This isn't the first time we've seen this Purdue team struggle offensively this season, but it might be one of the most noteworthy.
MSU's a good team, but should they have won the BT title? Should they have won it by FOUR games? No matter, shoulda, coulda, woulda, didn't. As Purdue floundered to the finish losing three of its last four games, MSU finished strong and left no doubt that they were the league champs without a doubt. This Purdue team, while talented, just hasn't been able to get into rhythm for any substantial amount of time this season. Blame whatever you'd like- But this season has been a step backward.
Our Boilers finished the regular season 24-7 last season. That team struggled mightily early, losing back-to-back games to Wofford and Iowa State. But those games seemed to sober up the Baby Boilers and teach them what not to do.
This season, in contrast, seemingly nothing hasn't seemed to have gleaned any "lessons" during the season. And, I think it could be fairly argued that Purdue's best basketball, at least thus far, was played in December. Purdue's regular season record is 22-9, with 7 losses coming in conference.
My outlook last season was never as down as it has been at times this year- I had no expectations for last-season's team...and admittedly, I expected more this season. I didn't believe the pre-season hype, but I thought a BT title and a decent tourney run was possible...and honestly, both still are, but each loss makes the latter more difficult as Purdue's seeding is surely slipping with each lackluster performance.
A recurrent theme we've seen this season is the "disappearing star". Early on, I thought Grant would be an offensive weapon, but he was no where to be found. Later, Smooge made it a regular occurrence to go silent during important games, at imperative times...Today, the Ostrich joined this lousy trend with one of his worst games of the season (8pts, 25% shooting, only 5 boards).
But he wasn't alone this afternoon. Purdue's offensive production was flat-out bad in E. Lansing. Here are the numbers, for those of you that love stats-
Purdue shot 28% from the floor, 17% from behind the arc. At the same time, they allowed MSU to do what they do, and control the glass, grabbing 16 more boards than Purdue.
Calasan was the best three-point shooter going 1-2 from behind the arc. Grant (who had been hot), Smooge and the Ostrich combined for a 3-17 game from three-point land.
Purdue took pretty good care of the ball only turning it over 12 times...and the defense was solid- they held MSU to 62 points while stealing the ball 7 times and blocking 5 shots. But, our Boilers went 7+ minutes, yet again, without a bucket in the second half, and that was the difference in the game. Just like versus NU, Purdue simply made victory nearly-impossibly by creating a large deficit because of no offensive output.
Those wearing gold-colored lenses in their glasses might say there's plenty of basketball yet to be played...and there is. But, Purdue has struggled mightily against inspired teams, this season.
Oklahoma was inspired back in NY...inspired to show the nation that they were for real. Duke was inspired to shut up the press, and the Mackey crowd...and let Purdue know they were the better team for that big match-up back in early December. Illinois has been inspired all-season to re-establish themselves as a upper-eschelon conference team. PSU has been trying to let the league know they belong up there too. UM wanted revenge after the bloodbath in Mackey. Northwestern was desperate to avenge the earlier loss in Evanston (and stay alive for the NCAA tourney). MSU wanted to send its Seniors out on a high note (novel idea) and celebrate their BT title.
Now, in the post-season, do you think any of Purdue's opponents will be playing inspired basketball? Every team will. And Purdue's first opponent in the BT tourney will more-than-likely be a bubble team who is playing desperate as they need to earn their way into the dance.
Here's some good news- Purdue now has 4 days to clear their minds, get healthier, and re-focus on what's important. More positive stuff- Purdue is 2-1 at neutral sites this season, 1-0 at Conseco. Now here's the best news- Purdue is still good enough to be anybody in America when they play inspired. And, they're still one of the best defensive teams in America...from JJ's enforcing lane presence, to Kramer's intensity, to LewJack's quickness...our Boilers are stout defensively, when they decide to be.
The question now is, how inspired are our Boilers after backing their way out of the BT regular season schedule?
Their longest winning streak of the season is six games...if they can put together another six-straight wins, they'll be BT champs and will have made a trip to the sweet-16...and pretty successful season from about any perspective.