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Saturday, November 29, 2008

week 14 blogpoll ballot

I wanted to be the first, so here I am. Oklahoma just finished off Oklahoma State, so my first day of the season not affect by watching a Purdue game allows me to have my most rational blogpoll ballot. Here is my draft ballot as of now, with explanation afterward.

RankTeamDelta
1 Alabama --
2 Florida --
3 Texas --
4 Oklahoma --
5 Utah 3
6 Penn State 1
7 Southern Cal 1
8 Texas Tech 1
9 Boise State --
10 Ohio State --
11 Ball State 3
12 TCU 3
13 Cincinnati 3
14 Oregon 5
15 Brigham Young 3
16 Michigan State 4
17 Oklahoma State 5
18 Missouri 7
19 Georgia 6
20 Tulsa 1
21 Boston College 1
22 Mississippi 3
23 Oregon State 6
24 Iowa --
25 Kansas 1

Dropped Out: Western Michigan (#23).

Alabama is #1 because they are the only unbeaten BCS conference team in the country. (this was easy)

Florida is #2 because they are a blocked extra point from also being unbeaten. The SEC title game next week is a national semifinal, and you can begin the speculation of a rematch should Florida barely beat Alabama and Missouri upsets the Big 12 south champ. The Miami win in the non-conference lost some luster with the stumbles of the last two weeks.

I went with Texas at #3 because they beat Oklahoma. Texas Tech has an argument, but got drilled by the Sooners and were two miracle plays (a dropped INT and Crabtree's TD) from losing to Texas.

Oklahoma is #4. They are a great team, but if they really wanted to play for the title they should have beaten Texas.

Utah is #5. The Mountain West went 6-1 this year against the Pac 10. They beat the team (oregon State) that knocked off USC in Pac 10 play. They have done all that is asked of them, yet still won a deep conference with two other top 15 teams (TCU and BYU). Why not give them a shot?

Penn State #6. They pounded Oregon State, who beat USC. Enough said. Their loss to Iowa is better than Florida's loss to Missisippi (Perfect weather at home for Florida, bad weather on the road at Iowa), but the rest of the competition isn't as good.

USC at #7. The Oregon State loss hurts more now that they got destroyed by the same Oregon team that struggled with Purdue.

Texas Tech at #8. Got drilled by Oklahoma, then struggled with lowly Baylor on the Radiers' home field. Not the way to impress the voters. Enjoy the Cotton Bowl.

Boise State at #9. Great team, but a weak conference.

Ohio State at #10. They are the only team with two losses in the top 10, but both are to top 10 teams.

Ball State at #11. Great team. In any other year they would be in the BCS with this reanking, but they can't help that Utah and Boise State had a better year. They did all they could but they have the weakest schedule of the four unbeatens by far. Unfortunately, if you give them the schedule of any of the top 10 teams they would struggle to make a bowl.

Any other comments?

Slipped Away

I just took a moment to read the GBI boards. There are several threads crying out about the injustice of the foul discrepancy. They generally go along the theme that we got beat because it was 8 on 5, they mention the 46-5 free throw difference, and even one creative post called a 3rd foul on Bobby Riddell despite the fact that he only moved from the bench on timeouts.

It is a shame that the fouls and resulting free throws will be the story of this game. It was a classic, hard fought college basketball contest between two very good teams. If we played them in a seven game series it could easily go all seven games. The fans over at Crimson and Cream Machine were very gracious in victory, as was I in defeat as I spent the afternoon between this site and theirs. The Sooners are a very good team. Though the fouls were a big difference, we still had plenty of chances to win that we let slip away.

Positives:

Nemanja Calasan – Chally nearly pulled us out of this one with his big 3-point play after an offensive rebound at the end of regulation. We certainly don’t count on 20 points per night from him. All eight rebounds, especially the four of the offensive variety, were huge. He played some of the big minutes that JJ will need to play later on. As it was, he and JJ each had four fouls most of the second half and we still did a good job of containing Blake Griffin. This was simply a fantastic game from Chally.

E’Twaun Moore – We will never know what would have happened if Moore had gotten hat shot off at the end of regulation. The fact a foul wasn’t called there, but was called any time there was a loose ball is ridiculous. That final play of regulation took me back to my days as a grade-schooler in Basil Mawbey’s summer basketball camp. They always taught us that if you’re going to know the ball away, go from under the ball because if you go over the top they will almost always call a foul. The Oklahoma player went over the top and got it away cleanly. With the way Moore was shooting who didn’t think his shot there would go down?

3-point shooting – This is what kept us in the game. Oklahoma was fighting with paper cuts getting a point at a time from the line while we were going nuclear with the threes. Before missing our final five attempts we were actually shooting 50% from long range at one point in the second half.

Lewis Jackson – One of his few mistakes was the biggest one of the game when he simply threw the ball away at the end of overtime. It tarnished a big game where he had 10 points, six dimes, and two absolutely huge 3-pointers.

Defense on Blake Griffin – I could read the frustration on his face in the second half. He got his numbers on the glass, but he only had 18 points and was held to almost half of his season average in shooting from the field. You could tell he didn't quite know how to handle what we were throwing at him. The fact that he still got his numbers shows just how good he is. We made sure that he was not going to beat us single-handedly, but he got some big help from his brother and from Willie Warren.

Negatives:

Officiating – I do not normally complain about officials, but something needs to be said here. There is no way that two evenly matched teams like this should have a 41 attempt difference in the free throw department. It was especially bad late, when somehow an inadvertent whistle and timeout was awarded on a lose ball. These guys didn’t understand that when the ball is loose there is sometimes some contact. It’s okay not to call a foul then. I felt good when we grabbed a four point lead early in the OT, but all we did was foul the rest of the way.

Dumb mistakes – This was the real story of the loss. We had a lot of just plain stupid turnovers and rushed shots. If we cut out half of those, which is what we normally do, we win by 10 points despite the free throw difference. Once we started hitting threes I think everyone felt like they needed to shoot them. That led to some very ill-advised attempts in the final minutes. I feel like Oklahoma outplayed us in the first five minutes and last five minutes, but that was enough even though we outplayed them the rest of the time. Those losses are the most frustrating kind.

JaJuan Johnson – He took a bit of a step back tonight. He was saddled with foul trouble and never really got into the offense. To be fair, we kept fumbling away the perfect entry pass to him in the first half.

Final Thoughts:

In my opinion, the Duke game is now a must win game. We’re not going to get any national respect unless we take it and the Davidson game. If we lose both, we’re going to go into the conference season with just three losses, but they were in the three biggest games. We need to beat Duke to have a great win on our resume for tournament seeding.

I am not going to place this loss totally on the officials like everyone on the GBI board is. We played our own large role with the turnovers and rushed shot. Oklahoma is a good enough team that this loss will not reflect poorly on us in anyway. Where it hurts is the fact that we let a chance at a quality win slip away. Everything that went wrong is correctable. We’re also not going to have this big of a difference in fouls again.

Tuesday night the fans need to do their part. If you plan on sitting, stay home. Give your ticket to someone else. I will be there, and I want 14,122 other screaming fools who won’t sit down or shut up until the game is over. If there is a student that can smuggle my wife and I into the Paint Crew I promise you we will be as loud and crazy as you want us to be. Just contact me ahead of time and we will be there. I want everyone on their feet for 40 minutes to let the Dukies know that the Mackey maniacs are better than the Cameron Crazies by sheer strength of numbers.

Who is with me?

Friday, November 28, 2008

#13 Oklahoma vs. #9 Purdue open thread

I'll be home this afternoon watching the game before heading to a Pacer game tonight, so why not do an open thread. Feel free to comment in the comments, and I'll go along with you all. BOILER UP!

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bring on the Sooners!

I was covering a high school game here in Indy last night, but I was able to avoid a score and watch the tape once I got home. The Boilers did well in their first serious test of the season. As always, there are positives and negatives, but we looked every bit like a ranked team in this contest. Sure we essentially bled the clock dry with a big lead in the final seven minutes, but it lead to a win. At some points it looked like we were a football team taking a knee every down to keep the clock running. Boston College helped us by having a pair of critical turnovers once the lead got down to six.

It was also the first true test of the solid 8 man rotation. Ryne Smith didn't find his way off the bench, nor did anyone else. It looks like it is going to be a sound strategy. Smith and Riddell can be emergency shooters off the bench in time of need. Both should get some PT in other upcoming games anyway.

