Cementing the Skepticism: The Purdue Way
For years we've felt it to be our duty here to point out sports media inconsistencies, specifically when it involved our Boilers. But as a good pal of mine reminded me a few years ago- "Why would anyone respect Purdue in the media?" It's a fair question. Those who cover the college sports world correctly weight NCAA tournament successful teams as better programs. What better way to compare programs across conferences than head-to-head competition...when everything is on the line? After all, that's the whole ball of wax. Heck, even conference tournament champs are pretty important in this day and age. Behind that, regular season success falls into the pecking order.
But let's be honest with ourselves, fellow Boilers, it's been six years since Matty's squad was B1G tri-Champs. It's been seven since they won the tournament. It's been six years since a Sweet 16 for the Forces of Good...Sixteen years since an Elite Eight...Thirty five years since the Final Four in Indianapolis. When it's written down...it kinda stings; for me it does, anyway.
A few brave, perhaps drunken, members of the media picked Purdue as a contender for the Final Four this season. Honestly, it warms my icy-cold heart to hear that from a national outlet. Purdue's collapse versus Iowa must have been an ice bucket to the face for those outliers who talk about college basketball for a living, and got behind Purdue early in this season. I'd bet after that Iowa game, many said to themselves, "I'm not doing that again."
It really did seem different early on for our Boilers though, didn't it? The depth and talent was obvious...Purdue was grinding teams down and winning games by significant margin. But since Butler exposed Purdue as a team that really can't handle consistent, hard-nosed defense and play good defense on the other end, Purdue has looked less-than-stellar. They survived against and OK Vandy team in the friendly confines of Mackey, couldn't separate themselves from another OK team in Madison and soiled themselves versus the trapping defense of Fran's Hawkeyes.
Sure, it's only early January, and good teams lose games they shouldn't...move on and eventually do big things in March. BUT, very few NCAA teams (just 4 in 319 games) have ever lost after being up by 17 or more at the half, as Purdue did on Saturday...and I'd argue hardly any good teams would do it. Period.
J asked via Twitter earlier in the season how much of a lead would make Purdue fans feel comfortable...and he was mocked a bit as being defeatist by simply asking the question. I guess we found out that the answer isn't 17 or even 19 points (as Purdue led by late in the first half). I'm not sure if I have a number that makes me feel really cozy, honestly.
Purdue's program is kind of up against it right now. They're clearly a respectable, solid team...but will most assuredly drop significantly in the rankings (when released shortly). But that bitter taste, and maybe more importantly, the scent attached to them due the manner in which they lost, really won't be washed clean any time soon. They need to beat ranked teams to earn respect in the mind of voters now, and the tourney committee later.
Their next chance of beating a ranked team will probably come on 1/24 versus Iowa at Iowa (Note to Coach Painter & Co: trapping zone defense will be legal in that game also). After that, February sixth at Maryland is their next chance. What they really need to do is win the next eight games before a showdown versus Maryland...THEN beat the media darling Terps at home.
But even then, in the grand scheme of things, that streak would only be worth a lot if it turns into a high seed and subsequent deep tourney run...at least for me. To my semi-trained eye, right now, Purdue looks like a 4-6 seed in the NCAA tournament...that spells doom because Purdue playing to seed would only yield a Sweet 16. Then, the pattern of not much respect continues.
Respect can be earned as we've seen with Purdue opponents like MSU, Wisconsin and Butler. They've all won big games on big stages versus blue blood programs...they've also been salty versus our Boilers and shown us who is really the better program. As much as it pains to say it for me, my Boilers simply haven't earned much of anything, other than a top-25 ranking, it seems.
Maybe this is just a hiccup in the journey; let's hope that's the case. But what it feels like to me, is Painter is struggling to find rotations that effectively use all of the talent at hand. At the same time, he hasn't figured out which buttons to push to change the trajectory of things when teams get scrappy, or really tough against his Boilers. This is kind of ironic since his teams have generally been defined by their toughness. I'm really not questioning anyone's physical toughness...but their mental toughness, both the players and coaches, has to at least be up for debate in the wake of what we've learned so far.
Here's to Purdue doing themselves a favor and re-establishing their identity, and changing the program's national perception in 2016. Players, coaches and fans alike- I think we're all more than ready for a change.