A Critical Stretch?
We’ve talked before at Boiled Sports about Matt Painter and how he’s a difficult case to evaluate. He’s never been a bad coach, but sometimes his teams – often very good teams – seem to fold under pressure. The debate often rages about whether the players are to blame in those situations or if perhaps it all lies on Painter.
Earlier this season, Purdue appeared to do what Purdue does – come out strong but fail their early tests, losing at home to Villanova and on the road to a listless Louisville team. Inside the halls of BS, the rumbling was that another embarrassment in Indy a the Crossroads and you could begin to paint-by-numbers on how the 2016-17 season would turn out.
However, he Boilers rebounded with not only a win against a good ND team, but a rousing come-from-behind win (Boilerdowd’s favorite way to do anything). Purdue has looked really strong of late, but has had the occasional bump, including a loss on the road to what appears to be a pretty mediocre Iowa team and a home loss to Minnesota. Despite that, Purdue is 5-2 in the conference and a half game out with 11 games to go. If you assume 14-4 is the minimum needed to compete for the conference title, then Purdue needs to go 9-2 the rest of the way. Is that doable? Sure. But will it happen?
This is where Matt Painter and Purdue can show that they’re different… that he’s grown as a coach. Sure, beating the tar out of a Penn State team that’s not quite ready to compete is great, but Purdue’s next five are this: @MSU, @Neb, vs NW, @MD, @IU. Four out of five on the road with a home game against Northwestern. And you can feel confident all you want about the Purple Warriors, but they’ve got the exact same overall and conference record as Purdue – they’re for real.
Can we all agree seeding matters? Sure, it’s far too early to know where Purdue will wind up, but if you’re into predictions, Little Man Lunardi has Purdue on the 5-line right now. Some work needs to be done to lock up a 4-seed and even more needs to be accomplished to vault into the 3-line.
As noted, Purdue’s next five is a gauntlet – or at least as much of a gauntlet as the Big Ten offers these days. And it’s not unusual to break down sports seasons into stretches. If Purdue goes 4-1 over this stretch, then I think they have a shot at that overall 14-4 bogey. It would still be tough but it’ll be possible. Anything worse and it’s obviously more than a long shot.
My big concern right now is Purdue winding up at something like 11-7 or 12-6, not winning the BT tourney and getting a 5 or 6 seed in the NCAAs. That’s not to say that this squad couldn’t turn that into lemonade, but I’d be…let’s say…concerned.
The stretch begins tonight at Michigan State. The Spartans are “down” for them, but they’re still the Spartans and it’s still Tom Izzo and it’s still that annoying loud blasting horn in the Breslin Center. Let’s hope Caleb crushes them under his boot.