Positives:

E'Twaun Moore
- The commentators were raving about E'Twaun's game last night with good reason. He set the tone with 11 quick points and shined on one of the biggest stages you can shine on in basketball: Madison Square Garden. I like the 19 points almost as much as I like the six assists.

Chris Kramer - He did what captains do by icing the game in the final minute with some big free throws. He was the only starter not in double figures, but he missed it by just a point. The breakaway dunk came at a big moment too as we were building the lead. I hear he can play a little defense as well.

Nemanja Calsan - Larry Clisby has taken to calling him Chally on the radio broadcasts, and I kind of like it. What do you readers think? It doesn't have the cachet of Ostrich, Smooge, and the Secretary of Defense, but it is still good. Chally weas a fighter on the offensive glass. He only grabbed two, but he was more of a force inside than in the past. We will definitely need that tomorrow night.

Dime droppin' - We had more dimes than Jay and Silent Bob last night. 16 assists on 24 made field goals is a very good ratio. We must continue to share the ball this way.

Rebounding - We still got out rebounded, but there was more effort there. I think the biggest thing right now is finishing rebounds. We're getting to the ball, but we're just not securing it. I counted at least five times where we should have had it easily, but it caromed away off of hands to a BC player. There must be dramatic improvement here before we face the rebounding machine that is Blake Griffin.

Defense - 38% shooting from the field. 21% from 3-point land. 15 turnovers. These were well below BC's average for the year. You're going to win a lot of game when you make teams have these numbers.

JaJuan Johnson - He is getting better every game, but still showed some room for improvement. 12 points, 6 boards, and 3 blocks were his final line. It's obvious at this point that Chally is his only help in the paint. Reid is not going to be a factor except in blowouts. That is why JaJuan needs to continue showing improvement every night.

Negatives:

Complacency
- I think we got a little too comfortable with a 17 point lead and under 7 minutes to go. We got one field goal in that time and would have been in trouble had we not bled the clock dry on every possession. Even then, we didn't get high percentage looks after draining the clock.

13 offensive rebounds given up - And this is not a great rebounding team. Again, we must learn to secure the ball once we get to it.

Final Thoughts:

This was a great test to pass, but Oklahoma is even bigger. The next two games against Oklahoma and Duke will tell if we're a true Final Four contender this year. We can win both. If we do, watch out!

I also wanted to wish everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving out there. I'll be headed home to Kokomo for the day, so everyone travel safe!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

NIT Final Preview: #13 Oklahoma Sooners or UAB Blazers

File this one under putting the cart before the horse. Regardless of tonight's outcome against Boston College, we will be playing one of these teams Friday night. Both present unique challenges. UAB is a team loaded with speed and shooting. Oklahoma is a grind-it-out type of team that will try to pound us into submission inside. This is a great test for the NCAA Tournament. In both cases we will have just 48 hours to prepare for a team. Here is a quick look at each opponent.

Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (4-0)
2008 Postseason: 2nd round NIT loss vs. Virginia Tech 75-49. 23-11 final record.
Blog representation: None

The Blazers had a good year in a weak conference last season. They were 12-4 in conference USA, but two of losses came in games that could have made a difference between an NCAA and NIT berth. Their game-winning shot against Memphis at home was just barely past the final buzzer in a 79-78 loss. That one win could have put the Blazers into the NCAA as an at large team. A loss to Tulsa in the first round of the Conference USA tournament sealed their fate.

UAB is the surprise team in New York. They were the only team here that didn’t get to play the opening rounds on its home floor. The Blazers traveled out to Tucson and squeezed out a pair of close wins over Santa Clara (64-61) and host Arizona (72-71). The Arizona game was decided by an absolutely stupid foul committed by the Wildcats that allowed a couple of free throw attempts with less than a second to go. Those wins were the meat in a sandwich of success that featured n 87-66 win at Troy and a 77-62 win at Old Dominion as the bread. Unlike the other three teams in the field, UAB has yet to play a game at home.

The Blazers are a dangerous team. They play in a conference dominated by Memphis and full of mediocre teams. They are searching for wins that will improve their postseason profile, and beating Oklahoma then the Purdue-Boston College winner would suit them quite nicely. They lacked such a win last year and it landed them in the NIT. UAB has already proven they can win on the road too. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain by getting a pair of games against a couple of the nation’s best teams. They also know how to win close ballgames as shown in Tucson.

They are led by the aforementioned Robert Vaden, who followed Mike Davis from IU down to UAB and has made a nice name for himself there. While I am hurt by the way he spurned us years ago, I wouldn’t go as far as to echo the sentiments of a fellow writer. This fellow Purdue alum, after Vaden switched his commitment, stated jokingly, “He’s dead to me, and I am not voting for him for Mr. Basketball.” Vaden is a very dangerous scorer. He’s averaging almost 19 points per game, he shoots 89% from the free throw line, and he hits almost 45% of his 3-pointers. The scoring battle between him and Blake Griffin should be fun to watch.

Vaden is far from the only scorer UAB has. Paul Delaney III is averaging 17.3 per game while Lawrence Kinnard is over 15 points per game too. Delaney had 10 points and hte game winning free throw against Arizona. Kinnard is an imposing presence in the paint as well with a team high 9.3 rebounds per game. The Blazers love the 3-pointer even more than Boston College. They throw it up from long range 18 times per game and 40% of those tries. Kinnard does not limit himself to the paint either. He is a versatile that can step out and hit the 3-pointer with 41% accuracy. Should we play the Blazers they will definitely test out perimeter defense.

UAB boasts an eight man rotation, but the scoring drops off significantly after the big three. Terrence Roderick is the first man off the bench with 8.3 points per game, but the remainder of the rotation averages five points or less. UAB is not a strong rebounding team, so in a potential matchup we may have a slight edge there. They are pulling down just 35.5 boards per game. They also share the ball well at 14 assists per game. Point guard Aaron Johnson leads this category with almost four dimes per contest.

Channing Toney is another player to watch out for. The 6'5" senior guard averaged more than 10 points a game last year, but has been realtively quite this season. He is another player htat is not afraid to shoot the 3-pointer, but his attempts are down this year.

Seeing Chris Kramer guard Robert Vaden would be a fascinating matchup. Kinnard and Delaney offer him more than enough help though. Beating UAB will not be as simple as shutting down a supreme talent in Vaden. The Blazers are a team full of good shooters. Delaney and Roderick hit better than 50% from the field, so forcing a poor percentage will paramount in any matchup. As always, we must rebound and defend the perimeter.

UAB is not blessed with much size. 6'10" Jeremy mayfield is by far the tallest player. The Balzers style of play is much more up-tempo to offset the lack of size in the paint. We should have a big advantage if we can make them play our halfcourt game and pound them with JaJuan inside. They are a wildcard of a team. If they are good enough to beat Oklahoma tonight htey are certainly good enough to beat us. Our trademark defense and size advantage down low should be the difference, but all bets are off is Vaden goes nuts. Purdue 70, UAB 62

Oklahoma Sooners (4-0)
2008 postseason: 2nd round NCAA loss to Louisville 78-48. 23-12 final record.
Blog representation: Crimson and Cream Machine has some excellent stuff

If we’re playing in this tournament in order to get a game that is like a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 game we want to play Oklahoma. As the #2 seed in the tournament, a Purdue-Oklahoma final is what the organizers wanted. We owe them too. Drew Lavender’s late layup started the downfall of the 2003-04 team. It was the first of many close losses that season. In the return trip the Sooners kicked us around Mackey Arena a year later. For good measure Lavender was still around to lead Xavier to our demise last year. A win would not just give us a quality non-conference win for later seeding purposes. It would also pay back a largely growing debt. And yes, I am aware we beat a #3 seeded Kelvin Sampson coached team in the 2000 NCAA’s

Oklahoma is 4-0 behind one of the best players in the nation in Blake Griffin. Griffin has been the leading scorer in all four games, topping 20 points each time. Oklahoma even had one of the more difficult paths to New York in this tournament. An 82-78 win over Davidson was mere survival, as the Sooners nearly blew a 21 point second half lead. Stephen Curry had a career high 44 points int hat game, but Griffin counters with a 25-21 night in points and rebounds. Oklahoma opened the season with wins over American (83-54) and Mississippi Valley State (94-53). Both were NCAA teams a year ago. Gardner-Webb put a scare into the Sooners this weekend before falling 80-76.

