Even before this afternoon's news of Barlow's suspension, I was thinking about this post...but for a different reason.
We, and the rest of the Big Ten, know how good Purdue can be when focused- they are a group that causes shot clock violations regularly for opposing offenses. They can erupt at a moment's notice and turn a nip-and-tuck score into an insurmountable deficit. They are a team that is as happy playing a half court game as they are pushing the pace and forcing the issue. And when their resolve is there, they strike fear in about any team in America...but then there's the listless Purdue that we've seen a few times this season.
Back in November, they showed up in Chicago versus Richmond. Almost the whole game, they were in neutral. The result was Richmond's PG/SF combo looking like Stockton and Malone. Nearly two months to the day, later, that sluggish squad showed up again. Hung over from the College Gameday atmosphere, the Buckeyes had Purdue beaten in mere minutes as a 0-0 game was out of hand before halftime was reached. Bad Pete didn't show up again until March...after a nearly-perfect February. And it was a different game than some of you are thinking, in my opinion. The first half of Senior night was pretty sickening. Purdue allowed a hot-shooting Illinois team to run out in front and take a big lead. But, thanks to some big shots by the Seniors and an electric Mackey Arena, Purdue earned a closer-than-expected victory.
The next two games were shockingly-lousy as Purdue allowed the 10th-best team in the conference to absolutely control them...then allowed MSU to earn its way back into the NCAA field by showing up the top-10 Boilers in their own game: toughness and 'want-to'.
If you're a Purdue fan, you've may have thought about why they ended the season that way, but it doesn't take the analysis of Bobby Knight to figure this one out. The basketball adage goes- Good offense is often the result of talent and skill...Good defense and rebounding is almost always a result of hustle and will. Purdue's hustle, its heart and its motivation were AWOL in the last two contests...but we've seen this before.
Last year, Purdue was body slammed out of the BTT as they put on an exhibition of exactly what a major college basketball team shouldn't do v. Minnesota. They followed the game up with a solid performance to start the NCAA tourney v. Siena. In '09, they ended the season in East Lansing with one of the flattest second halves of basketball of that season. They followed that up by tearing through the BTT and winning their first such crown, then winning two more games in the dance.
The point is, we all know that Painter-coached teams are resilient...and that's without additional motivation. So I loved reading this article about St. Pete's from NJ.com. If you follow us on Twitter, much of this is review for you...as it set the interwebnet ablaze with fired up Boiler backers...but it's still good to get this word out as much as possible prior to Purdue's 7:20 tip-off v. the Peacocks on Friday (on TNT).
Let me re-set the stage: On one hand you have a team that was top-10 in the nation for much of the season. This team boasts of two of the best players in the nation (according to media and coaches alike) and one of the best coaches in all of the land as well. The other team has some solid players, three Senior starters and earned its way into the dance, after upsetting Iona in its conference tourney. In my opinion, it'd probably be best for both teams to just respect the other prior to the game and let their performance do the talking.
JaJuan Johnson agreed saying, "We're playing against a St. Peter's team that won their conference...last year we played Siena, they're from the same conference. Obviously, they have to be a pretty decent team."
Now, St. Peter's had other ideas.
6'7" F Ryan Bacon said this of the aforementioned All-American, POY candidate, Johnson, "I'm embracing the opportunity (to guard him). He's not Superman."
5'11" PG Nick Leon continued putting the Boilers in their place by saying, "We're not focused on matching up on them. They need to focus on matching up with us." He'll have the the chance to guard and be guarded by Lewis Jackson.
I guess there's nothing wrong with talking trash if you can back it up...and the Peacocks will have their chance to do just that when they play the lowly Boilers from someplace in the midwest. Afterall, the 143rd-best team in America (according to the RPI) has plenty to be proud of. Their star shooting guard, Wesley Jenkins summed up St. Peter's current pre-NCAA tourney position quite succinctly. "...you have to go through hard times first, and now, we're on top."
I don't bet on sports, especially Purdue sports. But if I was a betting man, I'd probably put down a shiny dime or two on my Boilers for this Friday. They might have eased their way out of the regular season as they drifted to sleep, but I think it'd be pretty foolish to doubt their focus or resolve in the final games of JJ and Smooge's careers. And some might think the loss of Barlow will hurt the Boilers greatly in the tourney...and it might sting a bit. But, I can promise you that his absence forces this team to be more businesslike as they prepare for their next game.
Matty, Moore, Johnson and company are pretty damned good at what they do. But, when they're doubted, when they're disrespected, and consequently, when they're angry, they're nearly unbeatable. I think a few proud Peacocks have made big mistake and awakened a sleeping monster. Soon, they'll live with the consequences of their actions.
Cover your face and head, Peacocks.