It was always a bit of a joke to me that the Hoosiers were ranked number one this year. Now, I realize a healthy dose of this is being such a Purdue fan. But, it runs deeper than that, believe me. First order of business was the roster. To the best of my knowledge, Indiana didn’t add any overwhelming great freshmen to their team. So, essentially, we’re looking at the same roster from last year. Last year’s team finished fifth in the Big Ten. Now, clearly players can improve, but to go from fifth in the conference (just one game better than a supposedly depleted Purdue team) to first in the nation? That was always an awfully big stretch for me.
But, the Hoosiers always get this sort of special treatment. The same special treatment everybody was afraid Notre Dame would get in football, except it turned out they didn’t need any funny voting in the polls.* Look no further than last year’s NCAA tournament. Again, Indiana was one game better than Purdue and two played two much-closer-than-most-IU-fans-remember games against each other. The Hoosiers somehow get a four seed. Purdue is stuck at ten. Indiana also gets a pretty favorable draw against a not-as-strong-as-advertised New Mexico State team, and a second round game against a not-as-good-as-last-year VCU team, of which it needed a last minute miracle to win. That led to a revenge game against Kentucky, of which the only surprise is the Wildcats didn’t win by twenty-five.
*They did need to get saved by their backup quarterback against a decidedly mediocre Purdue team in South Bend, though. That’s not even counting cardiac wins over Stanford and Pitt and others.
Purdue, on the other hand, got play as the road team against a St. Mary’s squad that many picked to win. They, like VCU, were just not as good of a team in this tournament as they were in the year before, and Purdue won more easily than the score would indicate. They then got eventual-runner-up Kansas in a game where Purdue simply choked in the second half.*
*Certainly not for the first time that season. Closing games was that team’s glaring weakness.
Can anybody look at that and think these two teams were that far apart last year? If that’s not proof of preferential treatment from the pollsters, I don’t know what is.
Now, clearly, Purdue is reloading and teaching a bunch of freshmen how to play “major” college basketball, so don’t get any ideas that I’m advocating for Purdue to get any more attention than it’s been getting this year. Purdue is out of the spotlight, and I think most Purdue fans are okay with that this year.* They clearly do not have the same roster as last year. But how do you look at Indiana’s very similar roster to last year and decide they were overwhelmingly the best team in the nation?
*Watch out for next year, though. I got a good feeling about this core moving forward.
The only real argument I really read for this ranking was that Cody Zeller was this great, transcendent player. Frankly, I just don’t see it, and I’ve never seen it. I certainly don’t watch all that many IU games, but I watch a few, and I just don’t see why there’s that much hype. Is he good? Sure. But if they had been in the same class, I would have taken JaJuan Johnson any day. Hell, I probably would have taken Carl Landry any day, and he had to spend a few years in junior college before he hooked on with Purdue. I just don’t think he’s anything to the level Hoosier fans and the media are making him out to be.
And, for once, I can finally point to an unaligned media source who isn’t falling all over themselves to praise IU. After Butler dumped IU,* Grantland’s Shane Ryan wrote a little piece about the game and pointing out that, yeah, Butler’s good, but they’re not that good. And neither is IU. Here is a relevant excerpt, but don’t let that stop you from reading the rest of the article. There is a lot in there breaking down why IU was terribly overrated from the get.
*Not all that surprising to some. Ahem.
“Here's the problem: Butler is a very tough team with a lot of fun players and a smart coach, but they aren't a great team. Not by a long shot. They lost to Xavier by 15 and Illinois by 17, and they dodged bullets against atypically weak Marquette and UNC teams. But Saturday's win was no fluke, because the truth is that the Hoosiers aren't all that hot either. The first real sign of trouble came against Georgia and Georgetown in Brooklyn, and they can no longer blame those performances on Zeller's flu. We know better. Their defense is porous, their Player of the Year candidate looks like he spent the offseason on a supermodel diet, and they have exactly one guy (Oladipo) who can create his own shot against physical opponents. So forget a no. 1 ranking; the Hoosiers are about to take a lot of abuse in the country's best conference, and they're having trouble staying inside the top 10.”
As pointed out, the Big Ten is a tough conference, and it’s going to take a pretty big toll on a young Purdue team. But, that was expected, because the Boilers just don’t get any love from forecasters. It’s going to take a pretty big toll in this IU team, too, and it’s probably going to leave a lot of writers falling all over themselves to try to explain why this is such a shock.
On a somewhat related noted, Purdue gets to host Ball State tonight. Hopefully we can avoid another Eastern Michigan letdown in Mackey.