Griffin is a great talent to build around. So far he has punished smaller teams with his size. He has put up 26 points per game and has shot an astounding 74.5% from the field. I would say we need to keep him away from the basket, but he is also 2 for 2 from 3-point land to show some range. Just about the only weakness in his game is 56% free throw shooting. He is still getting to the line 11 times per game though, so if he goes there enough times yhe is going to hit something. Keeping him off the boards will be difficult as he is averaging almost 20 rebounds per game. Griffin will be a very formidable test for our interior players. If we want to be a Final Four worthy team though we have to learn how to contain dominant bigs like him.

The big man is helped in scoring by Willie Warren (15.3ppg) and Taylor Griffin (10.5). Taylor is actually the older brother of Blake Griffin and has been around long enough to be recruited by Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma. Apparently we just can't get away from Sampson this week. In addition to expert-level cell phone use after being recruited by Sampson, Taylor Griffin is having his best season in Norman as a senior.

Austin Johnson makes things go from the point while Tony Crocker is a serviceable fifth starter. Cade Davis can provide some offense off the bench. He has played in just three games but is averaging almost 9 points per contest. As a team Oklahoma shoots almost 50%, and with big bodies like the Griffins they can get plenty of second chance points if we allow them to dominate the glass. This team reminds me a lot of Wisconsin last year with Blake Griffin in the role of Brian Butch.

Granted, some of these numbers may be inflated with a pair of blowouts in the first two games. If a team like Gardner-Webb can make Oklahoma sweat we should be able to really scare them. Blake Griffin needed 35-21 game to top the Bulldogs, but everyone could have been distracted Saturday afternoon because of the football game on campus that night. The Sooners must get past a feisty UAB before facing us anyway. The Blazers are more than capable of pulling the upset.

Should we get a game with the Sooners it is clear that we must make sure Blake Griffin doesn’t go absolutely nuts. We must keep the clamps on the other four guys on the floor. If we can contain those four and dare the big man to score 55 and beat us by himself we’ll be in a good position to win. Griffin is good enough that he might just do that though. Taylor Griffin is a capable shooter as well, hitting two thirds of his shots from the field. Oklahoma goes with a nine man rotation too, so wearing them down won’t be an easy task. Regardless, this will be a nice warm up for a huge game against Duke in about a week.

This will easily be our most difficult contest on the young season, but I am encouraged that teams like Gardner-Webb and Davidson challenged them. I don't think we'll need a 44 point sing-handed effort like Curry, but we can implement a game plan like Gardner-Webb to have a chance. The Bulldogs received balanced scoring from their five starters and held their own ont he glass. They also hit some key 3-pointers from Grayson Flittner to stay close.

Unfortunately, I feel like Blake Griffin is going to have a field day agaisnt us. We're going to have a hard time denying him the ball, and Oklahoma can probably out-physical us like Xavier last year. The bench doesn't do much scoring, so if we can get Blake Griffin in foul trouble it will help. Oklahoma relies on him quite a bit. If we somehow hold his numbers down we will win easliy. If not, we're in trouble. In end the end, I think he will perform well enough to be the difference. Oklahoma 58, Purdue 56

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Roundtables of both kinds of balls

I was going to throw in some Boilermakings stuff with this entry, but the Boiled Sports guys already beat me to the punch today. Most of the best news is out of the NFL anyway with Drew Brees lighting it up last night, making for the only time it is okay to beat my wife (in fantasy football). Dustin Keller continues to make the NFL draftniks look stupid in New York. Even John Standford is getting in on the action with his first NFL catches a couple weeks ago. We also should find out over the weekend where the women's volleyball team will be headed in the NCAA Tournament. They are currently ranked 18th, and have an outside chance of hosting the first and second rounds in the IAF on Belin Court.

Before getting to a double dose of roundtable, there is a good news/bad news bit to share about the sight. The good news is that I should have a lot more time soon to research and write articles as we get into the heart of basketball season. The bad news is this situation comes as a result of another temporary assignment suddenly ending for me. That means I get to go abck to substitute teaching as I continue my four year search for permanent employment. YAY

The first roundtable this week is the final football roundtable of the season. As everyone waits around for the bowl games (or in our case, spring practice) we have one final regular season roundtable hosted by... Off the Tracks! It's time to get schizo as I answer my own questions.

1. Minnesota, Michigan, and Indiana got absolutely torched in rivalry games this weekend. please feel free to diagram your revenge scenario/taunting celebration as appropriate for when you stomp a rival/get stomped by a rival in such fashion.

I think that Saturday’s 62-10 win was enough revenge after losing the bucket last year. I wasn’t even that embarrassed to lose to Indiana a season ago. The Hoosiers were the better team that day and I was happy they were able to come together and honor their coach. If there is an acceptable way to lose a rivalry game, that was it.

As far as a taunting scenario, we had that as well. We won the game 62-10 and had our only non-successful drive fail because we didn’t even try. We thoroughly embarrassed a team to the point that its own blogger called it the worst loss in the history of Indiana football. That’s a tall order considering the number of losses Indiana has had. Many Purdue fans are living the dream this week with what the Indiana basketball and football programs are suffering. That's before you even consider Notre Dame's situation. I think the Hoosiers have honestly had enough.

2. The results are in and the Big Ten didn't do well this year. What does the conference need to do in the bowl season and next year to regain esteem?

First of all, the Big Ten must win the Outback and Capitol One Bowls. That is the only thing that might shut up the SEC fans who think their conference is God’s gift to college football. Should Penn State get USC in the Rose Bowl or a trip to Miami, they must win it. They are carrying the banner for everyone else. Third, we have to win some marquee non-conference games next year. This means Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue have to beat Notre Dame and games like Purdue’s trip to Oregon or Ohio State’s home date with USC have to be wins.

3. For Penn State fans, what is your plan to defend the title. For everyone else, how will you topple the Nittany Lions next year?

We’re not going to challenge Penn State for the title next year. I think there will be improvement under coach Hope, but I am also a realist. The schedule is much too tough to expect a championship unless Justin Siller makes dramatic improvement or Joey Elliott sets the world on fire. Getting to 6-7 wins and getting back to the postseason is a much more reasonable goal. Still, there is no Penn State or Iowa and Ohio State and Michigan State must come to West Lafayette… Nah!

4. Of the 109 other teams in Division 1A, pick one you absolutely would love to face in the postseason and pick which bowl game (other than BCS championship) you would play them in.

The obvious answer would be a game against Miami, but I want to go off the board here. I would love to play Nebraska in the Las Vegas bowl. Why? It's probably our best chance to beat a traditionally strong "name" program. As far as the game being in Vegas, that needs to be a bigger bowl game. If you don't want to go to Vegas you're crazy.

Basketball roundtable:


The second roundtable this week is the first basketball roundtable of the year. At Purdue we have soft spot for Bruce Weber, that is why host Paint the Town Orange is well respected by the Off the Tracks community.

1. Its special tournament week, tell us what tourney your school is playing in and how well you think you will do. For Michigan fans, please feel free to dump all over UCLA, because we all know how yours turned out.

We're in the preseason NIT as the #1 seed already in New York. I honestly expect to beat Boston College in the semifinals, but Blake Griffin and Oklahoma is looming in the final. That is the type of game that will help decide if we're a legitimate Final Four threat. Oklahoma is going to be one of the better teams in the Big 12, just as we are one of the better teams in the Big Ten. With Duke next week, that could be back-to-back conference pride games.

2. We are about 3 to for games into the season, who in the preseason
schedule do you see as being the best test to see how well your team will be this year.

This one is easy. We get Duke in Mackey Arena next Tuesday night. I will be there, and it is anticipated as the biggest game in Mackey Arena since some guy named Lew Alcindor and UCLA opened the building in 1967. I wonder how that guy's career turned out.

3. Give us your Big Ten top 5 teams, and pick to win the conference.


I don't want to be the homer, so I think Michigan State and Purdue will tie. I think the best two teams int he conference and will split their series with each winning at home. For third I like Ohio State, followed by Wisconsin. As a fifth team, I'm throwing Michigan in there. I wouldn't have until last week, but beating UCLA was damn impressive. They also get a second chance at Duke, so who knows what will happen. If they can get that game it will give them two healthy non-conference wins on their NCAA resume.

4. Because we are all insecure about conference power rankings, where do you
think the B10 falls this year?

The top is very, very good. Michigan State and Purdue are threats for the Final Four. Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and possibly Minnesota are expected to be threats for the NCAA's. The rest, well, it's pretty bad. Indiana is going to be about a step below awful. Iowa struggled with Texas-San Antonio. Northwestern is Northwestern. Penn State and Illinois might be fiesty, but they have a long way to go.

