The State of Things in God's Country
I came into Mackey with a concept; an idea based on muscle memory…that Purdue would beat the 11th best team in America. It felt like a hope…it felt like faith…but really, at this point, it’s little more than a wish*. If you’ve watched Maryland play this season, you know that they’re tough (mentally and physically), they have very skilled players, a lot of experience and a coach that has them working/playing together as a unit. Their guys seem to know their roles…that comes from that experience as well as a coaching staff that has them pointed in the right direction.
Make no bones about it, they’re just better than Purdue…but I was wishing that some old fashioned Mackey magic might have returned on a freezing cold day…you know, like it used to in the 80s, 90s and 00s. But times have clearly changed.
Purdue now beats ranked teams about 9% of the time…even worse, they beat ranked foes in Mackey about 8% of the time**.
In this era, top-15 teams, like Maryland, are either really talented, really experienced or really well-coached. Maryland, like Wisconsin earlier this week, is all three. They look like a team that understands their roles and has players in positions to succeed in a system that encourages that.
Purdue has gotten back to its roots, which is good. They’re slugging it out with good opponents…fighting, clawing and competing…but not everyone’s quite sure about their roles, or maybe they simply aren’t ready to execute that role.
Vince Edwards is showing everyone that he’s on the precipice of greatness. He hit two big threes that kept the game close yesterday.
Stephens is doing something that you might not be recognizing- leading through toughness. He’s rolled his ankle two or three times in the last three games and nearly detached his finger this season…and has missed little action. He’s developing as a defensive force; but offensively, doesn’t have the nuance of the game down just yet. Mental lapses yesterday led to a few turnovers…and him forcing a long shot is as good as a turnover. His understudy, Mathias, is a guy that works extremely hard without the basketball on offense…but is a liability on defense. If you don’t understand why he plays so much, go to a game and just watch him without the ball for a few minutes. It looks like he’s watched Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton [You can tell when B-dowd last watched the NBA -Ed.] during their primes. A healthy off-season will do him a ton of good.
Haas and Hammons are a dynamic force that few teams can match up with when they’re clicking. Sadly, the officials still have no idea how to call a game with Haas playing. Hammons befuddles me- he’s skilled and athletic for his size, but brings the ball down to his waist too often for a guy in his position…which also causes turnovers. He nearly took over the game defensively for a stretch v. the Terps; nearly.
Ray Davis has become a defensive wrecking ball who can shut down swing men. Sadly, in spite of off-season work with his jumpshot, he simply doesn’t warrant teams respecting him to more than 15 feet. He can slash with the best teams in the league though…and hits a lot of free throws. Smotherman has a similar defensive motor as Davis…but is less of a weapon offensively as he’s not as good taking contact while slashing. In my opinion, both of these guys still think they’re better shooters than their stats OR my eyes tell me they are.
Octeus is a Godsend that we’ve talked about ad nauseam…the dropoff between he and Thompson is quite steep at this time…and I don’t think that will change this season. At this point, he is option 1 and 1a at the point…If nothing else, Thompson is learning the game from a very good one guard. I’m convinced that without Prime on this roster, games like the Notre Dame game would be the norm.
Outside of the players, the head coach and coaching staff seem like as much of a work in progress as the guys on the court. That said, if the coaches can motivate and direct our Boilers for the rest of the season like they have during the last four, they’ll win enough games to allow them to host an NIT game. That’s progress, I guess. I just struggle accepting things in the state they are right now.
Watching the second-straight moral victory for my Boilers wasn’t heartening to me. I have a few friends who are students at Purdue now. One of them in particular is a Junior- he hasn’t seen anything that I promised he’d see in Mackey Arena. I told him our Boilers would be a contender for a conference title during his time as a student; looking at things right now, it’s awfully tough to believe it’s gonna happen. I hate being wrong, especially when that was in the wake of optimism about my Boilers.
I had a great day with my 8 year old son yesterday…but he’s nearly as sick of watching Purdue lose as me. And like my pal that’s a current Purdue student, he really doesn’t remember Purdue as a winner. LBD saw Smooge and JJ tear aOSU apart a while ago in Mackey; he has little recollection of that day- he was four years old, after all.
While I’m terribly-biased when speaking about my son, I can tell you that this kid isn’t typical. He begins every day giving me updates with what happened the night before in sports after reading his defined ticker off of his tablet. And when Purdue plays a late game, he usually checks the DVR first thing to see if the game’s still there (his Dad has a tendency to delete the ugly ones).
After yesterday’s game, he said, “I just wanna see them beat somebody good.”
Pretty simple…pretty fair.
Instead, I’ve already been eyeing the schedule for potential patsies in which we’d be assured a victory. North Florida and Gardner Webb remind me that there might not be a light enough opponent remaining on the schedule to assure a happy post-game.
We stuck around for the Kids Club event; talked to Haas and Smotherman for a few moments. They’re likable, good kids. In spite of being pretty pissed that they lost, they took time to talk to kids like my son.
We didn’t feel like fighting the crowd, so we didn’t stick around too long after the game.
The atmosphere was pretty good yesterday- the die hards were noisy, the PC members that were in attendance were boisterous and helped give Purdue at least one inherent advantage- it’s not always like that anymore in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena.
Turgeon worked the officials to perfection…and his tactic yielded results, but as Neesh detailed, the officials didn’t lose the game for Purdue. All of that said, details matter.
Coaches that know how to work the officials, like Turgeon did yesterday, and Izzo, Beilein, Matta, Ryan and others outside of the conference do, typically are good at other things, too; And their teams show it. Turgeon’s coaching was definitely part of the reason Maryland beat Purdue, in spite of Purdue’s solid effort. These guys who are the best at their craft know that details matter…in fact, many who work with them talk about how they’re control freaks. Call them what you want, I’ll call them winners.
Turgeon used the technical foul as a tool to get his team focused and to get the officials attention. Both ends were met. Conversely, Painter got his tech too late…He probably should have drawn a tech after Haas got hit in the groin by a Maryland player's shoulder…prior to being whistled for a foul. Instead, the game was all but over by the time Matty drew the ’T’.
One thing is apparent based on the last four games- In spite of a resurgence in defensive tenacity and overall fight, Purdue’s offense resembles a goldfish that has accidentally flipped out of its bowl. They’re generally an uncomfortable team on offense with little identity. If Stephens isn’t hitting shots from the outside or isn’t playing due to foul trouble or fatigue, it gets even worse. And the out of bounds plays continue to make me snicker at best, curse at worst. If Purdue’s coming out of a timeout and has the ball under the basket, the PA should throw “Yakety Sax” into the arena’s MP3 player.
Looking ahead at the next ten games, I think most are winnable (really). I also think they could lose a few of those by 20 points. That’s what happens when a team hasn’t played together enough…and I think most fans can deal with that. Sadly, the bad losses have made winning most of them imperative if Purdue is to hope, wish or dare to dream of an NCAA tournament this season.
It might seem like ancient history to the 19 and 20 year olds in the building, but it doesn’t to the guys who are pushing 40; Mackey Arena used to be a place where opponents, even good ones, were all but assured a loss.
The further we get from the good ol’ days (you can define those as you’d like), the harder it is to believe they’ll return any time soon.
*Hope is defined as “expecting something to happen with confidence.”
Faith is a “strong belief or trust in something.”
To wish is “to desire (as in something unattainable) something to happen or be true.”
**3-29 v ranked opponents in just over three seasons
1-12 at home over the same stretch