Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And so, a tough year ends...

2008 has not been a good year for me on any front. Last night was just a microcosm of that. I was excited all day to be covering a game for my Kats then following it up with the tape of the Purdue-Illinois game. I had little luck in avoiding the Purdue score as they kept announcing it at the Kokomo-Westfield game. As it turns out, both the Boilers and Kats ended up finishing gut-wrenching overtime losses at about the same time.

What a fitting ending to a craptacular year.

These games tend to affect me too much. I haven’t even watched the tape of Purdue yet (and doubt I will now) but it give me that sinking feeling in my stomach. I actually had trouble sleeping last night from both losses. With Kokomo, they didn’t even seem interested until they were down 18 and turned up their defensive pressure to make a furious comeback. They actually took a 1 point lead with 13 seconds left before fouling and letting Westfield tie it from the line. Purdue was in a similar fate, as they announced that the Boilers were ahead by a point with seconds to go.

In a way, I feel like I don’t need to watch last night’s tape. I think I watched the same game only at the high school level. My Kats shot only 61% from the line while Purdue shot 55%. Kokomo was 4 of 12 from 3-point range, Purdue was 4 of 16. Both teams shot worse than 45% from the field. The result was even eerily similar on the scoreboard. Kokomo’s game was 73-68 while Purdue’s was 71-67. It was my first time seeing Kokomo this year, but both teams clearly are better than they are playing right now.

In talking with Kokomo coach Brian McCauley last night he mentioned how his guys have to realize they can’t just flip a switch at game time and expect to win. They were a top 10 team to start the season, but have now lost four in a row when they probably should have won three of those four. Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like Purdue at the moment? We’ve been in the top 15 all year, but we feel like we can just turn it on at game time to win. It doesn’t work that way.

This team has to start shooting better. The GBI forums are saying Painter was outcoached last night, but if we just shoot better and hit our free throws we win easily. The free throw woes are the most infuriating, but when you’re not hitting from the field it carries over to the line. There is absolutely no reason this team should ever shoot worse than 75% from the line in any given game. JaJuan Johnson gets it with an 8 of 10 night, but even one of his two misses came at a critical time as it would have won the game.

If you look at the stats last night we clearly lost the game from the line. We took away the 3-pointer (one of Illinois’ strengths), but they did exactly what I warned about in the preview. They went inside to Tisdale and Davis to pound away. They were 14 of 29 from the field (nearly half their shots). We let Alex Legion, a guy playing in just his 4th game of the season, have a season high 12 off the bench. We won the battle on the glass despite a size disadvantage and one of our main post players only playing four minutes. This was offset by the fact that Illinois, a turnover-prone team, had just 6 turnovers.

This was an incredibly frustrating loss because if we simply shoot the ball better or force more turnovers (things we do often) we win. Now we’re down a game in an already tight Big Ten race before it even starts. We cannot afford to lose at home if we’re going to win this conference. We have to shoot better and we have to force more turnovers. The fixes are small, but in a race like this even small fixes can mean the difference between victory and defeat. We haven’t proven we can fix those things yet. Until we do, we are not ready. I hope this serves as a wake up call. Unfortunately, we have been hitting the snooze button for awhile.

We can still win this conference. No one is going through it undefeated this season. Shoot, we still even control our own destiny. The absolute best case scenario of us running the table over the next 17 games would give us at the very least a tie for the championship since we still have another game against Illinois. As tight as things are, four or even five losses could get a share of the title. We cannot drop another home game though. We have to win 8 straight at Mackey and get at least six on the road. We are capable of doing that, but we have to shoot the basketball better.

2008 in review

As we wrap up this terrible year I wanted to hit some of the highlights of the past 365 days in Purdue athletics. Football hasn’t helped us out much, but there were some major steps forward all-around.

January 27th – Robbie Hummel swats Wisconsin

I wrote then that this game simply announced we had arrived at the mountain to begin climbing it again. It was the first of many signature Big Ten victories for this team.

February 9th – Purdue 72, Wisconsin 67 – Our first major road victory in many years. I was actually in West Lafayette that day and wish I had stayed to watch the game at Harry’s or something. The fact the student met the team at the airport that morning was amazing. We were no longer the Baby boilers.

March 9th – Purdue 58, Illinois 56 Women’s Big Ten Tournament final – I have to give the ladies some credit here. This may have been the grittiest women’s team in Purdue history. They were down two of their best players all year and needed a Big Ten tournament title in order to keep a streak of 14 straight NCAA appearances. They did just that with Kiki Freeman’s buzzer-beater. They even justified their entry by winning a game in the tourney.

March 20th – Purdue 90, Baylor 79 – So much for being a grind it out team. Coach Painter lets the Boilers run and we blow past Baylor playing their style.

May 18th – Purdue softball makes history – The women’s softball team made its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008 and managed to win a game in a loaded UCLA regional. Purdue was the least experienced team by far, but used the pitching of Dana Alcocer to beat Cal State Fullerton 4-2 after losing its opening game to Nevada. The Wolfpack then knocked the Boilers out 2-1 in the next game, but Purdue’s 35-23 season was easily its best. The Boilers also won spring invitationals in Waco, Texas and Greenville, NC. The NCAA win over Cal State Fullerton actually avenged an early season 5-0 loss to the Titans.

May 24th – Purdue baseball finishes as runner-up in Big Ten Tourney – A 32-26 season may not sound like much, but the baseball Boilers finished one of their best seasons in history by falling just short of winning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Boilers set a school record for conference wins with a 21-10 Big Ten mark. It would have been good enough to win the conference in several recent seasons, but Michigan had a top 15 program for most of the year and cruised to the title. Purdue was runner-up to the Wolverines for both the regular season and tournament titles. If not for a nine game losing streak to start the season in which Purdue lost four one-run games to nationally ranked Baylor and Kentucky the Boilers might have squeezed an at large tournament berth. Purdue has still only made one NCAA baseball tournament appearance.

Mid-August – Incoming freshman diver David Boudia and senior javelin thrower Kara Patterson compete in Beijing – Boudia very nearly came home with a medal while Patterson was the first Purdue woman to compete in an individual Olympic event. It should also be noted that former baseball player Mike Dursmaa played for the Netherlands’ team.

September 20th – Joe Tiller passes Jack Mollenkopf –

It was one of the few highlights of the season, but Kory Sheets’ big run against Central Michigan gave coach Tiller the Purdue record for wins as a head coach. There is no word on if the Central Michigan safety still randomly falls down when thinking about the move Kory put on him. The run also gave Sheets Purdue’s all-time touchdowns record. I also include a bonus video of the high point of the football season. If this Oregon game turns out differently I think Purdue wins 7-8 games.

November 22nd – The Bucket returns by force – I know it was a down year, but it was very satisfying to send coach Tiller out in style by thoroughly beating the Hoosiers 62-10. Any time you can hand a historically bad program its worst loss in school history as described by its own fans you have achieved something. The fact that it was a major rival makes things even better.

December 28th - Drew Brees passes 5,000 yards in season, leads my fantasy team to its second consecutive championship - Yes, I have become that guy that talks about his fantasy team. I don't care. Last year it was the New Orleans Looters and this year it was the Bitches Ain't Shit (but hoes and tricks). Mr. Brees has been my QB for three straight years now. Once again, He led me team to a championship. It would have been three straight if Adam Vinatieri hadn't kicked a meaningless field goal in a Monday night game against Cincinnati two years ago to knock me out of the first round of the playoffs (as the number 1 seed) by one point. Special thanks go to Kyle Orton (my backup QB), Dustin Keller (tight end with Dallas Clark), Jacques Reeves (a contributor as a random defensive player), Shaun Phillips (the same), and Anthony Spencer (I had the Dallas defense) for their contributions to this title.

I hope everyone has a safe and productive 2009. I will not be sad to see this year go, as it has been on of much personal adversity. I am very thankful to have this blog and the wonderful athletes at Purdue as a distraction from everything. I am very thankful for you readers as well. I admit that the Illinois loss last night made me feel like this was a waste of my time because I felt the Big Ten dreams were flushed away in the first game. It is never a waste of time though with you readers. Everyone, please celebrate safely tonight. I already have the Mt. Carmel Copper Ale (perhaps the finest Ale I have ever tasted. Even better than Breckenridge Brewery Avalanche) cooling in the fridge and I’ll crack open a cold one to you all at Casa de T-Mill tonight.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I am very encouraged today after a few days in the dumps. As I write this, the 1998 Alamo Bowl is playing on the Big Ten Network’s Greatest Games. I know I have it on tape thanks to Boilerdowd, but if it is on TV it simply calls to me. You readers selected it as the second best win of the Tiller Era, and I certainly agree.