5. How bad will Indiana be? A.Pretty lousy? B.Conference embarrassment bad?
C.Rooting for Notre Dame and Purdue instead bad? or D. I miss Mike Davis bad?

I'll choose D. I miss Mike Davis bad. I don't get why IU fans hate him. He damn near won a championship for crying out loud. People act like he has never seen a basketball before. His greatest crime was not being Bob Knight. It is bordering on B. though. These guys nearly lost to the IUPUI Hoosiermakers. Last year wouldn't have bad with NBA first rounder George Hill, but he is now plying his trade for San Antonio. That win means they won't finish dead last... in the state of Indiana. no word on what IPFW will do.


I do respect Tom Crean though. He went in there and cleaned house of some guys that deserved it. I took some flack for my position on Eli Holman, but he deserved. He committed the egregious sin of quitting on his team. I am definitely in the camp that Indiana will suffer this year because Crean cleaned house, but they will be better in the long run for it. When it comes to basketball I respect tradition. Indiana has it and they deserved better than last year's finish. That coach and those players essentially pissed on IU's tradition, and that's wrong no matter who you are.

Monday, November 24, 2008

NIT Semi-final Preview: Boston College Eagles

Purdue’s real basketball begins Wednesday night when the Boilers face Boston College in the semifinals of the preseason NIT. The Eagles are our first major conference opponent. To this point Purdue, has played four mid to low majors and has won each game by 20 points. Each game was a business-like “nothing to see here” performance that went exactly as expected. Top 10 teams shouldn’t be challenged in four games at home like we have played, and we haven’t been. There have been a couple of issues such as rebounding and spells of cold shooting, but those are not major surprises. The key strength of this team, versatility, has shined in four blowouts.

Wednesday night is a different animal. We face a Boston College team that represents one of the top conferences in college basketball. The ACC is definitely a power conference. Boston College is often among one of the better teams in that conference, but had a down year after a hot start a season ago. Before that, they were often one of the better teams in the Big East.

We have the Eagles to thank for one of the few bright spots of the end of the Gene Keady era. Many Boiler fans will remember Willie Deane’s slashing style from earlier this decade. Deane led us to the final NCAA appearance of Keady’s tenure, and I remember him as one of the bright spots of the 2001-02 season when I was a senior and the Gene Pool had five people in it. We also got Gordon Watt from them after a year, but he then transferred to Houston Baptist.

Friday night faces an even more interesting test. We will either see one of the nation’s best players in Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin or a couple of familiar faces in Mike Davis and Robert Vaden of UAB. Yes, Vaden is still playing college basketball nearly a decade after he announced as an eighth grader he would be attending Purdue. We’ll be playing one or the other in the championship or third place game, but first up is Boston College.

Boston College Eagles (3-1) 2008 record and Postseason: 14-17 (10-2 start) finish, loss in second round of ACC Tournament
Blog information: Eagle in Atlanta is the best I have found

Boston College found its way to New York with a couple of easy home games, but stumbled in an odd road test this weekend. The Eagles opened the season with an 80-65 win over Central Connecticut, then won both games over Loyola-Maryland (90-57) and St. John’s (82-70) in the first and second rounds here in the NIT to advance to New York. St. Louis proved to be a trap game on the road this past weekend. The Billikens surprised Boston College 53-50 in St. Louis as the Eagles shot a pitiful 33% from the field and 58% from the line.

They like to shoot the 3-pointer, putting it up more than 16 times per game from beyond the arc. Joe Trapani and Tyrese Rice are the two most dangerous threats from long range. Consequently, they are also the two leading scorers. Rice missed the season opener against Central Connecticut, but he is averaging 16.7 ppg. He dropped 28 points on St. John’s, but like the rest of the team he struggled against St. Louis. Rice does a little bit of everything. He can distribute the ball (6 assists per game), shoot the three (37.5% from long range) and can get to the basket. He’s not afraid to draw contact, having made 84% (16 of 19) free throws. If he is on his game Boston College can be a very difficult team to beat.

Trapani is averaging 14.5 points per game with a high of 20 against Loyola. On the year he is hitting almost 43% of his 3-pointers. That is good for second on the team behind Biko Paris (4 for 9). Rice, Trapani, and Paris will have to be guarded closely on the perimeter. They are by far the biggest 3-point shooting threats. Fortunately, we have a habit of harassing teams into bad shots. Paris’ best game came in the opener when he started in place of Rice. Since then he has just nine points. Trapani is also another guy we cannot put on the free throw line. He hits nearly 86% of his shots from the charity stripe.

In the paint we will have to deal with Corey Raji and Rakim Sanders. Both have started all four games and are dangerous rebounders. Raji is especially good on the offensive glass, generating second chance points with 16 offensive rebounds so far. Raji is the team’s leading rebounder overall with 6.8 per game in addition to 13.3 points per game. He’s the team’s best shooter from the field at 56%, but most of his work is exclusively in the paint. Sanders averages 11 points per game and 6.5 rebounds. It will be critical to crash the glass and prevent any second chance points from these two.

Fortunately, there isn't an overwhelming amount of size to deal with here. Trapani is 6'8" and plays more like Robbie Hummell as an inside-outside player. Josh Southern is the tallest at 6'10" and is the ffifth starter, but his numbers are not as good as Raji, Trapani, Sanders, and Rice. He had a 12 point, 9 rebound game against Loyola but has done little else. He is putting up four points per game in just 14.5 minutes per night. Paris, Reggie Jackson, and Evan Ravenel have played more off of the bench. Jackson leads that group with almost 6 points per game.

This is also a very young team. Rice is the lone senior, and the little used Tyler Roche is the lone junior the rest of this team is made up of sophomores and freshmen. I would say this means the Eagles are about a year away, but we all know what our freshmen and sophomores did last year. This makes Rice the unquestioned senior statesman of this team. He has NCAA tournament experience from BC last appearance in 2007.

Boston College has enough depth to match our own, and anyone can be the scorer on any given night. All five starters have been in double figures once. Jackson had a 10 point game against St. Louis when Trapani and Rice struggled. Ravenel gives some pretty consistent minutes in terms of points and rebounds as well. They have shown a tendency to pick up the slack in other places. Though St. Louis was a loss, Rice and Trapani combined for just 12 points while Raji had a season high of 22.

This will be a very good test because we’ll be playing a potential NCAA team from a good league on a neutral floor. New York will give us a pair of chances in that regard, as will the game against Davidson at Conseco. If we’re going to make a deep tournament run we have to win these types of games. Barring an absolute disaster we’re going back to the NCAA’s. It is games like this that allow us to get a higher seed and hang around a little longer than the first weekend. I am concerned about their rebounding ability. In the three victories they have dominated the glass, but St. Louis out-rebounded them by 11. They have comparable size to us though. That means it comes down to effort and positioning on the glass. They aren’t a great free throw shooting team either at 67%.

To win we have to keep them off the offensive glass. Boston College is averaging more than 16 offensive rebounds per game. They also share the ball well with 14 assists per game. If our defense can take away these two areas we will be playing in the championship Friday night. A defensive slugfest likely favors us. Purdue 65, Boston College 60


I got a little too wordy to include the rest of the NIT preview here, so I will split it up over two entries. I do want to take this brief space at the end to speak about hte benefits of the Honda Element. I don't have a Honda Element. I do hear there are some good Honda Element reviews out there. A 2008 Honda Element would be a good vehicle to replace my Jeep Liberty. Therefore, feel free to check out some 2008 Honda Element Reviews.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Final Big Ten Wrap

Other than hosting a Big Ten Bloggers’ roundtable this week and my blogpoll ballot, this will be the final entry devoted to football. From this point on, I’ll be shifting over to basketball full-time. The basketball season has been very predictable so far with four wins over teams we should beat without breaking a sweat. That changes this week with Boston College and either Oklahoma or UAB to face in New York. I’ll get into that more later, but here are my final rankings and thoughts on the Big Ten season.

11. Indiana (3-9, 1-7) – I agree with Boilerdowd in that it was one of the ugliest performances ever in a Bucket game by either side. Come on, Hoosiers! You’ve got to at least look like you want to kept he Bucket and ruin your rival’s season even further. Indiana didn’t even look interested in playing yesterday. It’s like they went through the motions and showed up because the schedule said so. Was Greg Middleton wrapped up in carpets and thrown into the Wabash Friday night? You would think even he would want to go all out after what Tiller said about him.

