It’s Okay to Have Expectations
Matt Painter and company made it through the gauntlet with the 4-1 record that I wrote I thought they needed to have in order to have a shot at the conference. I’ll also note that when I wrote that, there were quite a number of people out there suggesting Wisconsin had clearly run away with the conference and everyone was playing for second place. It’s amazing how if you take care of your business, things tend to shake out fairly. (Just try not to gnash your teeth over Purdue’s Big Ten losses.)
But today I want to talk about expectations. Matt Painter, Caleb Swanigan and the 2016-17 Boilermakers are doing some expectation-raising, aren’t they? They’ve got you believing… or at a minimum, they’ve got you wanting to believe. Yearning to believe. To believe that this collection of guys may be what’s needed to advance to that elusive Final Four Elite Eight second weekend.
Purdue and Matt Painter teams have had this opportunity before, right? The Baby Boilers era had some seemingly good chances. The first really good one was derailed by Rob Hummel’s first knee injury. We’ll never know how that would have turned out – maybe they would have flamed out in the first round, you know? But that happening – and happening that late in the season, too – was just crushing. They still put on a game effort but that felt like an unfair miss. Then, of course, he hurts his knee again but that one being in October meant plenty of time to learn to win without Rob. That team then winds up running into a VCU team that I think I’d put up there with Kevin Ollie’s 57th place in the Big East UConn National Champs team as one of the NCAA Tourney-est teams ever. Were either of those teams that good? No, not really. But man, did they catch fire at the right time. Last year, it was Syracuse. It happens.
Except to Matt Painter. So far, anyway.
The Rob Hummel-Ryne Smith team in 2012 felt like it could have that lighting-in-a-bottle characteristic. And I maintain to this day that if they’d held their double-digit lead with under four minutes to go against Kansas, the rest of that bracket was wide open for the taking. But alas, athleticism and Bill Self’s magnificent coaching won the day.
And so here we are. Matt Painter has a healthy team (fingers crossed) that seems to really have all the elements, right? Intangible cohesion elements, right? They seem to really like each other and have those salty vets like Spike in the locker room. They have strong guard play from veteran PJ and boisterous newcomer Carsen. They have a sequoia to put out there against undersized teams that don’t know how to space the floor efficiently. And, oh yeah, they have the potential national player of the year in Caleb Swanigan, the best basketball player to come through Purdue since Glenn Robinson. (Aside: Remember how the Glenn Robinson domination was so complete that losing in the Elite Eight felt like a letdown?)
Oh how I want Caleb Swanigan to be the Carmelo Anthony of this year’s NCAA Tournament. No, they’re not the same kind of player at all – but couldn’t Caleb be the kind of transcendent player who gets his starving fan base the thing they’ve long coveted but that which has always seemed out of reach?
My point in all this is that I think it’s really okay to have expectations. You’ll invariably run into people if Purdue falls early again who chastise you for being upset with the outcome of the season (even from within the Purdue athletic department).
But that’s silly! Having expectations (and sometimes having them dashed) is all part of being a sports fan. And in college sports, when you’re Purdue, you’re constantly hoping that once, just one time, it’ll be our turn. No more waiting until this next recruiting class or hoping the big-time five-star comes to Purdue. He came to Purdue and Matt Painter, to his credit, has used the tools at his disposal this season well and maximized returns. Guys like Isaac Haas completely bought in, even if the adjustments that were made (such as Haas becominga bench player) may ultimately be hurting his eventual NBA draft stock. The commitments and sacrifices required for a team to be great have been made. I really hope they pay off for these guys (and, selfishly, for me after watching a couple of decades of tourney disappointments). Perhaps a conference title is ahead, or a BTT title or, hopefully, NCAA Tourney success.
So in summation... expectations are okay! Don’t feel guilty about it or allow yourself to be lectured on how you’re not a good fan if you’re not blindly loyal. It’s something we’ve said before, but to state it again, sometimes you need to be hard on the ones you love. It’s like parenting – are you always nice to your kids and never critical? If so, you’re a lousy parent.
Let’s be good parents to Purdue basketball and demand more from them. Because, you know, we know they’re capable of it if they just apply themselves.