I am also heartened by the fact today is a big basketball day for me. Not only is Purdue opening the Big Ten season with at home against Illinois, but I get to go cover my beloved Kokomo Wildkats as they face Westfield tonight. It is the first time I will get to see this year’s team with promising freshman D.J. Ballentine. From everything I hear about him he may be a potential recruiting target for coach Painter in a few years.

For the purposes of this blog, however, Illinois needs to be the focus of the day. The Illini bring in a very strong record. They are more than capable of derailing our march to the Big Ten title before it even gets started. Before getting to the preview, I recently had the chance to speak with Joe from Paint the Town Orange about the Illini and here is what he had to say:

1. In your opinion, what is the biggest difference in this year's team from last year, especially since they are now winning close games instead of losing them.

The biggest difference between this year’s Illini team and the '07-08 team is our front court. The anchor of last years team was the combination of Brian Randle at forward and Shaun Pruitt at center. I feel bad to pin so much on these two players, but neither of them could run the motion offense very well because of their lack of mobility, and for as big and strong as they were, they would both vanish when it came to rebounds for long stretches. Pruitt also had a long standing feud with Weber that bubbled over a few times last year, and his complete inability to make even 50% of his free throws lost the Illini at least one game that I can think of. This year’s front court, at the very least can make its free throws, which has contributed to our turnaround in close games this year.

2. With 12 wins already in the bank and some good ones in that group, how many Big Ten wins are you expecting to seal an NCAA bid?

It’s tough to say how many wins it will take to make the tourney this year, especially given how much better the conference seems to be this year. I am almost positive that given the high profile non-conference victories the Big 10 has had this year, we will be sending 5 teams. Last year a 10 and 8 Big Ten record was good enough for 5th place, so that’s what we would need, at the very least. We also really need to beat up on one of the 5 teams that should finish better than us. I am hoping Michigan or Minnesota. Realistically an NIT is far more likely for the Illini this year.

3. With four players averaging in double figures who is the true go to guy on this Illinois squad? What do you see as this team's weakness?

On a team that starts 3 Sophs, a go to guy one game might vanish in the next. Our two seniors don't fit the description either as one is not known for scoring, and the other has been very inconsistent shooting the ball while being guarded. As the year goes on, it will become more and more McCamey and Legion who will make the big shots but both are still learning the offense or learning to play their hardest in every game. The weakness for this team will be when our 3 pointers aren’t falling and our front court will be over matched by size and strength. When it comes to Big 10 play we will need scoring from the guards every night, because we are just too light at center and forward.

Thanks Joe!

Record: 12-1, 0-0 Big Ten
2007-08 Postseason: lost 61-48 to Wisconsin in Big Ten Tournament final (eliminated Purdue 74-67 OT in quarterfinal)

2007-08 Final Record: 16-19

Blog Representation: Paint the Town Orange, The Quad

Illinois was the biggest disappointment in the Big Ten a season ago. They were a team that was certainly good enough to make the NCAA Tournament, but free throw shooting was a major Achilles heel. They showed how good they were by making a Big Ten Tournament run that nearly netted the automatic bid. Ultimately, they ran out of gas against Wisconsin. Non-conference losses to Miami (OH) and Tennessee State were prime examples of that weakness. All told 13 of Illinois’ 19 losses came by 10 points or less. Sweeps by Indiana and Penn State were especially grueling.

There will be no 19 loss season for the Illini this year. They are once again on of the teams in the Big Tent hat has a serious chance at an NCAA berth. Their 12-1 is very nearly a 13-0, as a two point losses to unbeaten Clemson in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge serves not only as their lone blemish, but it tipped the challenge in favor of the ACC. They are not only winning this year, they are winning decisively.

The best win came at Vanderbilt back on November 20th. The Commodores have been to the NCAA’s the last two seasons and are a threat to do go again. Georgia and Missouri are also a couple of good wins. They have faced a pair of common opponents with us. They pounded Detroit by 31 but struggled a little with Eastern Michigan this past weekend.

Illinois may have gotten better this year because of addition by subtraction, as noted by Joe above. Long time contributors Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt are gone, but they had major flaws in their games. Pruitt was an abysmally bad free throw shooter of Shaq-like proportions. Randle wasn’t much better as he was below 60% for his career. Teams exploited this a season ago and it was painful to watch the pair brick games away.

One player I am very sad to see return is an even bigger factor now. Demetri McCamey only had five points in the game in West Lafayette last year, but he had 15 in Champaign and blew up for 26 in the Big Ten Tournament contest. In Indianapolis McCamey was 6 for 6 from 3-point range. One of those threes came with Kramer in his face and sent the game to overtime with 18 seconds left.

The sophomore is back for more this year and is just as dangerous. He is tied in scoring with Trent Meachem at 12.2 points per game. Forward Mike Davis is just a tenth of a point in back of them as the Illini are very balanced at the top of their scoring charts. When you throw in 7’1” sophomore Mike Tisdale’s 11.6 points per game they feature four guys averaging better than 11 points per game.

That balance is very similar to our own in that you don’t really know who is going to lead Illinois in scoring each night. Tisdale is obviously a matchup problem for us, especially with the 6’10” Davis helping him out in the paint. A solution is to go big with Calasan, Johnson, and Hummel together inside, but that leaves us dangerously short on personnel if someone gets in foul trouble. If Illinois is smart they will exploit this advantage. Tisdale has had a career high of 25 twice this year, but he’s also been shut out in a game.

Davis is just as up and down in scoring. He only had a point against Eastern Michigan, but had 28 against Clemson. That’s especially odd considering that Eastern Michigan may be the worst team they have played and Clemson is likely the best. Meachem is probably the more dangerous shooter than McCamey. McCamey can be a little streaky, but Meachem shoots 50% both from the field and from 3-point range. He also shoots almost 92% from the free throw line.

That is probably the biggest difference for Illinois. As a team they are shooting almost 73% from line, which is a vast improvement over last season. McCamey is 89% from the line while Davis is the weakest of the big four at 72%. Considering that Randle and Pruitt were both comfortably under 60% it is a huge step forward.

Despite their size advantage Illini is not a strong rebounding team. At 7’1” Tisdale should accidentally get 8 rebounds per game, but he only averages 4.7. Davis is the leader at 7.8, but as a team they only average 34 per game. Part of it does come from the fact that they are shooting better, meaning fewer chances for offensive rebounds. Tisdale does have a good number of his rebounds on the offensive glass, so it will be important to box him out on every shot attempt.

The scoring numbers also suggest that Illinois shares the ball very well. The assist totals back them up on this. Meachem and McCamey are very good at distributing the ball, averaging 2.7 and 4.5 assists per game. McCamey currently ranks 6th in the conference in that category. The duo doesn’t even lead Illinois as Chester Frazier plays the role of the true point guard. He’s only scoring 6.2 points per game, but he leads the Big Ten with 6.5 assists per game. Frazier is the engine that drives this team. It will be paramout to prevent him from controlling the pace and getting the ball to his teammates in the right spots. Unfortunately, McCamey and Meachem have proven they are capable of distributing the ball as well.

Illinois also features a very deep bench. Dominique Keller, Calvin Brock, Richard Semrau, and the son of the Great One: Jeffrey Jordan have all played in very game. They mostly spell the starting five who do most of the work. Brock plays the most while Keller contributes more than 6 points per game.

If Illinois has a weakness it is turning the ball over. They give the ball away 14 times per game and Frazier turns it over almost half as much as he gives an assist. The reality though is that Illinois is the second best shooting team in the conference. They also stay out of foul trouble. This will be a strong test for us to begin the conference season.

The area that we have to watch out for is if Illinois gets an inside-out game going on us. If we collapse down on Davis and Tisdale their guards can light it up from long range. If we stay out on them we open ourselves to getting killed in the paint. I do not feel good about this game because of these issues. It will take a tremendous defensive effort for us to win.

Some teams may have less overall talent than others, but for whatever reason they match up extremely well with certain opponents. I feel Illinois is like that with us. Jacksonville was awful this year, but for some reason they just match up well with the Colts and give them fits. The same is true for San Diego. Good teams find a way to overcome this and still win. If we’re truly a top 10 team we will find a way to do this, especially at home. We need the Purdue that played against Davidson to show up, not the Purdue of the last two games. I think we will answer the call because we often play to our level of competition. We have better competition than our last two games and I expect to respond accordingly. Purdue 69, Illinois 65

Monday, December 29, 2008

Big Ten Non-conference review

It certainly wasn’t pretty yesterday, but Purdue wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule with an 11-2 record. Yesterday’s 59-45 victory was not the best win in the history of basketball, but it was a win. We were down two of our regular eight players (Calasan played sparingly, so I count him as down) but even with only 75% of our normal lineup we won by 14. Another one of those eight players, Marcus Green, gave us virtually nothing that was measured on the stat sheet.

