In better news, Purdue absolutely killed the Hoosiers on Saturday, and I couldn't be more thrilled. The rivalry has been a bit down recently, because neither team can manage to be good at the same time as of late. The last Hummel year was as close as it got, and it was sadly pretty clear pretty quickly that Robbie didn't have enough help around him.* During most the Hummel-era, Purdue was the team way up while the Hoosiers were way down. Last year, Indiana's two top five picks** were just too much for Purdue, leading to two lopsided games last year.
*Though the Boilers did have a Kansas team totally beat later that season before that one somehow slipped away. And, well, that Jayhawk team was much better than what Indiana had that year.
**Which could only manage the Sweet 16. Most underachieving NCAA team in history. Just throwing that out there.
You certainly won't catch me arguing that either Purdue or Indiana are any good this year, but they certainly came into this game on pretty equal footing. Both teams sported a 14-10 record coming into this game, and both sitting at 4-7 in the conference. The only real difference between the teams seemed to be Indiana had managed to knock off a couple of the ranked conference teams, whereas Purdue hasn't been able to finish off those games. But, on the other hand, Purdue has managed to generally win the games they were supposed to, while Indiana has had some inexplicable losses. This was the first game since the Hummel-Johnson-Moore class's freshman year that I really didn't know how the game would go tuning into it. I was certainly nervous, to say the least, and I wanted this win badly after last year's embarrassments.
And, Good Lord, did Purdue ever deliver. The final margin was 18, but it really could have been* much worse. Purdue had a couple of their characteristic scoring droughts in this game, too. The difference was they were able to make sure Indiana didn't really score in those periods, either. It was pretty clear from the time ESPN finally switched over to the game** that Purdue was far more dialed in, far more hungry than their southern counterparts. Sterling Carter finally shot the way he was brought in to shoot. The Boilers actually hit their free throws, which has been an issue, to say the least. Whether you want to credit Purdue's defense or Indiana ineptitude, the Hoosiers also played right into Purdue's strength on the other end. A lot of standing, a lot of jacking up jumpers or wild shots at the rim. For all their problems, one thing Purdue has been able to do is use their size around the basket and rebound very well. Whether it was how Tom Crean*** had it drawn up or not, you couldn't have asked for a better blessing as a Purdue fan. Or player or coach, for that matter.
*Should have been?
**Also, shame on you, ESPN, for shifting the start of that game to ESPN Classic, the only channel that is generally mixed in with a more premium package on most cable and satellite providers. Yes, Saint Louis and VCU was a good game, but on Saturday, I really couldn't have cared less.
***The Big Ten's creepy uncle.
So, yes, I could not have been more pleased with how this game turned out. The Hoosiers are no juggernaut, as I've been saying all year, and Purdue treated them as such. If there is any prayer at all of making the NCAA tournament, this game kept the hope alive. On the other hand, this game was awfully frustrating. I've written it here before, and others have said it as well. There is talent on this Purdue team. There is certainly a ton of athleticism on this Purdue team. But, for whatever reason, this team has never been able to put it all together. There were flashes, like most of the Oklahoma State game, but for whatever reason, this team could never do it for forty minutes. I think every Boilermaker wondered what this team could do if it played balls out for an entire game. And, well, now we know. And, damn it, if they could play like that every game, they would probably win the conference and win it fairly easily. Now, granted, no basketball team is going to play that well and tuned in every single game. It just doesn't happen. That's why even the best college teams don't go undefeated. Even the best Bulls team still managed to lose ten games. There are just too many games in basketball to go undefeated. But, if you hadn't seen Purdue other than last Saturday, you would be forgiven if you thought they were closer to Michigan State's 10-3 conference mark than the 5-7 they're actually at.
Where do we go from here? Well, the schedule gets tough again. The Spartans come in on Thursday. That's certainly a game that Purdue can win, especially given Michigan State's injuries, but I don't think anybody will have the Boilers as a favorite. They travel to Nebraska after that, which you would think would be a win, but the Huskers have looked pretty game lately. Purdue then finishes with Michgan, at Iowa, at Wisconsin, and Northwestern. There's just not much breathing room in these last six games, and Purdue really needs to win every single one of them to get into the tournament. And that still might not be enough.
Unlikely? Sure. But if they play like they did last Saturday, if somehow on Friday night all that young, raw talent and athleticism somehow has morphed into real basketball skills, this is suddenly a very dangerous team. They've shown that it's not impossible to pull off a win streak like that. Here's to hoping maybe the Boilers learned one other important skill over the last week: consistency.