked about the feeling of finality that comes with that NCAA tournament loss...especially for the guys whose college careers are done. Purdue's players reacted to the crushing defeat at the hands of the mighty Jayhawks with a certain matter-of-factness. I think they all thought they belonged in the Sweet 16...and they all didn't have any doubt that they didn't deserve to move on (following the game). Yet, you could still see in Biggie's answers to questions about this season, Vincent's avoidance of questions about the future, PJ's professions of love for his teammates and the Midwestern Cowboy's quiet, almost sullen responses about going out this way; these guys hated the manner in which the season ended.
We are all in accord.
But I can say with confidence, regardless of whom returns to West Lafayette this summer, and without knowing how the next chapters for the program might unfold, that this was a fun season. These players and this coaching staff were easy to root for, and with few exceptions, they represented my Alma mater quite well off of the court; that also matters.
Thanks for a good season, boys. I'm already looking forward to late next Fall.