This was a positive win for those factors and more. Valparaiso played a very determined game. Remember, they made North Carolina, the consensus best team in the country, work a bit for a win last week. It is no surprise that their toughness let them hang around a little longer than expected. We weren’t shooting well, and players like Buggs, Diebler, and Igbavboa can give them a puncher’s chance if they are playing well. We also got unexpected contributions from Bobby Buckets and Ryne Smith.

Bobby Riddell’s game was also very important. To me, there is no reason he can’t play at least a few minutes at the point each night. He has demonstrated that he is more of an offensive threat than Chris Kramer is. He works hard defensively as well. We badly needed a spark yesterday and his two first half 3-pointers were that spark. He’s a smart, veteran player who has been through a lot in his career. It’s not like he hasn’t played a lot either. His minutes have been down the past two seasons, but it was necessary for him to play early in his career.

I’m not going to break this game down into positives and negatives like I have the past few games. Instead, I wanted to take a larger look at this team as we reach the de facto end of the first third of the season. First you have your non-conference season, then your conference season, and hopefully an extended post season of several games.

The biggest thing I have noticed about this team is that aside from the Duke game, we tend to play to the level of our competition. I attribute the Duke game to us having a poor night against a very good team. In a rematch I think we could give them a much better game. In the other 12 games we have generally played as well as our opponents have played. I consider Oklahoma a dead even game. One possession the other way changes the outcome against them. We had a great gameplan against a very good Davidson team and blew them out.

Conversely, we have played down in a lot of games this year. We struggled against Valparaiso, Indiana State, and IPFW. I believe part of that comes from the fact they are in-state teams. They are filled with players that probably wanting to play for Purdue or Indiana, but weren’t quite good enough to make it. Playing an in-state non-conference game, especially in a basketball crazy place like Indiana, is always dangerous because of that extra chip on their shoulders. They want to prove themselves in their one chance against the programs that dominate the state headlines. There is plenty of talent to go around in this state. If you can get a bunch of guys that flat out shoot the basketball, which is what many Indiana kids are, you can hang around against anyone.

Because of that, I don’t think it is any coincidence we struggled somewhat against our four in-state opponents. Is Valpo a threat to get hot in March and steal the Horison League bid? Absolutely! Can IPFW compete in the Summit league? Of course! Ball State and Indiana State are rebuilding, but it’s not exactly like success is foreign to them. Indiana has proven that it is home to the best high school basketball tradition in the country, so it is not a surprise to see those attitudes of hustle, shooting, and defense carry over to its smaller college programs.

Going back to ending the first third of the season for a moment; we’re probably right about where people thought we would be. Duke and Oklahoma are not bad losses. Oklahoma easily couldn’t be a loss anyway. Each win, aside from the Boston College one in New York, has been by 14 points or more. BC gives us an unexpected quality win for now, while Davidson gave us a nationally televised showcase to refute the Duke performance. Are things really that bad?

We have looked bad in some respects, but I would much rather look bad against IPFW and still win comfortably than look bad against Wisconsin and lose. The Big Ten season will be much tougher than expected, but we have plenty to build on. With that being said, here are my Big Ten rankings from bottom to top listing each team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses.

11. Indiana (5-7) – Strength – I am not one to relish Indiana’s great struggles this year. Yes, they brought it upon themselves, but as we have proven things can change back in their favor quickly. Right now their biggest strength is surprise. No one expects them to even compete in the conference, let alone win a game. Because of that, they will surprise someone.

Weakness – Rebounding, turnovers, shooting, defense, depth: essentially, all the fundamentals of the game of basketball.

10. Northwestern (10-2) – Strength – I think there is a huge gap at the moment between Indiana and everyone else. No one has really played well enough to be the head and shoulders favorite, but that is a good thing. From 1 through 10 this conference is very balanced and should make for some exciting games. Northwestern’s biggest strength is its patience in running that offense. They lull people to sleep with it.

Weakness – For the first time in a long time Northwestern is a legit threat in every conference game. Unfortunately, I think they lack the necessary depth to truly compete each night. They will win their share of games, but can they win at least 11 conference games to steal an NCAA bid? That’s what it would take. Fortunately, there are no bad losses to kill the NCAA dream for now.

9. Iowa (10-3) – Strength – Iowa has played a lot of guys plenty of minutes so far. They spread things around and play pretty tough defense.

Weakness - Iowa hasn’t really beaten anyone yet. They struggle away from Iowa City with the only win coming at the Citadel and in a tournament vs. Kansas State. I would still give them one more year.

8. Penn State (11-2) – Strength – This is another promising young team like Iowa. They played very well at the end of last season. They have a very strong trio of Cornley, Battle, and Pringle that can keep them in any game. They can also score plus take care of the ball.

Weakness – They have put up some big numbers statistically, but only a win at Georgia Tech can be considered a good one. The two losses came to good but not great Temple and Rhode Island. Everyone else was a creamy cupcake.

7. Wisconsin (9-3) – Strength – I place the Badgers here not because I think they are bad, but because they whiffed in all three chances for a good win. They remind me a bit of Ohio State last season. They are a very balanced team almost like our own that will win plenty of games.

Weakness - They also struggled with Long Beach State, Iona, and Idaho State. Something just doesn’t feel right, as they should be better than this. They still have one of the best home court advantages in the conference.

6. Illinois (12-1) – Strength – If 20 wins is the magic number the Illini are in a very good position for a return to the dance. They are more than good enough for a 10-8 conference finish that would easily qualify them. A win at Vanderbilt is also very nice. The free throw shooting, something that cost them dearly a season ago, is much better.

Weakness – They lack a truly dominant big man, but Mike Davis can easily grow into the role. This is a very dangerous team that will be looking to make a statement tomorrow night in Mackey Arena.

5. Minnesota (12-0) – Strength – They currently have the confidence of being unbeaten. They got a very big win by beating Louisville and controlling the game throughout. I remember another team last year that beat Louisville on a neutral floor to build its confidence.

Weakness – The next best win is over an awful Virginia team. They also open with Michigan State and Ohio State at home for a very tough beginning. Rebounding could also be a major issue as they do it by committee.

4. Ohio State (9-1) – Strength – They had probably the most impressive stretch by beating Miami, Notre Dame, and Butler in succession. Those are three really good wins to bank for March.

Weakness – In their first major test without David Lighty they got absolutely pantsed by West Virginia. The Mountaineers lost to Kentucky, who lost to Miami, so explain that. The Miami win was extremely lucky to as the Canes’ Jack McClinton was ejected early and they blew a big lead at home.

3. Purdue (11-2) – Strength – We’re incredibly balanced and, if you count Riddell, we can go nine deep on the bench. The way we play defense, especially against Stephan Curry, shows we can shut down anyone.

Weakness – We rely too much on the 3-point shot. Our rebounding has gotten better, but we have to attack the basket more. We haven’t played our best basketball yet outside of the Davidson game.

2. Michigan (9-2) – Strength – No one else in the country can claim two wins over top five teams. In fact, one of the two losses was essentially erased in that. Harris and Sims may be the most dynamic one-two punch in the conference. Harris’ overall profile have him, in my opinion, as the early Player of the Year in the conference.

Weakness – Can they be too confident? Did they blow their load early? It has been a very long time since Crisler Arena has seen event his much success. Much like us last year, there are questions as to how this young team will respond to success.

1. Michigan State (9-2) – Strength – I still think this team is the team to beat. They struggled early, but Kalin Lucas scares the crap out of me. Now that Raymar Morgan has Goran Suton back to help him down low they probably have the best frontcourt in the conference. That gives them a grind it out edge over everyone else.

Weakness – Once Suton gets back fully they can have five guys averaging in double figures. They can play inside-out. How do you stop that? Their only problem is turnovers. Free throw shooting in close games could be costly too.

Conference Outlook:

I think it is entirely possible that six or even seven teams can get an NCAA bid this season. If the magic mark is 20 wins seven is entirely possible. Very rarely has a 20 win Big Ten team been left out. Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Michigan are virtual locks to get to 20 wins if they continue to play as well as they have. Ohio State’s three big non-conference wins give them a little leeway where 18-19 might be enough. Penn State might get enough to get to 20. A conference this even also leaves some room for a team to get hot in Indianapolis and steal the automatic bid like Illinois nearly did last year. Only Indiana is truly out of it at this point.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Last Crusade

I had planned to update tonight much earlier with some bigger news after a day full of high school basketball, but things did not go according to plan. I was asked to cover the Zionsville Holiday Tournament today featuring future Purdue forward Patrick Bade as a centerpiece with his Class 4A #3 Franklin Central Flashes. My responsibility was to cover host Zionsville. After the Eagles handily won the opening game 69-30 I figured I would get a chance to see them face off against Bade in the championship, so I left early to enjoy my afternoon.

