An End and a Beginning
Purdue locked up its record 24th Big 10 title Saturday afternoon over an out-matched and disinterested Northwestern team by the score of 70-57. It was a surprising end to a surprising season, one that started out 6-5 and seemed destined for mediocrity after the Boilers got their teeth kicked in by a decidedly average Notre Dame team in December. And then 17-3 happened, and Trevion Williams happened, and Nojel Eastern’s length and strength happened, then this: a share of the conference title and a likely - and well-deserved - Big 10 Coach of the Year award for Matt Painter appears in the works. It’s hard to wrap my arms around this season, to find a neat little box to put it in. So I’ll just shrug, grin sheepishly, and accept it gratefully.
No, it hasn’t always been pretty. Frankly, lately it’s rarely been pretty, but the job continues to get done. No, this isn’t quite as sweet as being in sole possession of the title, which would have happened had they not gotten razed at the Barn last week, but oh well. The trophy shines the same.
What a nice cap on the season this has been. What an unexpected delight in the form of a team coming together and so glaringly showing off both their deficiencies and their compensations for those deficiencies. It has been a bit messy for sure; the polish isn’t there this year the same way it was during the Baby Boilers era, or the Biggie steamroll, but wins are wins and titles are titles all the same.
Of course closing this book opens another, the one we all peer at with tightened jaws. More on that to come, for sure, but first we must deal with its prologue. The Big 10 Tournament starts on Wednesday, though for Purdue that won’t come until Friday. Three games to win only its second tournament Championship, a week off, and then…
There’s a lot to like about this team, and less obvious to be worried about. Carsen Edwards played more within himself today, still taking 18 shots, still only hitting six (most concerning, going 1-8 from three after hitting his first two) but pulling back a little from the head-down, hero-ball that we had grown accustomed to over the last several weeks. He is the key to what Purdue does next.
But the key is also what Ryan Cline does (1-4 from 3 today), what Matt Haarms does (4-5 from the field, six rebounds and three blocks), and what Nojel Eastern does (5-7 from the free throw line.) This team has shown a completeness, a resiliency, that is needed to do good things in March. Things are about to get pretty real for this team, and they have addressed every challenge head-on up until this point.
The line on Purdue entering the season was “Carsen Edwards and a bunch of randos” but what this team has shown thus far has been that their bunch of randos are good enough to help Purdue win a share of the regular season title even in the midst of a month-long Carsen Edwards slump. Good signs for March abound.
Next up for this team is a week of relaxation, rest, and study. And celebration. Because what they have done this season is as worth a celebration as any previous season. On to the next thing.