Purdue Lays An Egg, Falls To WKU 77-73
One of the commentators was right: non-conference tournaments can prepare you for the conference tournament grind, playing on back-to-back nights. Unfortunately, the Good Guys put up a performance on Thanksgiving that was all too familiar from recent tournament history. The only two NCAA teams that Gene Keady coached hadn't met in the regular season since Keady was the head coach at Hutchinson Junior College, and based on this result, it might be better if they don't meet again. The Good Guys led for all of 41 seconds against a team with just eight players, falling 77-73 to the Hilltoppers.
Some of the same problems from Wednesday's game showed up again tonight. The Boilers struggled again on the defensive glass: Tennessee got nearly 40% of offensive rebound opportunities, Western Kentucky got 33%. Too many possessions ended with forced shots. Too many defensive stands ended with easy shots for the Hilltoppers. Too many chances to cut into the lead - or to remove it entirely - ended in turnovers or missed shots.
It wasn't all bad news, if you put aside the difference in opponent quality. Isaac Haas was the kenpom MVP, recording a game-high 22 points on 7 for 8 shooting and 8 of 10 from the line, adding 5 boards and 2 blocks. PJ Thompson was the lone Boiler to have his outside shot, knocking down 5 of 10 from long range and going a perfect 4-4 from the line for 19 of his own. Turnovers were down: .188 to .225 the night before. Ryan Cline finally hit another three, just his third of the season. Dakota Mathias managed just 5 points, but had 7 assists and no turnovers.
The rest of it, though ... bad news indeed. Purdue allowed 1.12 PPP to the Hilltoppers, including .535 shooting inside the arc. A number of those shots were easy looks or even dunks ... speaking of which, Boogie missed on another dunk opportunity, using a great screen from Haas and ending up maybe half a step short (naturally, WKU scored on the ensuing possession), en route to another rough night: 9 points, 2 assists, 6 turnovers, and an ORtg of 61. The Boilers other than Thompson were just 3 of 17 from distance, which made the Hilltoppers' various zones much more effective than they should have been. Heck, even Grady Eifert missed a couple of shots.
It's still early in the season. You don't have to go back very far - just three years - to find another Purdue team that stumbled early in non-conference play. In fact, that team lost two such games: to #143 North Florida and to #212 Gardner-Webb, and both those games were in Mackey. They ended up going 12-6 in conference play ... but didn't make it out of the first round of the NCAA tournament.
You don't have to tell these guys about that team, because five of them were on it. Most of them were also on last year's team, when the Boilers' worst loss was to #107 Nebraska by three points on the road. While this team ought to be able to play as well as last year's, this week, we haven't seen that ... and there isn't much time for Matt Painter to fix the problems we've seen so far. The opponent for tomorrow's fifth-place game will be either #7 Arizona or #30 SMU; after that, when the Good Guys return to the US, they get #22 Louisville at home, #35 Maryland on the road (thanks, Delany), and #51 Northwestern at home. Five of the seven games after that feature opponents with triple-digit kenpom ratings, but then again, WKU has a rating like that too. If Purdue can't fix their problems soon, particularly on offense, they're likely to find themselves in March in that awkward 7-10 or 8-9 spot that's given them so many problems in recent history.
It would be a shame to see a talented team like this finish their careers with just two NCAA wins in four seasons. If things don't improve, it's unlikely their postseason record will.
Feature image courtesy of BoilerBall, the official Twitter account for Purdue men's hoops. I'd wait for the official gallery but I'm pretty much done with this game.