This is where the first thing went wrong.

Franklin Central was upset by a feisty Lafayette Central Catholic squad 65-59. I wanted to get up there in time to catch the tail end of their third place game, but a return at Best Buy on Michigan Road went longer than expected. As a result: I didn’t get to see Bade do much more than warm up before the afternoon game.

Tonight’s update was delayed further by a sudden power outage at Casa de T-Mill, much to the dismay of Mrs. T-Mill. She was forced to watch the majority of the second half of her Canes’ bowl game with Cal via cell phone gametracker. Power was restored just in time for Jacory Harris’ backbreaking fumble and two-minute drill that made Donovan McNabb’s Super Bowl performance look rushed. In reality he had to think it was a two hour drill.

In short: I have no first hand account of Bade’s skills, Jacory Harris’ two-minute drill can be timed with continental drift, my afternoon matinee of Seven Pounds was good, but depressing, and I am on my fourth attempt to get the original Guitar Hero to work on my Playstation 3. Fortunately, Drew Brees and Dustin Keller are poised to lead me to my second consecutive Fantasy Football league title tomorrow.

This has nothing to do with tomorrow’s non-conference finale against Valparaiso, but at least it is likely a more entertaining lead in to the preview.

Valparaiso Crusaders

Record: 3-8, 1-1 Horizon League

2007-08 postseason: 91-67 loss to Houston in Second Round of Collegiate Basketball Invitation Tournament

2007-08 final record: 22-14

Blog Representation: none

Valparaiso will always be remembered for their sweet 16 run in 1998 and Bryce Drew’s deadly 3-point shooting. During that season we actually came close to playing them for a Final Four berth in the Elite 8. They have had quite a bit of success on the court outside of that one season. They have seven tournament appearances in the last 12 years and went to the inaugural CBI tournament last season. They have a tendency to struggle against ranked teams, however.

They lost all five games a year ago played against ranked opponents. This year is no different as they have already lost to #1 North Carolina. ESPN’s records go back to the 2001-02 season and they don’t have a victory over a ranked team in that time. Most of those games haven’t even been competitive.

Valpo lost by 22 to North Carolina, but that is a pretty good showing against the best team in the nation. Unfortunately, the rest of the schedule hasn’t been kind. The only wins are against Central Florida, Youngstown State, and Marian College. They beat Central Florida by 17, but that was reversed on Monday when the Golden Knights won in Orlando by 25. They also lost all three games in a tournament in the Virgin Islands.

Valpo is not a strong offensive team. Only two players, Urule Igbavboa (who has the best hair of any opponent) and Michael Rogers, average in double figures at 10.4 each. As team they only put up 61.5 points per night. Their shooting percentages aren’t that strong, either. They hit only 41% from the field and a dismal 59.5% from the line. 3-point shooting is slightly better at 31%.

The Crusaders feature a regular eight man rotation, but they struggle to rebound more than we do. No one gets more than six rebounds per game. This comes from an extreme lack of size. Igbavboa is the tallest player on the team at 6’9”. Cameron Witt is also a 6’9” that plays, but has struggled against everyone except Central Florida and Marian. The Crusaders are also incredibly young with seven freshmen and two sophomores on the roster.

One player to watch out for is freshman point guard Erik Buggs. The 6’ 150 pound Buggs is a good distributor at almost three assist per game. He had eight dimes in the Crusaders’ last game. He can also be a threat to score as he was in double figures for the first three games of his collegiate career. He is prone to turnovers, but so is the entire Valparaiso team.

As much as Valpo struggles to score they are even worse defensively. For them the equation is simple. If they hold a team under 60, they win. If they give up more than 60, they lose. Giving up 85 points to North Carolina may be a good thing, but giving up 85 to the same Central Florida team you previously held to 52 is not.

Like most 3-8 teams, it is hard to find something that Valparaiso does particularly well. They are young, they struggle to score, they turn the ball over, they don’t defend well, and they can’t rebound. 12 assists per game is good, but that can only take a team so far. The Crusaders had a strong year in their first season of Horizon League competition, but this year will be much more difficult.

Meanwhile, we are facing injuries. Even then, I don’t think it will be enough of a difference to swing this game in Valpo’s favor. It is our final tune-up before Big Ten play. Honestly, if we lose a game like this we have no business considering ourselves as a conference favorite. Stranger things, such as Portland State over Gonzaga last week, have happened. We should be encouraged by a number of things statistically. Nothing is more encouraging than the fact that our last opponent, IPFW, handled the Crusaders by 17 points on their own floor.

This is not a good team. I am not going to blow smoke and talk about how hard they play and all that. They are inferior to us and even if we sit Kramer and Calasan so they can heal we should still win easily. This is nothing more than another chance to fine tune things before getting into conference play. Tuesday’s game against Illinois is far more important.

I look for JaJuan to have another big day against a smaller opponent. It’s good too, because these types of games are critical to his confidence. Robbie Hummel should have a decent night as well against the home town team. Keaton Grant and E’Twaun Moore need to keep working on their shooting, so there should be plenty of chances for that. Valpo allowed Central Florida to shoot better than 65% from the field in its last game, and allowed 13 of 22 for the Golden Knights from 3-point range. It would take a horrible night by our entire roster to make this one close. Purdue 80, Valparaiso 55

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas from Off the Tracks

Hey guys, I'll be taking a break over the next few days to spend some time with family and recharge the creative batteries. I wanted to thank my readers for making this year the most successful so far. You guys are what makes this thing worthwhile. I'll probably be back around Saturday with a Valpo preview. If not, it will be Sunday with Non-conference season wrap, Illinois preview, or some power rankings.

In the meantime, I wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Also, as a quick note, the Boiler Sports Report is under new management and is making a comeback. In the world of Scout vs. Rivals GBI has been winning for a long time, but things could be changing soon. Topher Smith and Alan Trieu have taken things over and imrovments are forthcoming. They offer a different voice on recruiting and current events. Some schools have quality Scout sites in addition to Rivals sites for dynamite coverage. Miami is one of them, as their Scout site is probably better than their Rivals. Anyway, feel free to check it out!

Also, if you're int he market for Cheerleading Trophies I know of a few great places for them. It is also a great place for football trophies and soccer trophies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Milton Berle game

ESPN’s Bill Simmons is a polarizing figure. I happen to like his writing, but I recognize that many people don’t. He did come up with the term “Milton Berle game” to describe events like what happened in Mackey Arena last night. I’ll save those wanting a more family-friendly atmosphere from the full explanation, but basically, we took out just enough to win.

I wrote in the preview that we should be concerned if the final margin was under 20 points. I realize now I was wrong in that. I’ll give credit to IPFW for playing a defensive-minded game. Still, we kept the lead comfortable with no serious charges throughout the second half. We also played the bench mafia, unlike in the Davidson game. Both of those factors clearly contributed to the closer than expected margin. Even then, IPFW did score the game’s final five points in the last minute.

Positives from the IPFW game:

JaJuan Johnson – He had to play extended minutes because of the injury to Calasan and made the most of it. I like that he is learning to use his size against these smaller teams. It is a critical step in his development. His play at the end of the first half was a play that he probably would not have made a year ago. Getting into the conference schedule will be another major step for him. As long as we have Calasan healthy in order to take some of the burden off of him it will allow JaJuan to develop at his own pace. JaJuan was also key in stepping up for an off night from Robbie. JaJuan took a lot of high percentage shots down and kept his fouls down.

E’Twaun Moore – Speaking of taking a step forward, E’Twaun did last night with a better performance. His shooting was better, but more importantly he didn’t turn the ball over. Three-point shooting was still an issue, but it was for the whole team. I’ll take any game where E’Twaun scores 19 and gets to the line a few times.

Marcus Green – Green is another player that filled in very well for the cold Hummel and injured Calasan. 12 and 9 is not what we expect out of him, but as I keep saying, the mere fact he can give us 12 and 9 is what makes us so good.

Lewis Jackson – I agree with Boilerdowd in that sometimes LewJack doesn’t appear to do much in the box score, but the way he pushes tempo has a huge effect on the game. The fact he had nine points and no turnovers in a pretty controlled game is even better. It will be interesting to see if he maintains his starting spot once we get into Big Ten play.

Negatives from the IPFW game:

3-point shooting – Clearly this is going to be a hot and cold issue throughout the season. I’d much rather have it be cold against a team we can dominate inside like IPFW. Keaton Grant went back into hiding. He and E’Twaun combined to shoot worse than 20% from long range. We need to use nights like last night to develop more scoring options inside for the Big Ten games that we’re going to struggle from long range. This was really the only negative from last night.

