It Wasn't Supposed To End This Way

It's okay to feel that way. It's completely okay for you to feel dejected this morning. I woke up and the first thing I thought about was the loss to VCU. Sure, losses don't affect me like they did a number of years ago (my son gives me some much-needed perspective, maybe), but this one will continue to sting for a while.

I don't think it would be hard to get most people to agree that this year's team entering the tourney was a lot better than last year's. Sure, you could argue they miss Chris Kramer's defense, but playing strong defense was not really a problem this year. Once they collectively got over losing Rob for the season -- and make no mistake, they got over it a lot faster than the rest of us -- this team came together. They gave us a strong start to the season, a couple of fairly minor hiccups, and then one of the greatest Februarys we've ever seen out of a Purdue basketball program.

All we asked at the start of the season was that the team be healthy and playing good ball heading into March. We sort of got our wish. There weren't any mega-injuries, obviously, but there were those proverbial "distractions." Barlow manages to screw up enough -- or so badly -- that he's dismissed for the season. Did that impact their focus? I know I said I was concerned that it did, but I really am not sure it could have been that big a factor. Losing your sixth man whose play had gone steadily downhill the last few weeks of the season doesn't seem like it could possibly be that impactful. Purdue still had their seniors and that's what should have mattered.

Last year's team perhaps had more of a chip on their shoulders because the Rob injury was fresh and they were really being counted out. And the thing that made the ending last year kind of tolerable was that they lost a game to the eventual national champs and clearly were out-manned and out-talented. This year? No disrespect to VCU -- who is a good team -- but it's not the same.

Purdue would have needed to beat a 14 seed, an 11 seed and then a 10 seed to get to the Elite Eight. If Richmond pulls off the huge upset of Kansas (not a completely insane idea), then the path for the Final Four would have been 14-11-10-12. All double digit seeds. We often lament that things rarely "line up" for Purdue. Well, let's not mince words: things were lined up for Purdue this year.

This is not to say the road would be easy, even with those double digit seeds. St. Peter's plays strong defense, VCU shoots the lights out, FSU just beat one of the Big East's elite, and Richmond already beat Purdue this year. So obviously I'm not saying it'd have been easy. But it's never easy to get four rounds into the tourney. But I would have very much liked these matchups for our boys.

So what happened? We're all so quick these days to place blame and we're always looking for the scapegoat. Perhaps that has led us to be even more frustrated by yesterday's game because there's no easy answer. When the game was about ten minutes old and Purdue led 22-19, I felt good because even without JJ or E'Twaun getting warm yet, Purdue had a lead. That had to bode well, I thought. But then VCU began hitting and somehow going through Purdue's defense like they weren't even there....uncontested layup after uncontested layup. And then, once they were up by double-digits, they began bombing away every time Purdue left them open for threes. And that's what a good shooting team should do. Get them on their heels and then deliver the haymakers, the knockout blows. It's something we've wished Purdue would do more but rarely did. VCU followed the recipe perfectly and then feasted on roasted Boilermaker.

There were people on Twitter giving grief to JaJuan Johnson, which we felt was unwarranted. JJ had 25 and 14, so it's hard to suggest he's the reason the Boilers lost. VCU also was doubling JJ a lot and leaving E'Twaun in single coverage -- yet Smooge couldn't cash in. And sure, you could blame 33 if you want, too. But this year, against unranked teams, Purdue has done fine when at least two guys show up as significant scorers. JJ having 25 and Ryne having 20 should have been enough of a base to win. And when you look at 76 points, well... if I told you Purdue would score 76 against a CAA team seeded 11th, I bet you'd take that.

Why did the defense simply fall apart? Why were the Boilers exhibiting body language that we haven't seen in years? How much of this is on the seniors? How much is on the coaches? There are no perfect answers, but it is probably on all of them, including underclassmen, etc. It was a collective failure. Failure to do what got them there, failure to adjust, failure to focus, failure to lead, failure to follow.

Being perfectly honest, I always felt that last year was "the year." I remember saying a while back that 2010 -- in Indy, no less -- was Purdue's best chance of several decades to go to the Final Four and/or win a title. They had the big three as juniors, CK's defense, Keaton's experience, LewJack as a sophomore and, until the season crumbled, a likely high seed. They got to #3 in the country before Rob's knee effectively ended the dream. I remember being crushed because I knew that was the year. I just knew it. And sure, we all pointed to this year with the guys as seniors, but the 2009-2010 team -- healthy -- was just right. This year's team was, as we've now seen, missing something.

We're very excited, actually, about the future of this program and, as Boilerdowd said to me last night, "I want to see next year's team right now." But going back to what I said at the beginning of this post....it's okay to feel dejected. We all had higher hopes for these seniors.

This wasn't how it was supposed to end.

Not Feeling Handsome

Boilers Massacred in Chicago: 94-76

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