Last night Matty and Co. cleaned up on BT Awards Night.
Of course JJ and Smooge were named as members of the All-Conference squads by both the media and the coaches, and Painter was given the COY Honors for the second-straight season. But there were some surprises.
The hotly-contested POY race between JJ, Sullinger and Taylor went to Johnson. I think everyone could see validity in any of these guys getting the award...but Purdue's #25 swept the coach's and media's polls. I was a bit surprised at that- I thought the coaches would give it to JJ and Sullinger would receive the media award since he's been a national media favorite since he got on campus in Columbus...and rightfully-so. But, the guys that cover the BT, night-in, night-out thought the Indianapolis native and late-bloomer JaJuan Johnson was the right guy for the honor.
I think that's a tip of the cap to his consistency and his ability to simply carry Purdue as other players grew into their roles and Moore slumped a bit. It also might be a bit of appreciation by the media for the four-year player. Regardless, he's a good pick, a good representative of Purdue, as is Moore.
Atop the POY award, JJ was named the Defensive player of the year...and this surprised me as much as no Purdue backcourt player being on the All-Defense team. Moore and LewJack were drum-tight all season...but Craft and Lighty are just as good of a tandem, if not better...and there are only so many spots on these squads.
LewJack's ability to change the pace of a game didn't go completely unnoticed though. He named as an Honorable Mention All-Conference player. If Wisconsin's Taylor decides to go pro (which I don't think he'll do), and Jackson continues to mature and improve, he might be a first or second-team All-BT guy in '12. If his work ethic has anything to say about it, he'll get more recognition next season. Not bad for a guy that some Purdue fans simply didn't appreciate for the first few seasons on campus. I think now, even the biggest Jackson-doubter would admit he's as important as JJ or Smooge to this team.
Painter receiving the coach of the year award didn't surprise me. What did was the gnashing of teeth and tearing of robes by aOSU fans demanding a recount and pleading for their guy to get the nod. Anything less than a BT Championship from that talent-laden squad would have earned him the worst Coach of the Year award from me...but hats off to him for going away from the zone defense. Why he didn't do it sooner is still a head scratcher for me. Let's keep in mind they have four sure-fire NBA players on the team (Sullinger, Lighty, Buford, Diebler) who will be in the league, three more who have a good chance of playing in the league (Lauderdale and Thomas) and a guy who, regardless of what he does as a pro, will be an All-Conference player year-in, year-out for the remainder of his time on campus.
Hats off to Matta for building one of the best rosters in the nation and managing them brilliantly. His reward is a #1 ranking and #1 seed- I think Painter would gladly trade his award for that position...but, I don't think he'd trade Purdue's roster for anyone's right now. The two are made for eachother.
I've resigned myself to the fact that JJ is merely an also-ran in the National Player of the Year Awards as Fredette or Smith seem to be the two in that race at this point. And the same goes for Matty as Lavin, Fisher and Brey have done a tremendous job capturing the hearts and minds of the masses during this season. If I were to pick outside of this year's Purdue family, I think Fredette and Lavin would both be excellent choices. You can't really argue with Fredette's numbers or Lavin's turn-around. But, all Purdue fans remember October well and can't forget the 20+ drop in ranking position after Hummel was re-injured. The yo-yo effect of our Boilers being bounced down and then clawing their way back up has to be worth something...and maybe we've already seen that.
In some ways, getting this crap out of the way now is a very good thing. Honestly, I didn't like seeing and hearing Purdue's players and coaches commenting on the awards they had earned. My thought was all the back-slapping might have deter them from focusing on the 're-teaching', as Painter called it, of the defensive principles that were seemingly-forgotten prior to the Iowa contest. Regardless, we know this team is resilient and hope they have their best focus of the year in the coming few weeks.
Let's all be honest for a second. As much as it pains me to say this, the media has been generally-fair to Purdue in '11*. The Forces of Good have been getting love from lots of national outlets...but they earned this respect by tearing holes in their competition in the month of February and doing so in dramatic, noteworthy fashion. Who knows what we'd be talking about today had Painter and Co. not wet the bed in Iowa City...but what-ifs are unprovable. No one can argue with results. A win, is a win, is a win...especially in the tournament format. Our Boilers have a tremendous opportunity to move the program forward and make thunderously-loud statements to the nation about the state of this program.
Back in late January, we were hopeful and optimistic. Now in March, Purdue fans should be confident and excited. This team has a chance (to quote Matty) to be 'special'. Awards are nice, but are really a bi-product of success. As this team and the coaches have said all along, championships are the end goal.
*Even Davis & Goodman have chimed in lately...I credit a ground-swell campaign by Purdue fans via Twitter for helping them see the light.
**Credit SI & Andrew Hancock for the tremendous photo