Up next:

We have one final tune up this coming weekend against a Valpo team that actually played North Carolina fairly well. It should be a good game in the sense that we can’t totally go through the emotions against them. We also have some health issues now with Kramer and Calasan, but at least they get a week to heal before opening Big Ten play. If we can beat Valpo without them, and I know we can, I wouldn’t play them at all.

Ultimately there isn’t a lot you can take from last night. We beat a team we were supposed to beat. That’s all you can really say, unlike, say, losing at home to Northeastern by 13 and setting a new record for futility in your own building.

Opponents’ update:

Detroit (3-7, 0-2 Horizon League) – The Titans finally got another win, but it was against a Division II school. They also just got lit up against Illinois 82-51. We’ll get no help from them schedule-wise.

Eastern Michigan (2-9, 0-0 MAC) – Both wins came against non-Division I teams. They’ve also lost games to Brown, Detroit, and Oakland. They are one of many teams dragging down our RPI as we seem to play good or awful teams with no middle ground.

Loyola (IL) (7-5, 0-1 Horizon League) – The Ramblers have been pretty good of late in winning five of their last six. The only loss was a conference one to Illinois-Chicago. Unfortuantely, the best of those five wins is either Holy Cross or Missouri-Kansas City

Coppin State (1-8, 0-1 MEAC) – The Eagles have lost eight in a row and have yet to play a home game. They are in the midst of a Wisconsin-Syracuse-Colorado-Oklahoma-Missouri road trip.

Boston College (9-2, 0-0 ACC) – RPI-wise they are our best win to date. According to CBS Sports they are 24th in the RPI and they haven’t lost since we beat them. They should be 12-2 before starting a tough ACC slate that will help us with each victory they get.

Oklahoma (12-0, 0-0 Big 12) – They haven’t really played anyone other than us and Davidson. Still, they haven’t lost. They are #2 in the RPI and are projecting as a #1 seed in ESPN’s Bracketology. We happen to be the #3 seed in their region, and I certainly wouldn’t mind a rematch.

Duke (10-1, 0-0 ACC) – Very nice win over Xavier this weekend. I definitely give them credit for scheduling five non-conference games away from Cameron Indoor. Two were true road games too.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff (1-9, 0-0 SWAC) – They finally got a win over Southern Methodist. ESPN projects them as the SWAC representative too. That should tell you how bad that conference is. I think every team we have played would beat them.

Ball State (5-5, 0-0 MAC) – They are 1-1 since our game, losing to Eastern Kentucky but beating transitional D-I member Presbyterian. Somewhere, Danny Hope vows revenge.

Indiana State (2-8, 0-0) – They should lose points for beating DePauw. AN improving IUPUI squad is playing them at Conseco as I write this and is leading them 42-30. Harry Marshall makes them a better team and will probably mean a couple of wins.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mastodon Power!

When I was at Purdue a fellow TV production friend of mine did a mockumentary of the original Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. I still have the footage to this day somewhere in my forgotten projects file, but in it, I played the Blue Ranger. For those who didn’t follow the mid-90’s program, it was essentially a knock off of cheap Japanese Godzilla movies. One of the “Dinozords”, the one controlled by the black ranger was a giant robotic mastodon (for reasons unknown, since it wasn’t a dinosaur). The quality of show was only slightly better than our little mockumentary, by which I mean not very good.

I mention that because we face the IPFW Mastodons tonight, and they would likely need a giant robotic mastodon in the paint in order to come away with a win. They are a relative newcomer to Division I, and as a result they are taking as many paycheck games as they can. That is what tonight really is: a paycheck game for our sister school in Ft. Wayne to take its beating and go home.

Record: 4-7, 0-2 Summit League
2007-08 Postseason: Lost 58-42 to Oral Roberts in semifinals of Summit League Tournament
2007-08 final record: 13-18
Blog Representation: Dane Fife: The Official blog

IPFW is probably best known for Dane Fife as the youngest Division I coach in the country. Fife actually married a girl from my hometown, but I remember him more for being the IU guard that caused us pain and suffering during the early part of this decade. He took the job at IPFW just three years after his playing days ended, so with some sustained success he could set himself up for quite a career. Before we can worry about him breaking Bobby Knight’s wins record, however, he needs to turn a transitional program into a consistent winner.

The Mastodons are about what you can expect for a team playing just its 8th year in the top division of college basketball. They lived a vagabond existence around the country as an independent before finally finding a conference home last season in the Summit League. The 13-18 mark in 2008 with 9-9 conference record was by far the team’s best season since moving up. Still, the Summit League won’t be confused for the Big Ten any time soon. It is a one-bid league in which IUPUI, one of the stronger low-majors last year, finished 26-7 yet still did not get invited to any postseason tournament. IPFW’s three wins outside of the Summit League came against either non-Division I teams or against another transitional member.

This year is a little bit better. The ‘Dons swept a home and home with Eastern Illinois and grabbed a convincing 63-46 win at Valparaiso. They actually hosted Michigan State early in the year and fell by only 11 to one of the Big Ten favorites. Purdue will be their fourth game against a ranked team as they have losses to Xavier, Marquette, and the Spartans. Their most recent game was a 75-48 loss to 7-2 Nebraska on Saturday. In that loss, IPFW actually led 34-29 at the half before falling apart in the second half. Jeremy Mixon led them with 15 points, but they were outscored 46-14 in the second half. Losses to Southern Utah and Missouri-Kansas City already have them down 0-2 in league play.

The ‘Dons have a strong Indiana flavor on their roster. Seven players hale fromt eh state of Indiana. Two players in Muncie Central’s John Peckinpaugh and Benn Botts were quality high school players that went toe-to-toe with Greg Oden’s Lawrence North teams in consecutive state championship games. Botts is one of IPFW’s leading scorers at 11.2 points per game as a sophomore. Peckinpaugh plays each night, but is barely averaging more than a point per game.

Much of the offense revolves around 6’7” forward David Carson. Carson leads the team with 14.7 points per game and is the second leading rebounder at 5.4 per contest. Carson is a fifth year senior that has steadily improved each year in the program. He is a decent 3-pointer shooter, so he does not exclusively limit himself to the post. I think of him as a poor man’s Carl Landry.

As mentioned, Botts is next on the team in scoring and is the only other player averaging in double figures. Botts is more of an outside threat as he lit up Michigan State for 22 points. He is an excellent free throw shooter when he gets to the line, hitting 92% of his attempts. If he heats up from long range we could have some trouble, especially if Carson can keep the pressure off of him by scoring inside.

Deilvez Yearby is another strong post player averaging 7.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds. Yearby and Carson will have to have unbelievable nights while the perimeter players knock down shot after shot for the Mastodons to have a chance. Yearby had a season high of 13 against Valpo, and 10 in the Michigan State game. Guards nick Daniels and Zach Placemeier round out the starting lineup as their numbers are similar to Yearby’s.

After the starting five, however, the numbers in both production and minutes drops off dramatically. IPFW has very little size with reserve Trey McCorkle being the only player at 6’10” or above. He plays, but only about 12 and a half minutes per night. He did have a season high in a loss to Ball State. This lack of size often leads to poor efforts ont eh glass. IPFW only gets about 32 rebounds per night, and many of those are not of the offensive variety. This is essentially a one and done team. With the success we had at keeping Davidson to one shot per possession early on Saturday we should be able to continue that trend.

The ‘Dons are also not a strong offensive team. They shoot just 41% from the field and that is without playing a really strong defensive team like our own. Their 62 points per game average will be hard to come by against out defense unless they simply shoot the lights out.

This will likely be a game that is very similar to the Arkansas-Pine Bluff game. The ‘Dons are probably better than the Golden Lions, but they have already lost to Ball State. That likely puts them as our second weakest opponent with the possible exception of Eastern Michigan. Statistically there is nothing that stands out and makes me quake with fear at facing them. Considering we just played a nearly flawless game against one of the better teams in the country it will likely take us completely falling apart in order not to win. IPFW simply does not have the talent to beat us unless we beat ourselves.

One positive that the ‘Dons have is defense. Coach Fife was a defensive player of the year at Indiana. He has carried that philosophy over to his team. Good teams like Xavier and Michigan State did not score a ton of points like you would expect over a low major opponent. That defense could keep them in the game for a little while, but I don’t think it will be enough for a win.

The most I am looking for tonight is to see if Keaton Grant continues to improve and to see if E’Twaun can get out of his funk. Other than that, I expect the bench mafia to get plenty of minutes at the end of what will most likely be a blowout. If this game is closer than 20 points at the end we should be very concerned. Purdue 80, IPFW 55

Sunday, December 21, 2008

That's what I'm talking about!