As I commented on earlier this week at the Hoosier Report, I think in the long run Hep’s death was a huge step back for this program. They rode the emotion last year, especially against Purdue. You cannot deny that fact when his widow was on the sidelines as an honorary captain against the Boilers. Without him though, they have lost all the positive momentum the program as a whole had going. At least the stadium will look nice next year. That many more Ohio State fans can come on October 3rd now.

10. Michigan (3-9, 2-6) – Michigan was only slightly better than Indiana with a pair of conference wins (in upsets) and three total wins over 1-A programs. Still, there has to be massive improvement next season. Will we see Michigan “turning the corner” like Notre Dame next year when they reach 6-4 only to lose to Purdue for the first time in Ann Arbor since Bob Griese was quarterback?

The honeymoon needs to be over for RichRod. There is no excuse for a team with this much talent to be 3-9 and go down as the worst team in school history. They are int he same boat as Notre Dame right now. They have more talent than 90% of teams out there, so anything less than 9 wins a season has to be considered a gross underachievement. You’re Michigan for crying out loud! At least Roy Roundtree will provide a huge offensive boost next year after his redshirt year in wait.

9. Purdue (4-8, 2-6) – Games I would like to have a second chance at this year: Oregon, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and Michigan State. With the offense we had yesterday and the defense that appeared several times this year I think all four of those games could easily become wins with a second chance. I still believe we beat Minnesota with a healthy Curtis Painter. If the defense that played in the Ohio State and Michigan State games showed up we could beat the Irish. A healthy Painter playing like he did yesterday gives us a good chance against the Spartans. Oregon was simply a game where one play of many could change the outcome.

There are enough pieces left over to believe we can get back to 6 or 7 wins and a bowl game next season. I am certainly not expecting a national title, now would 6 or 7 wins be turning a huge corner to a massive accmplishment. It would merely be a step back in the right direction. It is all up to the players and how hard they want to work in the offseason. We sent Joe off right, now it is time for coach Hope.

8. Illinois (5-7, 3-5) – Once again, Illinois followed up a shocking BCS bowl appearance with a 5-7 season. Unlike 2002, there is plenty of raw talent there, but there are a number of concerns that leave people wondering if there will be a turn around. Illinois’ five wins came against Indiana, Louisiana Lafayette, Eastern Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa. With the exception of maybe Iowa, those are all games they should have won. Western Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Wisconsin probably should have wins based on talent alone. That is way too many losses to teams you probably should beat.

This team has to stop turning the ball over and it must find an answer to at running back. It became very apparent how much Mendenhall meant to this team when he was gone for this season.

7. Minnesota (7-5, 3-5) – So much for Pasadena this year. The Gophers clearly were in over their heads for the second half of the season, culminating in last night’s abysmal performance against Iowa. The good news is that they will still go bowling. The bad news is they are likely headed to Detroit to face Western Michigan, Central Michigan, or Ball State. All three are very good teams, each with a win over a Big Ten opponent.

There were enough positive signs though to hope that the opening of TCF Bank Stadium will be a huge success next year. They must find more of a running game like most of the teams in the bottom half of the conference. Adam Weber will be better with another year’s experience as well.
6. Wisconsin (7-5, 3-5) – The Badgers are probably the most disappointing team in the Big Ten. They lost to Michigan. They needed overtime to beat a 1-AA opponent. They took a season that saw them in the top 10 at one point and barely qualified for a bowl game.

Still, they finished the season on an up note. They won their last three games even if they were against Indiana, Minnesota, and Cal Poly. Two of those three easily could have become losses and kept the Badgers home for Christmas. They have plenty of offensive talent returning. They need to fix the defense and start playing like they know they can play.

5. Iowa (8-4, 5-3) – To any Iowa fans that stopped by, I am sorry. I predicted a last place finish in the conference, and I was wrong. At least rest in the knowledge that you are not alone. You merely pulled what Michigan State did last year with my predictions. To whomever I predict to finish last next season, expect a 7-win season and bowl appearance. Of course, it is likely going to be Indiana, so scratch that.

Shonn Green is, quite simply, a stud. If he is smart he will make this his final season in Iowa City before bolting to the NFL and getting Oprah-rich. It’s okay, too. Jewel Hampton is a capable replacement. This team was 8-4 with all four losses by less than a touchdown. All four losses came to teams that spent time in the top 25 too. Illinois is the worst loss of that bunch, and it is not Indiana over Northwestern horrible. This could be a very good team next year, so I am glad they are off the schedule. They make their season debut in my blogpoll ballot.

4. Northwestern (9-3, 5-3) – I don’t know what to make of Northwestern. They did as I predicted and made good on their 1 in 4 year run to near the top of the conference. They grabbed some good wins against Minnesota, Illinois, and Iowa. They flunked their two major tests against Ohio State and Michigan State, but there is no shame in losing to those two. Loss #3, however was one of those “What?” losses.

In my blogpoll ballot below, I almost put Northwestern into the bottom part of the top 25. That part has been fluid, but the Wildcats have been right on the edge for most of the season. Then I remembered loss #3 was to Indiana. This is the same Indiana team that put on one of the most uninspired displays of football in the history of the game yesterday. No team that losses to Indiana deserves to be ranked this year. Sorry, Lake the Posts. Great season, but that was inexcusable. May you cheer for the Ducks next week and play in Tampa January 1.

3. Michigan State (9-3, 6-2) – The Enlightened Spartan said it best about yesterday’s loss to Penn State. Michigan State proved it is the best of the rest of a crappy conference. Is that so bad though? They won the games they were supposed to and lost the ones they were supposed to. That formula worked for Purdue until this season. The Spartans are still a good team. I thought their fans were a little too confident, but you need confidence if you are to become a great team.

Michigan State gets a New Year’s Day Bowl and a chance to build on this for next season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Big Ten is going to e pretty wide open next year, so they can seize the opportunity and get to Pasadena a year later.

2. Ohio State (10-2, 7-1) – I’d like to question if Ohio State is really that much better than everyone else. They did the same as Michigan State, (beating the Spartans convincingly in the process) but lost the two most important games on the schedule. They are one of the few teams this year that can say their only losses were to teams going to BCS Bowls, and as a result they will likely get a shot at Georgia (if Oregon State beats Oregon) in the Capitol One Bowl. Georgia is in the same boat as them, so it should be a good game.

I know the Buckeyes will be disappointed though. They are going to be among the favorites for next year, but this was their big chance. They will get other chances because of the schedule they play (they always have a marquee non-conference opponent). The talent isn’t going to dry up any time soon either.

1. Penn State (11-1, 7-1) – Ladies and gentlemen, your winner and new champion: the Penn State Nittany Lions! Like 2005, Penn State was one last second play away from perfection. They got a little bit of help last night in getting to the national title game, but now they need crazy stuff to happen. They need stuff like Auburn over Alabama, Florida State over Florida, Oklahoma State over Oklahoma, Missouri over the Big 12 South champion, and UCLA over USC for them to go to Miami.

It will be interesting to see who the Nittany Lions face. Oregon State beating Oregon means a rematch with a much improved Beaver team. Among the four Pac 10-Big Ten games this year, that was probably the least likely to produce a rematch in Pasadena. If Oregon wins, USC is the opponent unless a decided schematic advantage, UCLA, or a Trojan trip to Miami gets in the way. Penn State should have a fun time the next two weeks

Blogpoll ballot:

As usual, the bottom part of the ballot is in mass chaos as I struggle to put together a final five. Number one was easy, but 2-7 were much harder. I even considered moving Utah up. Being undefeated at this point, especially in the Mountain West which is tougher than the Big East and maybe ACC. has to be worth something. If all hell breaks loose the next two weeks why shouldn’t we consider Utah?

Texas Tech had to take a huge hit simply because true #2 teams don’t crap the bed in big games like that. I put Texas ahead of Oklahoma because they did beat the Sooners. Oklahoma State can simplify things by beating Oklahoma next week, but it is possible that the whole Big 12 South mess could be thrown away if Missouri wins the Big 12 title game. In that case, all three in the South should forget about Miami because if you can’t win your conference you don’t deserve to go to the championship. Florida is an interesting case. The Mississippi loss isn’t as bad as originally thought, but it is worse than Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Texas’ loss. It’s on par with Penn State’s loss to Iowa. In reality, you have to consider 2-7 as almost one giant #2.

Speaking of Penn State, how can you argue them above USC? It’s simple: they pounded the crap out of the team that beat USC.

