The sun has risen just fine the past couple of mornings, and I'm still damn proud to be a Boilermaker. As mentioned on this site, it's never a good feeling when your season ends. And, really, there's only one way for it to end where you feel really, really good. And Purdue is closer to that than it's been in a while. The tournament effort to get to the Sweet 16 and then play Duke tighter than they were played to that point was significant (remember, this is a Duke team that was up 30 on UNC in the first half in their late-season matchup). As the clock wound down on Friday night, I found myself immediately feeling and saying, "I'm really proud of these guys."
Oh, but what might have been.
Never A Complete Unit
At the start of the season, a Sweet 16 appearance would have been viewed as a disappointment. We all know how high expectations were. The Boilers had a chance to almost come home for the Final Four, as they did in 1980, and this is all the more driven home now for Boilermakers as we get to watch Butler have those stories written about them. It's hard to have anything but good feelings for Butler, as their students and loyal fans deserve this as much as anyone, but I did say to Boilerdowd this weekend that I'm truly jealous of the Bulldogs. I can't imagine how good this feels for them today.
But getting back to the Boilers, one point that I think is very interesting to ponder is the "what could have been," not from the simple, obvious Final Four perspective, but from what was expected or counted on for this season.
For one thing, Sandi Marcius was expected to be another big body Coach Matty could count on to at least clog the lane a bit, grab some boards, commit some Zoubeks (another word for fouls) and simply spell JJ when Johnson was in foul trouble or just needed some rest. But Sandi broke his foot and it made no sense to burn his redshirt when word was that he wasn't ready.
But let's leave that one alone. How about the fact that the Boilers essentially had the rotation they expected to have for a total of seven games? Seven. And even then it wasn't at full strength, since I'm talking about the games where LewJack was just coming back. The preseason #6 team in the nation wound up not having their regular rotation for almost the entire season. This got obscured by the fact that the Boilers played inspired, focused ball and got out to that 14-0 start. However, many of us saw the need for Lewis Jackson to get back this year, as the team could not handle the press well at all, even from mediocre teams. They needed their PG back.
LewJack returned on January 28 versus Wisconsin, but only played 20 minutes in a game twice before February 24. On that day, Purdue started their game at Minnesota looking, honestly, like they'd figured it out. Jackson was back and was beginning to play significant minutes again, the Big 3 looked comfortable, Moore was on a nice steady run, etc. Things looked good. During that first half, B-dowd and I even commented on how solid they looked in nearly all facets -- something that could not have been said too many times this year up to that point. And then, of course, Rob's knee went, and his teammates looked like they'd seen their puppy get run over.
To their credit, as we all know, they pulled themselves together and went 6-3 (including that Minny game) without Rob. Nothing groundbreaking, but they learned to play without him and they showed resolve and commitment that made us all proud. I've not heard one fan say they felt like the Boilers folded the tent. And think about that, because it's significant.
Lewis Jackson was finally getting up to speed.....and Rob was gone.
We've often said that things have to line up for you to go to a Final Four. Butler had everyone playing their system perfectly (and you can now see why Matt Painter really wanted Gordon Hayward). MSU didn't have to beat anyone higher than a 4-seed. Duke had a bracket full of shorthanded, inexperienced teams to get through. Point is, it has to line up. You need some breaks. I'd say this isn't being a Purdue homer: Purdue got few breaks this year. In fact, the breaks truly went against them.
Was Progress Made?
Have the boys matured further? B-dowd and I discussed this last night and it's unfortunate to think that while they clearly are a good team, they weren't quite emotionally mature enough to handle some things this year. Nobody can fault their effort or, as mentioned, the Sweet 16 appearance. But the way they reacted to losing Rob in the immediate aftermath (curling up into the fetal position for a lot of the rest of the Minnesota game and all of the MSU game) was disconcerting. However, when you compare the way they began the 2008-2009 season, another season considered promising, they did indeed take strides.
In December 2008, we all know how poor the boys looked against Duke. We also all remember the 0-2 start in conference play. The Boilers opened this season solidly, taking down Tennessee in the Virgin Islands, coming back from down 16 in the second half against Alabama, and simply outclassing Wake and WVU at home. But the hiccups remain, including an 0-3 stretch in January, only putting up 44 against MSU at home (Rob or no Rob, that's ridiculous) and being simply embarrassed on a national scale in the Big Ten Tourney against Minnesota. The point? There's a lot of maturing still to be done.