Many of Purdue’s devout fans saw yesterday as a challenge. Despite our record, it seemed like a paper 8-2. Both losses were to the only ranked teams on our schedule, who each happened to be in the top 10. A third loss to a ranked team would raise even more questions.

Consider those questions answered.

This was an unbelievable game yesterday. The crowd was somewhat tentative at first, but quickly warmed to multiple standing ovations as we jumped out to a 21-0 lead. There is little we could do wrong. Even in the inevitable lulls of the game we had success. One example I can think of is a stretch with about nine minutes to go in the game.

Davidson was on a little 12-2 run that got them to 66-49. We took possession with 9:50 to go after a 3-pointer and though we didn’t score, we had about a minute and a half long possession that drew three fouls and featured two offensive rebounds. At that point, scoring wasn’t nearly as damaging. Davidson got the ball back on a steal with 8:15 left, but by then we had taken away almost a fifth of the remaining time for any comeback.

It is little stretches like that which can make a huge difference in games down the road. It seemed like the final 10 minutes was one long such stretch. After running them down the floor on offense for 30 minutes, we backed off and took away what they needed most: time. This was teh textbook way you want to win a game. Build a big lead early, keep pressuring them on offense, then take the air out of the ball late.

Positives from the Davidson game:

Defense – Isn’t it obvious? We took the nation’s leading scorer, who was averaging 32 points per game and hadn’t had a game below 27, and we held him to 13. Stephen Curry didn’t have a moment’s respite whenever he had the ball. Kramer led the way, but special credit needs to be given to E’Twaun Moore, Lewis Jackson, and Keaton Grant for picking him up at key times. Every time he managed to shake Kramer someone else was right there to greet him. Kramer got the glory on ESPN, but this was truly a team effort in shutting down one of the best in the game. The shots he did make were challenged. Fortunately, he only had a couple, “Man, he is REALLY good,” types of shots that dropped.

As I said last night, Curry couldn’t even go to the bathroom without Kramer or someone else there to help. He’ll probably have more room to do stuff on the flight home to North Carolina.

Offensive balance – This is the type of offense we need the rest of the way. Jackson didn’t score and Kramer only had an early lay-up, but our other six guys contributed almost evenly. It helps a lot that we hit 3-pointers at a 61% rate (11 for 18). We spread those around too. Five different players had at least two triples. Chally had two big ones, as his first really kick started the 21-0 start. His second came at almost the exact same point in the second half and showed we weren’t going to rest on the lead. Marcus Green got involved too, especially on the Little Things side of the ledger. JaJuan had a good game to build his confidence in the post.

We’re at our best when this happens. I have no problem with Calasan and Johnson combining for 22 points and 8 rebounds. We need Marcus Green to do all the Little Things and chip in points where he can. He is a source of unexpected offense and gives teams one more thing to worry about when he is scoring. Kramer was vintage Kramer on offense early on, but after he took a fall on a drive in the first half he became timid again. Lewis Jackson seemed like he certainly did a lot more than take two shots and dish out only one assist. I guess it just feels like more when the entire team performs this well.

I think it feels like Jackson did more because he pushed the tempo at just the right moments. He may not have made the big pass for the assist, but he quickly brought the ball up the floor in the first half and allowed us to attack before Davidson got set. This was absolutely huge in building the big lead early. We were relentless with our offensive pressure just as much as we were defensively.

Robbie Hummel – The Big Ten is officially on notice. Robbie has had a pair of solid games in a row and seems to be getting better each week. He was a rebounding machine yesterday. He was very smart with the ball in his hands too. He never forced anything and ended up with 18 points and four dimes. He was like the offense as a whole, which was a picture of efficiency.

Keaton Grant – Welcome back! Our team MVP from a year ago has been sorely missed. 15 points was a new season high. He found his shot too with three 3-pointers. We need Keaton to score. If he is scoring and Green is dropping 6-10 points per night at the right moments, who are you going to stop for us?

Free Throw shooting and rebounding – These areas have both been temperamental in the past, but they were huge strengths yesterday. Robbie did his part on the rebounding end with 14, but I was especially proud of how we kept up the pressure even from the free throw line. We were 15 of 18 from the line as a team, and all three misses were in the final minutes when the game was long decided.

The Paint Crew – I have to give thanks to these kids from coming down to Indy and taking over a section of the lower bowl en masse. Last year we were outnumbered by Louisville fans at the Wooden Tradition. This year there was little question as to whose house we made it. Massive credit needs to be given to the Paint Crew. I’ll admit we missed their presence last year. After halftime I moved down from my $10 seat up in the corner to sit in the section directly behind the Paint Crew. It wasfun to see them in action in a venue other than Mackey Arena. The challenge is now issued though. We have the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, followed potentially by a Dayton-Indy-Detroit run in the NCAA’s. Please keep coming! I promise to meet you there.

Negatives from the Davidson game:

E’Twaun Moore – It is nitpicking, but E’Twaun really struggled after hitting a few big shots early. His layup at the 5:13 mark of the first half gave us a 20 point lead, but he struggled to shoot the rest of the game. Since both Robbie and Keaton have started to come on I hope E’Twaun is next. He still is feeling a little off on his shots and turnovers are becoming an issue.

Switching defense – We did a good job when we had to switch screens on Curry, but struggled a little when Davidson tried to go inside-out on us. The only thing that kept them marginally alive was a spate of 3-pointers off of kickouts to Archambault, McKillop and Barr. Those guys are good shooters in their own right. Imagine how different things would have been had Curry gotten his usual 32 and change. Davidson is a team that will be heard from again. We took their star away from them, something very few teams have done, and they struggled because of it. If other teams can’t do what we did they will win a lot of games. Barr was actually under his average with just 6 points.

Up next:

This was a much needed win. It is the type of win that makes me wish we could get a second shot at Duke and Oklahoma. I have little doubt we could beat Oklahoma in a rematch. If we played Duke like we played yesterday it would have been the barn-burner everyone expected. This team responded very well to the week off and now we have two more tune ups before conference play begins against Illinois. Everything simply feels better about this team now.

Yesterday was a statement day for the Big Ten. Minnesota and Michigan State grabbed huge wins while even Northwestern was impressive in a road loss at Stanford. There are going to be very few easy games along the way. It is the rare year where not playing Indiana twice is actually a disadvantage because they are going to be so bad. When the new polls come out on Monday I expect Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Minnesota to be ranked, while Illinois, Wisconsin, and Northwestern have been receiving votes in previous polls.

It is not going to be easy to win a much improved Big Ten this year, but I like it that way. A much improved Big Ten means more chances for quality wins to improve our NCAA seed. Last season the conference was top heavy with only five teams (Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State) being even marginally good enough for the tournament. This year there are twice as many if you consider Iowa (who lost to Drake yesterday) in the same boat. Winning this conference will mean a lot more this year, and that is how I like it.

Along the same vein we must also hope Davidson goes on to have a successful year in the Southern Conference. They have one big game left at Duke before the tournament. Unless they fall apart in the Southern Conference they will go to the tournament. It is entirely possible they will go there with a 30-3 record and the only three losses coming against us, Oklahoma, and Duke. We have to hope they do just that so we can get the maximum value out of this win.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pillar of Davidson

When the 2008-09 schedule was released I was naturally excited about the strong potential for Purdue's first Big Ten championship Since 1996. Aside from that, there were two games I circled on my calendar as must see events. The first was the Duke game, which ended with a resounding thud. The second was tomorrow's game with tiny Davidson.

Why would I be excited about seeing Purdue play a tiny college of 1,700 students from the hills of North Carolina? This college is literally smaller than my high school (enrollment 1,937). They are playing in Indianapolis for one reason and one reason only.

Stephen Curry

I like to consider myself a true fan of the game of basketball. I love my teams, but I also have a special appreciation for seeing the game played the proper way. That is why Butler is one of my favorite non-affiliated teams to watch. The same is true for George Mason when they made their Final Four run a few years ago. To me, the game is incredibly entertaining when five guys are on the floor functioning as one single unit. This is also why I hate watching the NBA.

It is also special when a player comes along and simply transcends the game with his greatness. This is made even more rare when said player plays for a team that still functions as one unit so well. Stephen Curry is that type of player at the college level. He is the very definition of a pure shooter. Some consider him undersized for the NBA, but who cares? This is a kid that literally only needs to be within sight of the basket in order to hit it. It is uncanny how he is averaging better than 31 points per game while drawing double and triple teams each night. As seen earlier this year when his team played Loyola-Maryland, he's not afraid to get his teammates involved either as long as it means they win. He is a selfless superstar, and though I am heading downtown tomorrow to see the Boilers, I want to see this kid play in person just as much.

Record: 8-1 (1-0 Southern Conference)

2007-08 postseason: lost 59-57 to eventual national champions Kansas in Midwest Regional final,

2007-08 final record: 29-7

Blog Representation: Lefty's Legacy, Davidson basketball (on hiatus), 16 Point 8, Wildcats Pride, Will's World

As much press as Curry gets (and it is well deserved) the Davidson Wildcats are a lot more than one superstar guard. How many times in college basketball do you find the nation's leading scorer on some small school in a bottom level conference? Many times that player's team is incredibly lucky to make the NCAA tournament because they are a one man show. If you look at the top five leading scorers in Division 1 right now, you will see Curry at the top averaging 31.9 per game, followed by kids from Cal State Fullerton, Chicago State, Virginia Commonwealth, and North Dakota State. That means in that top five only Curry's Davidson squad and maybe Eric Maynor's Virginia Commonwealth team have a realistic shot at grabbing an at large NCAA bid.

That fact alone shows me why Davidson is dangerous. They are far from being a one man team. Curry has a good supporting cast around him that can carry things if he is struggling, then support him when he decides to go nuts. That is precisely what happened in Davidson's last marquee game against West Virginia in New York. Players like 6'8" forward Andrew Lovedale and 6'4" guard Bryan Barr buoyed things until Curry went apeshit in the final minutes. He had 13 of Davidson's final 15 points in a 68-65 win.

I would even argue that this year's Davidson team is better than last year's. There was some question last season as to if the Wildcats would have gotten into the NCAA tournament had they lost the Southern Conference Tournament. A season ago they went 0-4 in resume building contests against Duke, North Carolina, NC State, and UCLA. They also had a couple of bad losses to UNC-Charlotte and Western Michigan. It ended up not mattering though as they were spotless in Southern Conference play before beating Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin in the NCAA's.

This year they already have some good wins as padding. They have major conference wins over West Virginia and NC State while the only loss was a four point setback at Oklahoma in the second round of the NIT. Curry had 44 in that game, and had they won we would likely be viewing this game as a rematch.

I still point to their game against Loyola-Maryland as a prime example of why they are so dangerous. In that game, the Greyhounds placed a double team on Curry for the entire game. Instead of forcing things like many selfish stars would do, Curry was content to sit in the corner and say, "okay, you want to do that, fine. I'll let my guys play 4 on 3 and just stand here taking up two guys without doing anything." Davidson won by 30. It is this attitude of putting his team first that makes him a dangerous player.

Of course his sheer talent also plays a large hand in that. The Loyola game is the only game in which Curry was held below 27 points. He is a 39% shooter from 3-point range, usually jacking up 10 shots from long range per night. He hits 48% of all shots from the field, and is 87.7% from the line. He has the ability to break down one-on-one coverage off the dribble and get to the basket. He can create his own shot from anywhere on the floor. If he does get a totally open look, you might as well put the points on the board and run to the other end because he isn't going to miss. For good measure he is getting his teammates involved by averaging almost 7 assists per game. That's like adding another 14-18 points per game to his average. He is a thief on the defensive end with almost three steals per game, and rarely turns the ball over.

Curry is complimented by a strong supporting cast. Lovedale (13.9ppg) and Barr (9.7ppg) are secondary weapons that are often the benefits of Curry's assists. These guys can score when Curry draws a double team, and as a whole the offense flows very well. If Curry is double teamed, as he often is, this offense is good at finding the open man and still scoring. Loveldale provides the bulk in the paint with 10.7 rebounds per game as well.

Other strong contributors include 6'6" Will Archambault (8.7ppg, 2.1apg) and 6'7" Steve Rossiter (6.3ppg, 7.2rpg). Depth is a bit of a concern, however, as it is with most small schools. Davidson only goes eight deep, and only six of those eight average better than 21 minutes per game. The reverse side of that coin is that these guys are conditioned for long stretches of play, so it is nothing unusual for them at this point.

Davidson is also a pretty strong defensive team. They gave up 95 points to Tennessee-Chattanooga in their last outing, but they generally hold opponents under 70. If they give up more than that they are more than capable of keeping pace with scoring of their own. Davidson has cracked 90 points four times in nine games, and two of those saw them go over the century mark. Since Curry himself hasn't been higher than 44, that is another sign that he is far from being the only weapon.

This team rebounds well at almost 40 per game and they share the ball extremely well. They are averaging an astonishing 15.3 assists per game. They also get almost 9 steals per contest, leading to fast break points. Turnovers are not an issue, as they have a miserly 11.8 per game average. The team as a whole is full of good shooters. They can keep a lead with a 73.5% average from the free throw line. Lovedale and Rossiter allow them to play inside-out, as they hit 36% of their 3-pointers while having those two hold their own in the paint.

Do not let Curry fool you. He is an excellent player, but this is a very, very good team around him. This is one of their final "name" contests of the season too. They get us, then Duke in early January before a steady diet of the Southern Conference. As much as they are going to get every team's best shot in that conference, this is a chance for them to get a big win and set themselves up for another run in March with a good seed. Should they get either us or Duke and run the table again in the SoCon I do not think it is a stretch to consider these guys as a top four seed. This is especially true if they somehow get both.

Fortunately, it is also a chance at a very good win for us. If we get them, we most definitely want them to get Duke in January. That (and a sweep of Michigan) would show that maybe we simply had an off night against the Blue Devils. We need this win as a jewel from non-conference play. Get it, and we're most likely looking at 11-2 before starting the Big Ten with a very good Davidson win, a decent Boston College win, a close loss to top 5 Oklahoma, and a not bad loss to duke. A loss, however, will continue to raise questions of how god we are.

So how do we beat them? When facing a dominant player such as this I am often an advocate of shutting down the other four guys on the floor and daring said player to score 60 and beat us by himself. The thing with Curry is he just might do exactly that! The Kramer vs. Curry matchup will be intriguing. I do not expect Chris to completely shut him down. But if he can at least limit what Curry does offensively without us having to commit a second defender it will greatly improve our chances of victory. By limit I mean hold him under 30, which won't be easy. Still, if he can do that I am confident our other four defenders can match up well with the other four Davidson threats. Statistically they are superior, and they may have even played a better overall schedule to this point.

On the other end of the floor we must find more consistent sources of offense. We have a slight size and depth advantage, so we must exploit it. If the three ball isn't falling, pound it inside. E'Twaun must start creating his own shot again. Chris Kramer needs to shake off his fears and drive to the basket. Keaton Grant simply needs to hit some shots. Robbie Hummel is coming along, so he needs to keep improving. JaJuan and Chally need to keep giving us a combined 22 and 10 in the paint.

I also think depth could be a major factor here. We have eight guys that not only play a ton of minutes, but they are capable of starting as well. Ryne Smith and Bobby Buckets also give us a pair of guys we can use for quick minutes off the bench. They are good shooters too, so they aren't total liabilities when they are on the floor. I expect a very tight game where hopefully our depth can wear them down. Unfortunately, with a player like Curry they have a chance to win any close game. He is more than capable of taking over the final minutes and swaying any contest in their favor. Purdue 70, Davidson 69

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Boilermakings for 12/18

For being a team coming off of a 4-8 season Purdue has had an awful lot of good news football-wise this week. With everything that has happened, the 2009 could surprise some folks. I think it will look totally different from any of Joe Tiller's coached teams, and that is a very good thing. It is clear that the program has become stale. There is enough talent, however, to expect a big turnaround, but only if everything clicks just right. I will admit that it is a pretty big if, but as bad as the Big Ten was outside of its top 2-3 teams this year we can turn things around quickly. I wouldn't exactly book reservations for Pasadena on New Year's Day 2010, but I at least expect a bowl game.

Purdue set to make it rain with its own ATM

I've already commented on the Brock Spack situation earlier this week. That is an area that will be a make or break hire as far as the 2009 season goes. Yesterday's news was solely on the player front, as four-star Florida running back Al-Terek McBurse announced he was heading north to Purdue. I am trying to temper my excitement some because we have had four-star guys hurt us before (see Roundtree, Roy and Nelson, Jerico). ATM feels different though. He wants to see the field and he knows he could be "the man" for four years at Purdue. He had plenty of huge runs on his highlight reel, but that was against high school competition. That will change next year.

Fortunately, we now have a very crowded backfield that will allow him to adjust to the life of being a college back. Jaycen Taylor will come back as a fifth year senior and will be a huge boost to the team. We also have Dan Dierking back for a third year. I like Dan, but I have never really seen him as a big Ten running back. Still, he does bring experience. I like Ralph Bolden. What little I saw of him this season shows me he can be a playmaker. We can't forget Frank Halliburton either. With those four guys, plus Siller and now McBurse, we should be able to do a lot of things with the running game that we couldn't do before. This will also take pressure off the passing game.

