It won't be a walk on the beach the rest of the way for any of the Big Ten teams. (See what I did there?)
It feels like every time Purdue plays, I make a comment to the wife about how "this is a big game," to the point where I feel kind of silly saying it now. Yeah, it's a big game tonight -- huge, you might say. But strangely, I feel this is one of the few that it might be okay to lose from here on out.
Yes, to guarantee being tops in the Big Ten, our Boilers need to win out, but that's a VERY tall order. And winning in East Lansing is never easy. But here's the rest of the way:
@ MSU, tonight.
versus Iowa on Saturday
@ OSU on 2/17
versus Illinois, 2/20
@ Minny, 2/24
versus MSU, 2/27
versus IU, 3/3
@ defending national champion PSU, 3/6
So just for kicks, let's play the win-loss game. Being realistic yet optimistic (if you follow me), let's say a loss tonight, maybe a loss @ OSU (though Boilerdowd thinks Purdue will get revenge there) and wins in the other six games. That's a 6-2 finish for a 13-5 conference mark. To match MSU, they'd need to lose at least two more games besides the one win I'm chalking up for Purdue against them (and yes, for the moment, ignoring all those other teams clustered at 8-3 right now). Can that happen? Sure. Is it likely? Probably not. They have the following left after tonight's game: @PSU, @IU, vs OSU, @Purdue, vs PSU and vs Michigan.
Where do two more losses come from in there? Having PSU twice in your last six games is a nice little cushion. Sure, they'll be "upset-minded," but MSU will be "we're talented"-minded, and will dutifully wax the floor with the Nittany Kittens. I'd say the best shots are OSU and Michigan, though both of those are in East Lansing.
So, to sum this meandering analysis up, it looks like Purdue does either need to win out or, at the very worst, lose only one more game if they want to be the regular season champ. (And for those of you who think that means less because of the Big Ten tourney, don't forget these teams still all want to be regular season champs and, even if the conf tourney is your focus, you get the top seed.)
Remaining miscellaneous thoughts before tonight's game...
I love that Purdue and MSU are playing twice in an 18-day stretch in February, when everything is meaningful and building and everyone is battling.
I also love that they're our "rivalry week" matchup. It's hard to hate Izzo...and maybe that's a good thing. I kind of like having a rival who I respect and appreciate.
I won't feel bad for one second is Kalin Lucas is out, or that it minimizes the win if Purdue pulls it off. Nobody felt bad for the Boilers when Kramer's nose was broken, Hummel's back was broken and several guys had the flu last season... and nor should they have. Wins count, no matter what.
Purdue's last win in Breslin was in 1998 and was by a score of 99-96. But remember, everyone: the Big Ten is slow and plodding and boring!
I'm ready. Are you?