Tomorrow's game in Mackey will have the attention of the nation. Tip-off is at 1:00 on CBS as our Boilers will have the chance to beat their second opponent ranked in the top-10 in less than a week. Off the top of my head, I can't remember them playing, let-alone beating two teams ranked that highly in a five day period. Obviously a lot can be gained in March by the success in February.
I've heard some concern from fellow Boilers about the letdown if Purdue does win tomorrow...but like the classic cliche says, let's just take it one game at a time. My reason for doing so is different than Matty's, of course. I just want to enjoy each game as the season is getting short and this amazing and abridged Senior class doesn't have too much time left in God's Country. I was lucky enough to be on campus the last time a consensus All-American was playing at Purdue...it's only happened 10 times, and we seem to be watching number 11 in JJ. But, just as Purdue's season can still change by what happens on the court from here-out, so it is with Johnson's standing with the national media.
All that said, he's been the picture of consistency as he's led the team in minutes (35.2), points (20.7), rebounds (7.8) and blocks (2.3). At minimum, he'll be recognized as an All-American by at least a few media sources...and, if a couple things happen, he might actually be involved in the POY conversations that he should have been involved in all along.
Along with JJ, Smooge's career at Purdue is coming to a close in the next few games. He's been leading scorer three of his four seasons. It'll be nearly-impossible for him to lead the team this season. But, he has an opportunity to be one of only six players at Purdue to score 2,000 points during his career, and just the 27th in the Big Ten conference's long history to do so.
He only needs 11 points, so it'll probably happen in the next 25 minutes of basketball for our Boilers. I can think of nothing more fitting than watching Purdue beat aOSU at the hands of a 21-foot dagger by Moore that puts him into the 2,000 point club. Hey, one can dream.
But, it's going to be tough, and here's why:
was the highly-decorated player of year out of HS, and hasn't disappointed anyone. While not the tallest PF in the nation, he's one of the biggest guys weighing in at over 280 pounds...that's a tough match-up for anyone. It's even tougher when he's given a pass by officials to hook his defender time and time again. But to me, he's not the most important player to stop.
Purdue struggled mightily in Columbus...not just with Sullinger, but with everyone. LewJack couldn't stay with Craft, Smith wasn't in Diebler's face, Moore couldn't stick with Lighty and Byrd had trouble with Bufford. It was probably the only time in the last four years that I can remember Purdue being truly out-manned at every position. So are they Buckeyes that good?
While they're the most-talented starting five Purdue has played, or will play, they're not as good as they seemed last month. Instead of playing them straight up, Purdue had all hands on deck shading off of their man to guard Sullinger. While help defense is important in Painter's system, that's not the Purdue way...and I think we'll see a much different game tomorrow than what we saw at Ohio State.
The Forces of Good must defend the three like they usually do...that's the key for me. And at the same time, each guy needs to keep his man in front of him and allow nothing easy. That painful 7 minute stretch in Columbus that put Purdue away saw Purdue allowing easy threes and even easier transition buckets.
Let's remember, while it seemed that the Buckeyes were a foot taller at each position last time the teams squared off, there's only a 2.5 inch/player difference in the starting five. And before you say anything about Jackson, keep in mind that he tore the taller Badger, Illini and Golden Gopher squads apart by picking his spots and using his quickness. If Purdue can force Matta to get past his 7th player on their roster, aOSU will be out of its comfort zone...the officials will have a thing or two to say about how that portion of the game goes. While Purdue can't control them, there's a lot they can do to beat my least-favorite team in the BT.
I think they're atop the conference to stay this season, but stranger things have happened. Regardless of where the season ends, they're the most dominant team in the conference since MSU a few seasons ago.
At this point, they're exactly wehre they should be. Despite what the media tells us, they're less-reliant on their one-two punch than Wisconsin as the next three leading scorers average 5 more points/game than do Wisconsin's 3-5 players.
There's room for debate on how good of a coach Bo Ryan is in the post-season. But, no one can say anything but positive remarks on his ability to have his team playing their best in February.
They're kind of in this position by default. No one else in the middle of the conference is playing good basketball right now. They're a bit like IU was a few weeks ago- they're competing against the elite teams in the conference, but haven't been able to close games out. Their next game is of utmost importance to them...and their opponent.
Since Izzo isn't their coach, Weber's squad might need a victory more than MSU to get into the tournament. The Illini might lose three of their last five games of the regular season.
6. Penn State
Their pre-con record has put them in a position in which it'll be nearly-impossible for them to make the dance. It's a good thing they host that other tournament each season.
They're the exact opposite of PSU- their pre & early conference schedule put them in a postion where it'd be difficult for them to not make the tournament...but they're not playing well right now. That said, it'll be hard to deny a 19 or 20-win BT team with a top-50 RPI from getting in.
Their young guys, specifically Hardaway, are playing well...a strong end to the season and a good NIT showing might give the some confidence for next season.
At this point, they're playing for a home game in the NIT...but I think that might be a long shot.
Flip a coin- both IU and Iowa are entering their next games with three-game losing streaks, which will more-than-likely turn to four following their next contests. Iowa gets the head-to-head tiebreaker.