One team you won't have to worry about being ranked is Notre Dame. Their classless fans came through for them again yesterday. I know many Notre Dame fans. Most of them are pretty well grounded too. I would be embarrassed to represent a team that its own fans throw stuff at them. As a result, the Irish will never be ranked in my blog poll ballot. Ever. That was the last straw as far as me giving them any kind of respect.

As usual, feel free to comment in the comments.

RankTeamDelta
1 Alabama --
2 Florida 1
3 Texas 1
4 Oklahoma 1
5 Penn State 2
6 Southern Cal --
7 Texas Tech 5
8 Utah --
9 Boise State --
10 Ohio State --
11 Missouri --
12 Oklahoma State --
13 Georgia --
14 Ball State --
15 TCU 2
16 Cincinnati 5
17 LSU 2
18 Oregon State 2
19 Brigham Young 4
20 Oregon 3
21 Michigan State 5
22 Tulsa 4
23 Boston College 3
24 Western Michigan 2
25 Iowa 1

Dropped Out: Miami (Florida) (#18), Pittsburgh (#22), Maryland (#24), Central Michigan (#25).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's not a gay thing, it's a dominance thing

I had figured that Purdue would win today. With the emotion of coach Tiller’s final game and everything else I thought the Boilers would win, and win comfortably.

62-10.

We took the bucket back by force. I thank my friend Greg (ironically, an IU grad) for the title of this entry. He came up with that phrase to put prison rape in a better light. Personally, I don't think there is a good light for prison rape. It is essentially what we did to the Indiana University football team today.

This was probably more dominating than the 63-24 effort four years ago that cost Gerry DiNardo his job. In that game we still had mistakes. We dropped at least two sure touchdowns and had a couple of turnovers, one a fumble returned for a score. DiNardo was fired after that game, mostly as a direct result of it. With that precedent set, Bill Lynch may want to polish his resume.

Today was essentially a perfect game. Only a big return that set up a field goal and a meaningless late touchdown was the second of two very slight blemishes. I am giving the offense an 11 for 11 for the day. The final drive of the game would have been a score if we were even interested in scoring.

The Hoosier Report wasted no time today in calling this the worst loss in the history of Indiana football. That is saying something. As you see in John’s entry, the Hoosiers have a number of losses by 50 or more, but today was the only time one has come to a team that finished with a losing record. While I do think we ran the score up a bit (we had no business throwing even once in the fourth quarter), Indiana fans should be embarrassed by the effort the Hoosiers put forth. They simply rolled over and died. They never even showed interest in stopping our offense, and their offensive game plan seemed to consist of letting Kellen Lewis run for his life and hope someone got open to throw to. They were awful even by Indiana’s standards.

There is no need to even break this game down into positives and negatives. Everything was a positive. The only slight negative was the kick coverage on the big return by Thigpen. Even then, the defense quashed the small ray of hope it set up and surrendered just a field goal. Everyone played well, but here are the standouts:

Curtis Painter – Allow me to say this: WHERE IN THE HELL WAS THAT ALL YEAR! This is the Curtis Painter that everyone expected. If this is the Curtis Painter we could have gotten all year we’d probably be sitting at 8-4 tight now instead of the opposite. It was refreshing to see Curtis end his career on a very positive note. Injuries obviously hampered him, but most of the year he simply didn't perform. Without injury, I think we beat Minnesota (who has showed no interest in playing the second half of the year) and a completely healthy Painter might give us a chance at Michigan State. I hope he can shake this year off and have a successful pro career now if given the chance. He even threw the deep ball very well.

Keith Smith – Is anyone else excited about getting this guy back for two more years? He has found a home in the slot. He is strong too, and gives us a Dustin Keller-like presence at the slot receiver position. He’s only going to get better too. I wasn’t so much impressed by his catches today, but by the number of yards he gained after the catch and after contact. When he was tackled, he was moving the pyle forward. That’s the sign of a physical receiver.

Desmond Tardy – Dez was just one of many seniors that shined today. He even did a great job on the throw back to Painter. I love how everyone saw that pay developing when Dierking went in motion except for the Indiana defense. It was our predictable offense, but IU's putrid defense still fell for it.

Aaron Valentin – Like Smith, I am glad that Valentin is coming back next year. He gave us a big play threat today, and nearly broke Indiana’s spirit with a kickoff return for a score. He ended up finishing just a yard short of being our third receiver with 100 yards today, joining Smith and Tardy.

Kory Sheets – I think I will miss this guy the most of all. He has been a pleasure to watch for four years. Some questioned whether he could handle being the sole featured back this year with his fumbling problems. He responded by having just one fumble all year. That’s amazing. He leaves Purdue with 54 career touchdowns. That leaves him second on the all-time scoring least behind Travis Dorsch. He easily owns the career touchdowns mark, which will probably stay there for awhile. For good measure, he broke the single season rushing touchdown mark today too with 16. For some more numbers, Kory passed Otis Armstrong for the second most rushing yards in school history. This season was also the fourth best season yardage-wise by a Purdue back ever. As a result, I may be forced to retire my well-loved #24 jersey from the rotation. Let the debate officially begin between him and Mike Alstott

For the record, I give Alstott a slight edge. He was handicapped by having Jim Colletto as a coach, 11 game seasons, no bowls, and he only played extensively for three years.

Torri Williams – I heard chants of, “One more year” for Torri in the stands today. If this was his last game, I am glad it was a good one. First off, he completed a season without missing any time due to injury. Second, he had a pick and topped us with seven tackles. He damn near recovered a fumble too.

Ryan Baker – I have to mention Baker for coming into the stands not on the student side, but on the west side and shouting thank you to all in attendance. Mr. Baker, thank you for wearing black and gold. Thank you for your dedication and determination in defining the spirit of the Boilermakers. He was an appropriate voice for the players today in saying goodbye.

Brandon Whittington – I wanted to single out Brandon because it was nice to see him finally catch a touchdown pass. He did a great job of getting the foot down on a difficult catch too.

The Fans – Much was made about the team not quitting late in the season, but the crowd was into it today despite two 3-8 teams playing. We saw three “inflatable” sightings and with the offense rolling the fans hid their discontent well. There was no booing of Tiller or the players. Many fans also stayed around for the ceremony on the field honoring coach Tiller. Hopefully their patience will be rewarded next season. We avoided acting like classy Notre Dame fans too. It seems like the program that has "the richest tradition in college football" could learn from an inferior 4-8 team about how to handle a loss.

Coach Tiller – I thanked coach Tiller earlier this week, but it seemed like he really had some fun today. He tried some new things and went out guns blazing like the Cowboy Joe of old. I think if I ever am in Buffalo, Wyoming I may just look him up in the phone book and stop by for some coffee.

Where do we go from here:

Regardless of how the rest of the season turned out, this was the perfect ending. Joe got a final win at Ross-Ade in convincing fashion. The seniors got the Bucket back and all performed well in a woodshed beating of a rival. Notre Dame also suffered an embarassing loss, though it makes me even more ashamed we lost to that team.

I can’t help but ask where this was all year. Is Indiana really that bad that our worst team in years is 52 points better than them? I know the Hoosiers were awful today, but can they be so awful as to make us look that good? I think it was a little of both. We were a better team than we showed most of the year, and that manifested itself today. I think injuries were the biggest factor. Our front line guys were plenty good, but we simply didn't have the developed depth to recover against a tough schedule. As a result, things really could have been better this season if today’s team had showed up at other times.

If today’s team shows up I think Oregon, Iowa, Michigan State and Minnesota become wins. If the offense specifically shows up, Penn State and Ohio State can become wins too. Notre Dame and Northwestern were also two of our worst efforts, so those could have changed as well. Right now I am embarrassed that we lost in South Bend after a godawful Syracuse team waltzed in there today and won. It’s nice to see Notre Dame has turned a corner and run right into a wall.

There is also plenty to build on next year. Justin Siller will get better if he wants to put the work in during this offseason. The defense actually played quite well for most of the season and only some particularly ugly efforts in games like Notre Dame and Iowa offset the stats. Most of those starters come back and should get better. There are some offensive playmakers to build around in Jaycen Taylor, Keith Smith, and Aaron Valentin.

The biggest key will be avoiding injuries. Since most of the offensive line was hurt from spring practice on we never had a chance to build anything there. If the line struggles, the team will struggle. Our new head coach specializes in building offensive lines though. A quick turnaround and return to a bowl game can happen if that offensive line can come together.

