In an effort to give you exclusives and rich content, your friends at Boiled Sports have really outdone themselves this time. How, you ask? Well, we got some really big time smarty-pants writers to weigh in on the upcoming season.
I'm always interested to see how the media views my Boilers and how opinions vary from the national scene all the way down to the most local of outlets. If this intrigues you too, you'll like this article.
Our panel consists of Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated, Brian Neubert of Gold and Black (Rivals) and J and myself of the best site in all of the land. Granted, there's a lot of reading in this entry, but the info is chocked-full of goodness and might get you as excited as all of us for the basketball season, that begins this evening (with no one watching since it's on ESPN360). Away we go...
-Who is the Purdue basketball player, that the national media isn't talking about, that will "make noise" this year for the Boilers?
(SI) E'Twaun Moore was named preseason all-conference, so it's clear that folks in Big Ten country are aware of him ... but I don't see his name popping up on the fringes of any national All-America lists. He's one of the smoothest "big" guards out there, and he's going to average more points than the one Purdue guy national folks do know already, Robbie Hummel. There's such a star void in your league right now -- we just did a four-writer draft of our dream teams on SI.com and not a single Big Ten guy was taken, justifiably -- that there's room for there to be two high-profile names on the Big Ten's best team.
(GBI) Keaton Grant. It's easy to overlook him, with Robbie Hummel and E'Twaun Moore being so good so fast and with Chris Kramer obviously, deservedly, getting so much attention for his defense and leadership. But Keaton Grant is pretty damn good, and he should be better this year now that he's healthy and even more confident. I think the knee issue really kept him from getting to the basket more and locking down his man. And, it wore on him mentally. The sky's the limit this year, but he may not necessarily stand out as much because of Purdue's balance and other starpower.
(BS) Depends on how we define someone the national media isn't talking about.... If you go literally, it rules out the baby boilers of a year ago mainly. And as such, I think (seriously) that if LewJack gets playing time he could make people like Dickie V go bananas. Little, fast, exciting... mainstream media loves guys like that. To me, he's a lot like Kalin Lucas or Dee Brown, but a few inches shorter...and like those two, if he decides to, he can simply dish out assists for a year or two at a rapid rate until he's needed in the scoring column.
-With IU in a serious state of rebuilding and only playing Purdue once, is the rivalry diminished? Is there another rival that can temporarily absorb some of the vitriol that the Purdue fans want/need to vent?
(SI) I think it's going to take 2-3 seasons for the IU rivalry to pick back up, but once it does, it could be fierce -- you're going to be recruiting a lot of the same players, and Crean is a large personality who has been known to ruffle road crowds (like at Louisville, which was his nemesis in the Big East).
In the meantime, you have to look at Michigan State as your temporary rival. The two Boilers-Spartans games -- especially the first one, at Mackey -- are going to be the league's biggest national showcases, so they better be good. And there's no real national consensus on who's going to win the Big Ten, so you have a decent amount of intrigue. At least I know there's intrigue in our office: When I wrote -- after visiting Purdue practice in October -- that I'd be shocked if the Boilers didn't win the league, Seth Davis e-mailed me to bet a steak dinner on his pick of Michigan State. I'm mostly a vegetarian ... so the terms will have to change ... but there will be some kind of official wager.
(GBI) No. If anything, this is an even more exciting time in the rivalry, because a new age of winning at Purdue is beginning just as Indiana's beginning a new era itself. Matt Painter and Tom Crean are the faces of the rivalry now, and could be the new generation's Gene Keady and Bob Knight in that this could be a long-standing matchup. Just because one team is down - the shoe was on the other foot not too long ago - doesn't mean it means any less to the teams themselves and their fans. Recruiting is an issue too. Both teams want to really gain a foothold in their home state. Beating the other on the court is an important part of that.
-With Painter's teams now winning home games at a similar percentage to Keady's teams of the mid/late 90s, has Mackey Arena returned as one of the toughest places in America for the opposition to visit?
(SI) What I like about Mackey is that it has old-gym intimacy -- it's still a classic bleacher arrangement, with the seats close to the floor -- and a rowdy, organized student section (the Paint Crew). It doesn't seem to get mentioned along with the Camerons and the Phogs, but it's a legit home-court advantage. That said, your crowd better bring it when Duke shows up in December. Everyone is going to be watching, and your rep will be on the line.
(GBI) Absolutely. The exhibition games this year illustrated that Purdue fans are back into this. There were crowds at the two exhibitions Purdue wouldn't have gotten for most non-conference regular season games just two years ago. Matt Painter has really endeared himself to fans and Purdue's done an outstanding job cultivating an amazing student section which really sets the tone for the entire crowd. Fans appreciate the effort they're seeing. Winning doesn't hurt, either. It's going to get very loud in Mackey Arena this season.
But, when compared to all the new-ish massive money-making arenas out there, Purdue still has an old-school feel. And I've been to many arenas and stadiums and big games in all sports around the country... and I don't know of many louder than a packed Mackey with everyone screaming.
-Can Purdue live up to the lofty expectations that have been placed on it by multiple national outlets?
(I'm going to combine [questions] 4-5, if that's OK ... just to avoid being redundant.)
(GBI) I don't see why not, but I don't think they're a top-five-caliber team just yet. On paper, at least, Purdue has to show it's a better rebounding team and it has to defend better than it did at the end of last year. Otherwise, Purdue should be a better team than it was a year ago sheerly due to natural progress.
(BS) Yes, I think they can. Expectations are high but not ludicrous, as far as magazines and such are predicting...but top-5 may be a bit much, this season.
-If so, what's Purdue's final record and ranking going to be and in what round will they be knocked out of the dance?
(BS) I look at the schedule and I honestly think it could go as well as 25-3. But I know everything will not fall right because of injuries and the timing of when you play a team (as Coach Keady used to say). So I'll say 22-6 heading into the tourney with a #11 ranking nationally.
As for what round our Boilers are knocked out... the lack of size worries me a little, even though college ball is really a guard game now. Assuming a fortuitous seed (and at #11, you project a #3 or 4 seed), I actually do think this team could make the Final Four. But I'll assume they fall short and officially say Elite Eight.
-If not, how many seasons will it take for this team to do just that?
(GBI) Purdue's pretty well established now. If they're not as good as people think they are this year, then they should largely have the same team back the year after. Painter and his staff are recruiting very well. I think Purdue is definitely well established now for the long term as an annual Big Ten contender and NCAA Tournament team. Whether they're an annual top-10 team, I'm not sure I'd go that far just yet.
-What, in your opinion is a successful season for the Boilers?
(SI) I think I ranked them sixth -- and ahead of Michigan State -- when I voted in the magazine's top 20, so a Big Ten title and an Elite Eight appearance is I guess what I'm predicting. But I would still consider a second-place league finish and trip to the second weekend of the NCAA's "successful." Reaching the Sweet 16 would be another step forward, and I think it would set you up well for 2009-10, when -- as long as everyone sticks around -- you have a legitimate shot at finally getting back to the Final Four.
(GBI) Probably a Big Ten regular season championship and no worse than a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament appearance. I figure you just want to see Purdue go a step further than it did a year ago in both cases.
(BS) A successful season is winning some big prime time games, maintaining a top 15 ranking all season, earning a top 4 seed in the NCAA tourney, and advancing to at least the Sweet 16.
Many Thanks, once again, to Brian Neubert from Gold & Black and Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated.