18 Straight - Purdue's Fast Start Buries Maryland, 75-67
It's Delany Week, which means that the Good Guys spend a few days playing random teams that are in the conference for no reason other than Jim Delany assuming that everyone in a big city wants to watch Wisconsin-Illinois games and will subscribe to a failing business model in order to do so.
First up: the DC market, er, I mean Maryland. The Terrapins were at one point thought to be heading the second tier in the conference, right about when pundits thought the first tier would be Michigan State and Wisconsin, or maybe the defending conference champs ... nah, not them. In Maryland's defense, their conference schedule has been brutal - swept by Michigan State, road losses to Ohio State and Michigan, and a three-point road loss to Indiana along with their home loss to the Boilers in The Second-Dumbest Delany Decision This Year, conference play the first week in December.
But they also had no good conference wins, and Mackey Arena is not the place to be looking for one, no sir, no ma'am. About four minutes into the game, Mark Turgeon could be excused for looking at maybe finding an emergency exit and slipping out at halftime. Purdue was off to yet another slow start from outside (comparatively speaking: when you're shooting .436 from long range, pretty much any start is slow), but Maryland had a big 0 on the scoreboard, and Turgeon knows as well as anyone how difficult it is to come back against the Good Guys' defense. In that game in College Park, Purdue trailed by a point once, and their win probability never dropped below 50%.
They never trailed in this one. Oh, Maryland made it close a couple of times, once when they remembered they had a Dakota Mathias of their own (Kevin Huerter came in shooting .458 on 120 attempts from three, just a touch behind Mathias' numbers), but it was close only on the scoreboard, not in game terms. Not when this team can squeeze the life out of a rally with relentless post pressure, solid defense, and timely shooting. Here are Purdue's next six possessions after Maryland cut the lead to 55-52:
- Two Isaac Haas free throws
- A PJ Thompson three
- A Haas dunk
- A Haas hook
- Two Boogie free throws
- Two Vincent free throws
That made it 68-56, and with 5:26 left, it was just a matter of time. A couple of poor decisions by Purdue defenders did stop the clock when they didn't need to, but it didn't matter, just as Haas finally missing a pair of free throws didn't matter. There may come a time where this run ends, but it wasn't going to be tonight, and it wasn't going to be to the Terrapins.
Things that were good
Rebounding. Purdue actually doesn't rebound that well, despite having Haas, Haarms, Vincent, and Nojel Eastern. Maryland does. And yet Purdue outrebounded the visitors, 31-30.
V. Edwards. 35 minutes, a game-high 11 rebounds, 5-1 assist/turnover ratio, and just 1 foul. (EDIT: not bad for a guy with the flu. No wonder the Washington Post says he may be "the most difficult matchup in college basketball.")
C. Edwards. 34 minutes, 17 points, including 7 of 8 from the line. 1 turnover.
Ball control. 4 turnovers for the game - a quick check suggests that's their lowest total since a 50-point rout of Rutgers two years ago.
The big man. 28 minutes, 20 points, 9 boards, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 block, numerous fouls absorbed without complaint. Haas also got Maryland's lone center-like substance, Sean Obi, fouled out in just 7 minutes of playing time.
Things that were not as good
I don't care. Purdue is rapidly approaching the point in the season where the quality of your wins becomes meaningless - all that matters is the actual W. There's no need to lose a game for whatever cliched reason coaches mention: if anything, that happened in the Bahamas. Twice.
The Good Guys came into this game 2-1 favorites to lose no more than 1 game in conference play; they've almost certainly locked themselves into no worse than a 2 seed, and they're one week away from putting a 1 by their name in March. The Bracket Matrix shows a group of three teams up top: Virginia, Purdue, and Villanova, and the Wildcats will be missing Phil Booth indefinitely. There's a good group of teams looking for that fourth 1 seed, but there's space between the two groups and plenty of time for teams in tougher conferences to stumble once or more before March. In the meantime ...
Things that are closer than they appear
Yes, a 50/50 shot to reach the Final Four. (Wouldn't bet on it? Maybe you should.) Second-best chance to win it all, and no, Duke is not first, Jay Bilas doesn't work for Torvik.
The Good Guys have one more solid test: home against Ohio State, then Michigan State at Breslin. If you had told me in November that Purdue would basically be pick-'em at MSU, I would have laughed at you, then quickly typed it up here and posted it for the world to see. Fortunately, you didn't, so I don't have to admit that you told me so. But they are, which means there's a good chance that Purdue will be sitting at 25-2, an excellent chance they'll hit 30 wins before the NCAAs, and solid odds that they'll be on that 1 line in March. (Especially if MSU doesn't make it to the New York City Invitational title game and Purdue does. This may be one situation where the stupidly early tournament helps the Boilers, since the committee may have forgotten how bad the conference is beyond the first four teams, but they'll remember 32-2, 30-4, or whatever Purdue happens to end up as.)
Things that are closer than they should be
There was a point where Rutgers was not only not the worst team in the Big Tenteen, but they actually were beating teams. (Raise your hand if you thought their first two conference victims would be Wisconsin and Iowa.) In fact, if I asked you who kenpom thought the third-best defensive team in the conference was, I suspect it would take 13 guesses to get the right answer. (barttorvik has them 4th, just behind Michigan.)
Rutgers actually is playing really good D now. Naturally, in response, the basketball gods smote team captain and offensive leader Mike Williams, who is out indefinitely with a leg injury. A 104.1 ORtg isn't great - the only one of the nine Boilers getting regular minutes worse than that is Eastern, and I'll wager that's not an issue next season - but it's the best Steve Pikiell had, and now a bad offense has become atrocious. The Scarlet Knights have topped 36% eFG just once in their last four games, a game in which they gave up 91 to Illinois, and no, I don't know what scoring system they were using, that still seems wrong to me.
Rutgers shoots poorly from everywhere: .305 from three, .425 from two, .645 from the line. They don't have a chance against this defense. They scored 51 in the blowout loss in Mackey, and Williams had 10 of those. They shot .154/.383/.562 in that game, too, so if you watch BTN on Saturday, cover your eyes when RU has the ball. It's for the best.
Choo choo, muthas.
Once again, quality shots courtesy of the fine folks at Purdue Athletics, taken by Charles Jischke and Paul Sadler.