A quick look at the schedule shows the potential for six wins. Toledo, Northern Illinois and Indiana have to be three of them. At least a split between Oregon and Notre Dame is a reasonable goal, and that would give us four. Northwestern might take a step back, and both Illinois and Michigan State haven’t convinced me they will be world beaters despite having good recruiting classes. Wisconsin is an enigma coming off a season in which they were lucky to get seven wins. Michigan needs drastic improvement too. I think it will be a season much like this one (at least when we saw it in the future) in that we won’t be totally out of a lot of games, but there aren’t many guaranteed wins.

In the mean time though, I am glad we have a positive note after such a bad year. The Bucket is back where it belongs, and I was back where I belong after the game as shown. At Harry's I toasted a Long Island to getting the Bucket back, to Joe Tiller's career, and to the fact it is absolutely impossible not to smile in Harry's.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rivalry week Big Ten preview

The final week of Big Ten play has almost turned into a youth soccer league. I say that because it seems like everybody gets a trophy, including the winner of 3-8 Purdue vs. 3-8 Indiana. For the first time in a couple of years, there is no rivalry trophy at stake in the Michigan-Ohio State game as the Big Ten title is not at stake there (unless Michigan State beats Penn State). That Penn State-Michigan State contest offers the rare double trophy game, as they play for the Land Grant trophy. I know that trophy was created mostly to get Penn State involved in a rivalry once they joined the Big Ten, but it is still trophy.

The Big Ten gets center stage this week on all the networks since we are the only conference that will be finished after Saturday. That will end next season, as the Big Ten will finally be allowed to play after Thanksgiving. I don’t know how much this will help in the bowls by shortening the layoff, but I am not looking forward to freezing in the snow of an early December Bucket game somewhere down the line.

(All rankings are official blogpoll rankings)

Indiana (3-8, 1-6) at Purdue (3-8, 1-6) Noon, ESPN2
Trophy: The Old Oaken Bucket (Purdue leads overall series 68-36-6 and Bucket series 54-26-3)
Current trophy holder: Indiana

The numbers in this rivalry are reflected In the way it changes hands. In 1997 and 2002, the most recent time Purdue has won the Bucket back, the Boilers have patiently waited at midfield for an IU manager to deliver the Bucket before the seniors take it out and celebrate with the fans. In 2001 and 2007 Indiana raced across the field and seized it from the Purdue bench. Each time we get the Bucket we know we’re going to have it for awhile, so we’re patient and savor it. Indiana has to practically steal it from us because they know they won’t have it long.

Around 3:30 Saturday afternoon I expect another solemn ceremony where the Bucket changes hands. As much as I want the seniors to lead this respectful transition, I hope that Joe Tiller gets his hands on the Bucket first. In the nine previous times he has won the Bucket I don’t think I have ever seen him parade it around the field. This season has been rough on all of us. It’s not what we have expected, but there can be at least a small bright spot if Joe hoists the Bucket Saturday afternoon. Of the soon to be 55 P links on that chain he will have been responsible for 10 of them. Only three of the links (two P’s and one I) have a Rose Bowl mention on them, and he is responsible for one of those as well. No coach in the series except for maybe Jack Mollenkopf has left such a mark on this series. Joe Tiller will end this dismal season on a positive note. Thank you, Joe, for everything you have done. You will be missed. Please enjoy Wyoming, as I can’t blame you for wanting to enjoy such gorgeous country. Purdue 31, Indiana 17

Michigan (3-8, 2-5) at #11 Ohio State (9-2, 6-1) Noon, ABC
Trophy: The Big Ten Championship (on hiatus) (Michigan leads 57-41-6, 46 games have affected the Big Ten championship.)
Current trophy holder: Ohio State

Can we please remove the ridiculous free pass Rich Rodriguez has? Why is it suddenly acceptable for him to have the worst season in Michigan’s long history? This is Michigan. They are the winningest program in college football. They can recruit 4 and 5 star talent without even trying. A trained farm animal should be able to coach them to a 6-6 record and bowl appearance. Rodriguez comes in with great fanfare and he immediate has the worst season in school history. Now players like Sam McGuffie are leaving the program. Michigan fans are even talking themselves into accepting another rebuilding year next year in the hopes of a big 2010. Are you serious? THIS IS MICHIGAN!!!! I have seen this before. It was called Nebraska at the end of Tom Osbourne’s tenure. They went from the top to the middle in a hurry and are just now one of college football’s creamy middle teams.

Ohio State will likely be the latest team to tee off on the Wolverines this year. Only Wisconsin and Minnesota whiffed in their chances. The Buckeyes need a win then will wait to see if the Rose Bowl will come calling. Michigan State fans must bite the bullet and hope for a Wolverine upset if they want to go Pasadena. At least Michigan can cost the Buckeyes about $14 million with a win, because Ohio State is probably going somewhere in the BCS regardless. Personally, I like the possibility of a Miami-Ohio State Orange Bowl. Mrs. T-Mill would probably try an invoke some kind of voodoo curse with penalty flags if that was the case. Unfortunately, that possibility took a major hit last night. Ohio State 38, Michigan 10

Cal Poly (8-1) at Wisconsin (6-5, 3-5) 3:30 Big Ten Network

I’m not saying we have another Appy State on our hands, but Cal Poly is one of the better 1-AA teams in the land. They have a punchers chance of beating a disappointing Wisconsin team that has little to play for. If Illinois beats Northwestern and the Big Ten doesn’t get a second team into the BCS The Motor City Bowl will have a choice to make. Should Wisconsin finish the season by losing at home to a 1-AA team they may find themselves joining Michigan, Purdue, and Indiana at home for the holidays in that situation. I don’t think it will happen, but Wisconsin had better win just to be safe. Wisconsin 31, Cal Poly 21

#14 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) at #7 Penn State (10-1, 6-1) 3:30pm, ABC
Trophy: the Land Grant Trophy (Penn State leads 11-4)
Current trophy holder: Michigan State

By kickoff Michigan state will know if they are playing for Roses or not. Should they beat the Nittany Lions they will have at least an outside chance at going to a BCS bowl anyway. A number college football sites have pointed out that while an unwanted Ohio state-USC Rose Bowl rematch is in play, another ugly rematch is more likely. A Penn State win sends them to Pasadena unless all hell breaks lose in front of them. Their opponent could be Oregon State (again) if the Beavers win their final two games. That would also likely hurt Ohio State because USC will go somewhere in the BCS as an at large selection. The Big 12 and SEC will each be getting two bids, leaving one left. That is likely going to Utah, Boise State, or Ball State if one finishes unbeaten.

The real question to ask is can Michigan State get an at large BCS bid with a win? They would be 10-2 with a loss to the Big Ten BCS representative and a good Pac-10 team on the road. An Oregon State loss along the way would certainly help by taking USC out of the at large pool. Unfortunately, I think Penn State is too good and has too much to play for. Their defense is more than good enough to contain Ringer, and I don’t think Hoyer can beat them with his arm. He struggled too much against Purdue to give me confidence in his ability to pull an upset on the road. Penn State 24, Michigan State 17

Illinois (5-6, 3-4) at Northwestern (8-3, 4-3) 3:30pm, Big Ten Network
Trophy: Sweet Sioux tomahawk (Illinois leads overall series 52-44-5 and Tomahawk series 33-28-2)
Current trophy holder: Illinois

Of the teams that have much to gain on Saturday in their rivalry contest Northwestern may have the most on the line. If the conference can get a second team in the BCS, the Wildcats can do the most damage as a result. They can knock their in-state rival out of a bowl game and position themselves for a New Year’s Day date in Tampa if things fall right. Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State will clearly go ahead of them, but if two of them go to the big money games the third will go to the Capitol One Bowl in Orlando. That would leave the Outback to choose between Northwestern, Iowa, and Minnesota. A 9-3 Northwestern team with wins over both would be an attractive option even though they have an ugly loss to Indiana.

