Purdue's Starters Beat Robert Morris 47-46
After losing a very winnable game against Virginia Tech, Purdue came home to face Robert Morris in a very winnable post-Thanksgiving palate cleanser.
In truth, these games only have negative and neutral outcomes. You win, even by a lot, and well, you should have won what are you thumping your chest about? You lose, and you spark an existential crisis that calls into question your whole season.
So given that losing is such a powerfully negative experience, and winning in and of itself is meaningless, what we’re really interested in is placing the performance of the team within context for what we want to see them do against more impactful opponents. Can they rebound like this against Michigan State? Have this hot of a start against Michigan? Be this focused on defense against Indiana?
So at the risk of extrapolating too far from limited data, the evident formula for Purdue to be successful is clear: use Carsen and Eastern to attack the rim, rely on Cline and others to hit from distance, and have Boudreaux, Eifert, and Haarms to fill in the gaps. A formula easy to master against Robert Morris, but one slightly harder to execute in March.
Still, games against Robert Morris (even when it results in an 84-46 win) are often instructive, in terms of what emerges as problems regardless of opponent (in this case, turnovers), and in terms of providing younger players with playing opportunities. None of the young players have had a breakout opponent, but the ways in which they are going to be able to be successful and contribute to this year’s squad have become apparent. Whether that is Eric Hunter nailing a three from the corner, or Aaron Wheeler skying above his opponent to grab a defensive rebound, these micro-roles are beginning to take shape. And while freshmen often suffer from a number of challenges - higher levels of play from opponents, fitting in to a team where they are no longer the star, maintaining consistent play across a fairly long season - most of those challenges can be overcame by finding a role that fits their skills and giving them chances to operate within that role.
I’d oddly more excited about this season than I have been about many previous seasons. Last year was a surprise, and any notable success this season may be as well. But this team is sneakily set up to be a tough out this spring, with a dynamic guard who can get buckets, a solid interior, and a litany of perimeter shooters who are reliable from deep.
There’s a lot of growing to do, some of which is evident from even this game (again, turnovers, as well as a sluggish start to the second half.) But you have to like what you saw today against Robert Morris, even if the results wasn’t particularly exciting.