"Help Is On The Way"
Someone on ESPN's cast of misfits said, in the wake of UNC getting absolutely dismantled by Duke at the end of the season, that "help is on the way" for Roy Williams. Not sure how many five-stars he needs to, you know, make the tournament, but it's kind of a silly statement. However, for the Boilers, help is indeed on the way in a number of forms, with the overall theme being depth.
For one, Sandi Marcius should be healthy and ready to bang next year. Patrick Bade will be a sophomore and hopefully will practice rebounding over the summer so he doesn't look like he thinks basketballs are live grenades. And coming to the mix is Travis Carroll, another center to give JJ some rest. You'll never want JaJuan in foul trouble or playing soft as he does from time to time, but if it happens at least Matty will have a multitude of options. And with this size, it will be rare that an opponent will have the definitive upper hand in the post.
Boilerdowd's lust for the Johnson boys is hard to describe. No, I'm being silly, but b-dowd is very excited about Terone and Anthony coming aboard next year, and he's right to be. Both four-star players (for what that's worth), these guys are difference-makers and the thinking here is Terone could (and maybe should) see some time in the starting lineup. He's a thick kid who can play the point or score the ball (hate that term, I sound like Hubert Davis).
Donnie Hale is a power forward coming on board without a scholarship as of right now. He agreed to come to Purdue over his other finalist, Xavier, with no guarantee of a schollie for next season. So unless someone goes pro or transfers, Donnie might be paying his own way for a little while. We'll see how this goes.
One More Year, JJ
Which leads us to a sidebar about going pro. According to Neubert, JJ hasn't ruled it out as of now. Which, I think we can agree, might be a bit silly. We think he'll be back, but if he was a
However, NBA Draft Express doesn't have JaJuan projected as even a second round pick as of now. In fact, they have him as a second round pick in 2011. So he clearly has work to do. As Neubert puts it so well:
"When he gets the ball around the rim, he's got to be able to score or get fouled 90 percent of the time, rather than getting stripped or tied up."
More Reasons For Excitement About The Immediate Future
DJ also played strong defense, never looked out of position or overwhelmed and was even barking at teammates on the floor -- in a good way. If you're looking for an intensity leader to replace CK3, we think you might have him in DJ. (And he needs to keep the intense haircut look; we love it.)
Thanks, But No Thanks, Media-Types
Purdue has the tenth-ranked recruiting class in the nation for 2010. Oh, but only fourth in the Big Ten. Yeah, you read that right. So let's shut your pie-holes, national media, about what the Big Ten lacks. It's pretty effing rugged.
In addition, several scribes were venturing well into douchey territory and seemed to be working hard at alienating college basketball fans. A very smart move when you're a.....college basketball writer. Wait, what?
One of these clowns is Gary Parrish, of whom there is not a single photo in existence where he doesn't look like a complete buffoon. He's now saying the Boilers are going to the Final Four next year, but Gary felt the Boilers barely deserved a top 20 ranking as the season wound down -- not because they were losing games (they weren't), but because he felt Rob Hummel being out made them...a below-average team.... I guess? Hard to understand. We emailed him politely and were given the condescending pat-on-the-head treatment. He's one of the many who can kiss off next year -- as stated before, we don't want your positive remarks, either. You've denigraded Purdue enough that we don't care anymore. You're a lost cause. We know Purdue's not as sexy as slimy Calipari's Cats, and that's fine. We like our program clean.
Keep It Up, Students
There have been periods in Purdue sports history of which we're not especially proud, when students seem to not care at all. While it's perfectly fine to not be a sports fan, it still grates on us because we take this stuff way too serious, by our own admission. But seeing the Paint Crew and their massive numbers honoring the team as often as they do is simply wonderful for two old guys like us.
Camping out in the cold, being creatively supportive during games, singling out guys to thank as the season winds down, road tripping through the night on buses.... we can't possibly name all the ways in which we think the students do an amazing job acting as the 6th man and doing us alums proud. You guys are doing great things and you'll look back fondly on this time in your lives. Keep doing it.
Want proof of how awesome the fans/students are? Here they are at the airport at 2 AM on a cold February night welcoming the Boilers home from Minnesota, where the season took a crushing turn.
That video really gets me. The guys had won a hard-fought game and lost Rob for the season. We didn't know it for sure at that moment but it didn't look good. And yet the screaming for the guys and the chanting for Rob is just terrific. Seeing that smile that Hummel can't conceal is all part of the greatness of it.
Yes, we're going to focus on football in the very near future.... but we keep saying we wish next basketball season could start in maybe a week. Eight months can't pass fast enough.