Illinois is another team that needs its free pass revoked. The Illini are loaded with talent. There is no reason they should be 5-6 and needing a win over a good rival to get to the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. I won’t buy the tough schedule argument either. Good teams beat other good teams. See Purdue football 2004-present for an example of that. This series has come a long way from two years ago when it was the battle for last place. That battle has moved down I-65 to West Lafayette. Northwestern doesn’t have a real home field advantage, but it does have the better coached team. According to ESPN, this will be the final time that the teams will play for the Sweet Sioux. Northwestern 23, Illinois 20

Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Minnesota (7-4, 3-4) 7pm Big Ten Network
Trophy: Floyd of Rosedale (Minnesota leads 39-32-2)
Current trophy holder: Iowa

Of all the things to play for, a giant bronze pig is right at the top of the list. It has a most interesting backstory though. Apparently the Floyd of Rosedale averted an inter-state war not seen since the Civil War in 1861. Minnesota has had a rough go of it lately, losing consecutive trophy games. They will try to use a surely emotional Metrodome finale in order to get at least one of them back. A few weeks ago the Gophers looks like they were going to possibly take all three trophies to Pasadena. A fourth straight loss may send them empty handed to the worst bowl destination of all: Detroit. At least they are going somewhere.

The running joke about Iowa in the bowl season is that they travel well, so they should be chosen ahead of teams. You had better believe that is what Northwestern is thinking. The Wildcats can finish a full game ahead of them in the standing and have a head to head win over them on Iowa’s home field. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Hawkeyes taken ahead of the Wildcats based on the travel factor. The Floyd game boils down to the fact that Iowa is playing well and Shonn Greene is the real deal. Minnesota has hit a wall, and may still yet be a year way. Iowa 21, Minnesota 20

National game picks:

#1 Texas Tech 27, #5 Oklahoma 24 – It feels like a year of destiny for Texas Tech.

#17 Bringham Young 24, #8 Utah 23 – And cheers are heard in Muncie, IN as the MAC searches for a liquor to cash a phat BCS check.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Tiller Era - T-Mill's perspective

I wrote a good portion of this earlier this week, but my friends over at Boiled Sports have been weighing in with their opinions of the Tiller Era since Tuesday. J Money, Tim, and Boilerdowd all spent their time in West Lafayette before me, but I was there during the best years of the Tiller Era. I was there, sitting in row five of the student section, when Drew made the greatest play in Purdue football history. I was in Pasadena as a student. I sat through Drew Brees' entire West Lafayette tenure, ready to follow him to the riverbank when he chose to walk across the Wabash. Drew Brees defined much of Joe Tiller's carer during my tenure as a student at Purdue, and because of that I owe him a debt of gratitude for completing my collegiate experience.

Drew Brees and Joe Tiller are forever linked. As a result, I am a Drew Brees disciple. For years he has been on my NFL fantasy team, but it was Joe Tiller that made him one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. When I think of my four years in West Lafayette, one of my favorite memories is what Joe and Drew did for three of those four years. November 18, 2000 may have been the pinnacle of Purdue football. That as the day Joe and Drew took us officially to a place few believed was possible. I was there, running onto the field in sheer joy.

It honestly goes back before that for me though. I want to go back to September 13, 1997. I was a senior in high school, just under a month before my 18th birthday. I wasn't sure what choice I was going to make for college. I had many offers on the table. As a National Merit Semifinalist, I had a half-tuition scholarship to Bradley University, while the University of Dayton and Butler University were in my final choices. I didn't know shit about shit. I had a dream of being a sports broadcaster, but I was toying with athletic training as a major. On that day, I walked into Ross-Ade Stadium with my brother-in-law and his brother unsure of what I was going to do. My thoughts of that game a reflected here, but what happened that day is a major reason I became a Boilermaker.

A football game isn't the smartest reason to choose a university. I admit now I could have done better as far as what my life goals are, but I also recognize that I cannot imagine my life without being a Purdue alumnus. I do not regret a thing. Being a Boilermaker is a large part of who I am. It was before I came to Purdue since my father is also an alumnus (School of Pharmacy '75), and I hope it will be when the day comes that Mrs. T-Mill and I have a child. Since I base my Boilermaker status largely on Joe Tiller's tenure as a football coach, he has a large hand in what I hope will someday be a third generation Purdue alumnus.

The Joe Tiller era will end this Saturday. It will end with a whimper of a win over an Indiana team that is poor even by its own standards. Though his time on the sidelines began with an embarrassing loss to a pretty good Toledo team, Tiller shocked everyone by immediately getting the Boilers to a bowl game in his first season. Nine other bowl games followed, tripling the total number of postseason trips made in the 110 years of football that Purdue played before he became coach. His 86 wins tops the school list, but this season alone is enough to question what his final legacy will be.

I, like many of you readers, have seen the entire thing. I was there at the Notre Dame game in 1997 when we shocked the Irish for win #1. I will be there this Saturday when he gets win #86 and the 10th P link goes on the Bucket. I was there for the high, watching from the end zone of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. I was there for the low two weeks ago when we put the finishing touches on the first season with at least seven losses at Michigan State. The fact I was there is reason enough to look at Joe Tiller’s final legacy in a positive light.

Before Tiller came, Purdue was less than an afterthought in college football. We made some very brief noise with Mike Alstott, but other than a bi-annual sellout against Notre Dame the fans stayed away in droves. There was no reason to come to games. As my dad, a season ticket holder for almost 30 years now, once said, “We get to see a lot of good football, but none of it is Purdue. We get to see Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State…” Our opinion of a good season was to beat a couple of MAC teams, win another conference game, and beat Indiana for the Bucket. Even that last part didn’t happen with regularity. The Hoosiers had Bill Mallory and Heisman candidate Anthony Thompson while I was growing up. They were respectable while we were awful. To us, a 4-7 season with the Bucket was a good year.

Tiller changed all that by beating Notre Dame, something Fred Akers and Jim “A tie is as good as a win in the Big Ten” Colletto never did. They rarely even came close. Those that were in the stadium that day saw not just a win that easily made the top five in the “Best wins of the Tiller Era” poll, they saw hope. With that one win, Purdue fans young and old began to believe that maybe, just maybe, we could win more games than we lost. Joe did just that by going 9-3 his first year. He made us believe that we could do it with regularity the next year by going 9-4 and shocking #4 Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl.

What followed that is what will be remembered as the high points. From 1998-2004 Purdue was a legitimate threat to win the Big Ten conference each season. Bowl games were no longer just a treat. Suddenly the Sun Bowl was a disappointment because it wasn’t played a day later. In that span we played on New Year’s Day three times. We had never played on New Year's Day before that (the 1967 Rose Bowl was on January 2). Even though all three games were losses, we stood toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the country. One or two plays could have made all three wins as well. It was a peak that would last until a chilly fall day in October of 2004.

We call it, “The Fumble”. With Gameday in town, a #5 national ranking, all the tough remaining games at home, and a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback we were right there in the rarified territory of being a candidate for something more than the Big Ten title. We were on the short list for the National Title (something even vaunted Notre Dame can't claim the past 15 years). With eight minutes left against Wisconsin it looked even more likely to happen. What happened next was nothing short of one of the worst stomach punches a college football program can get. Scott Starks’ fumble return of Kyle Orton’s drop, literally inches away from being ruled down, happened so fast no one had time to even cheer the blocked extra point that followed. That one play seemed to have crushed not just the fans, but the collective spirit of the program.

We are 26-30 since that moment. This is after going 60-32 before that. Quite a turning point.

Was this Joe’s fault? As the one ultimately in charge of the program, the answer is yes. Still, there were other factors beyond his control. It is clear that the program has faded from the top down, but we still owe thanks to Joe for getting us to the point where we can believe in more. The stadium itself bears an indelible mark to his legacy in the state of the art pavilion and press box. The fact that he put butts in the seats for 12 years meant the University had more revenue to embark on projects that benefitted other sports like the Mackey Arena renovation. Though things look dark right now, it certainly does not look like it will be another 13 years before we reach another bowl game. More likely it will be another 1-3 years.

This is not the ending we all envisioned. Few people saw the 2008 team as this bad. Injuries and poor performance have hurt us more. There wasn’t a dream of a national title like in 2004 or 2005, but we certainly hoped for more. We’re not going to get it, so Saturday must be Joe’s final send off. This is truly a win at any cost game. I had the joy of walking into Ross-Ade Stadium in late November of 2000 knowing there was no way in hell Indiana was beating us to knock us from the Rose Bowl. Everyone else felt it too. Though only pride is on the line this time, we need to have that attitude again.

Thank you, Joe, for making us believe we can be more. Thank you for 12 years of work and dedication. Thank you for shaping the life of this life-long Boilermaker. I have screwed up many things in my life. Graduating from Purdue University is one of the few things I am unashamedly proud of. Joe Tiller is a major reason that I am a Purdue alumnus, and I thank him for that. I know he doesn't have a lot of respect for bloggers, but I thank him from the bottom of my heart for having the role he did in shaping my life.