Then there is the dream scenario if we can still get big back Toben Opurum to come to West Lafayette. It really is a sign of change if two four star running backs are considering Purdue in the same class. Can you imagine what a thunder and lightning duo Opurum and McBurse can be? Sure, we won't be throwing the ball 60 times per game, but who cares? I am not picky. I don't care if we run the ball, throw it, or the quarterback bends over and fires it out of his rear end. As long as we move the ball and score points I am happy.

These guys are also a positive sign of the new recruiting attitude brought by coach Danny Hope. For the longest time the 2009 class was shaping up to be lackluster at best. We now have a big name in that class, and there could be more to follow. I don't expect a deluge of 5 star guys to descend upon us, but if we can get 2-4 four star guys and a bunch of 3 stars that will be pretty good. From there it becomes a coaching issue. For years Notre Dame has taught us that star rankings mean exactly dick unless there is good coaching in place. Once the guys get here we have to get them to perform. Our recruit with big name recruits the past few seasons is bleak too.

I liken it to the basketball team's NCAA tournament success. Purdue seems to do better when there are lesser expectations. The 1996 team very nearly became the first #1 seed to ever lose to a 16 seed. They didn't even make it past the tournament's opening weekend. Meanwhile, the 1999 team that many said should have even made the tournament went to the sweet 16. A year later we nearly made the Final Four as a six seed. The same is true for football recruits. The unwanted two-star Dustin Keller became a first round draft pick while J.B. Paxson, Garret Bushong, Jason Kacinko, and Bruce Gordon didn't even see the field for us. For us to turn the corner as a program we have to have success with the Dustin Kellers and the Garret Bushongs. That's why we can't forget our PIN number to cash in with this ATM.

Good God, that's Stephanie Lynch's music!

It is always nice to see when Purdue players in any sport achieve the coveted All-American status. The latest such player is Volleyball player Stephanie Lynch. The senior middle hitter from New Albany, Indiana became just Purdue's second volleyball All-American and first since 1985. I admit that I know very little about volleyball or the requirements of each specific position, but this is still a pretty cool honor. If she is setting school records in the categories that are listed in the release there she has to be good. Thank you, Miss Lynch, for coming to Purdue. This honor is well-deserved.

Another Hawaiian Brees

It has been a rough year for Purdue football, but it is good to see that our most celebrated player is headed to Hawaii for his third Pro bowl. Drew Brees is the only former Purdue player headed that way after the season, but he is far from the only one that has had a good year professionally. He still has a shot to break Dan Marnio's single season passing yardage record, and I certainly hope he does. The fact he is facing the winless Lions this week will great help my New Orleans Looters repeat as National Freeball League champions.

The best part about it is that Drew continues to be such a model citizen off the field for us as well. Not only is he a great player, he is a great human being. My time at Purdue coincided with his, so my memories of him playing are a little more special. I already have a sneaking suspicion that the strange package that arrived in the mail the other day is none other than a brand new Drew Brees New Orleans Saints jersey to replace the #15 Purdue jersey that seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. Congratulations, Drew, on another good year. Thank you for being such a wonderful person.

Other Boilers in the NFL

I don't know if I would call it an honor, but I had the chance last week to watch three former Purdue players in action when I went to the Colts-Lions game here in Indy. While it wasn't pretty, it was good to see three former Purdue players have a good day. Cliff Avril didn't do much, but John Standeford had his best day professional with four catches for 36 yards. He also spent most of the day as Detroit's #2 receiver. Granted, being the #2 option on possibly the NFL's first 0-16 team isn't exactly something to brag about, but I was proud of John anyway. He clearly hasn't quit in pursuing a dream, finally getting some regular season playing time after so many years on the Colts' practice squad.

The third guy was none other than crowd favorite Stu Schweigert. Stu was one of my all-time favorite players at Purdue, so much so I have a gold #9 jersey and a black one (works for Dorien Bryant and David Pender too). I actually wore the black #9 to the game because Stu was playing. Stu has had a rough year, bouncing to his fourth team in the past calendar year, but hopefully he has finally found an NFL home.

As a side note, is anyone else not surprised that Jim Colletto is somehow involved with maybe the worst team in NFL history? This guy couldn't find a W on the fifty yard line at Wisconsin.

Hummel named Big Ten Player of the Week

This is old news at this point, but Robbie Hummel was named Big Ten player of the week last week for his efforts in wins over Ball State and Indiana State. This is strange, but I actually had a dream this week he dropped 55 points on a team in the first half of one of our upcoming games. It's unlikely, but I would love to see it happen, specifically this Saturday. I know I will be there Saturday afternoon. As a basketball fan I would have to turn in my fan card if I didn't want to see one of the greatest pure shooters maybe ever to play the college game.

Weight Machine 1, Nemanja Calasan 0

The final item this week is one of the strangest I have ever reported here. According to the Lafayette Journal and Courier, Nemanja Calasan had a pretty frightening accident last week before the Indiana State game. Apparently during a weightlifting session, the cord on the machine snapped and dumped weights on both his head and neck.

This raises a couple of questions. First of all, what kind of exercise was Chally doing that his head and neck were right below the weights. Second, should we be concerned one of our few big bangers wasn't lifting enough to cause a more serious injury in this case, or was he lifting a house and he's just that tough? Third, in relation to the last question, was the cord just in that bad of shape, or is Chally just so manly he has to lift an inhuman amount of weight for a good work out, then can shrug it off when it falls on him? Fourth, can't we get better equipment than this? This had better be at the top of the list for the Mackey Renovation.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Between a Brock and a hard place

I would like to thank Brock Spack for accepting the new head coaching job at Illinois State yesterday. If anything, it gives me something to write about on a rather slow news week because of finals. That aside, it is obvious an important turning point for the football program.

The 2009 Boilers will now look almost entirely different from a coaching standpoint than the previous 12 incarnations. That much was already obvious with new head coach Danny Hope and new offensive coordinator Gary Nord. With Spack gone, we have a new defensive coordinator for the first time in 12 years. That’s a turnover of the top three positions in just one season. While that is pretty common at a major college program accustomed to some success coming off its worst season in 12 years, it is uncommon for only one of those spots to be open as the result of a firing. Only offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher took the fall for our dismal 2008 season. Tiller and Spack left on their own accord.

The news of Spack’s departure leaves me with mixed emotions. I am surprised since he is a “Purdue guy” with very strong ties. It’s not a surprise because he clearly was seeking a head coaching job. I would argue strongly that had Tiller decided to leave 2-3 years ago he would currently be Purdue’s head football coach. This is a position he has wanted for a long, long time, but unfortunately the play of the defense, his bailiwick, from 2005 onward likely cost him the job.

That poor play will also tarnish what was a pretty good legacy. Of the 27 Boilermakers currently on NFL rosters 17 are defensive players. Of those, 16 were players that Brock Spack personally coached while at Purdue. Seven of those guys come from the 2003 defense that was one of the best in the nation during his tenure. That is what makes the sudden dropoff so stunning. We graduated a ton of guys from that 2003 defense, but we still had a good one in a “rebuilding year” of 2004. It was 2005, when we had all the pieces in place for an even better defense, when things absolutely fell apart.

I’m still not sure what happened that year. Ray Edwards and Bernard Pollard were part of it. Those two had a “me first” attitude not often seen in our defense. I lost count of how many times Pollard celebrated a tackle after a 15-20 yard gain like he just personally won the Super Bowl. Sure he was a big hitter, but when you make the tackle long after the first down you have no reason to celebrate. Spack failed to corral those guys' attitudes, and the team suffered as a result.

That season was also the year that our defense seriously fell into the trap of simply refusing to make any in-game adjustments. That has been the biggest problem of the past few seasons. We still have decent raw talent on the defensive side of the ball, but it absolutely maddening to see teams make the same plays time and time again while we flat out refuse to adjust to them. I have been screaming about this since I started to write Off the Tracks before the 2006 season, and it is still an issue.

Ultimately, that lies with Spack. No matter what he has done for Purdue over the past decade plus, he is the one responsible for what has happened defensively the past few seasons.

That said, I am a little discouraged because going into 2009 the defense looked like it was going to become a major strength. From the bottom point of 2006 when we couldn’t stop the French army, we improved to 64th nationally in total defense this past season. This was actually one spot ahead of Oklahoma (who has had a decent year), and several spots ahead of teams like Oregon, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech. The defense really was pretty good this year, especially when you consider that our offense couldn’t keep them off the field.

While I wouldn't necessarily bet on Brock Spack definitely returning to Purdue, there is something definitely worth betting on. The NFL playoffs are just around the corner. I'm not much of a gambler, even if I am in the top four of the Big Ten blogger's pick 'em contest. If you do feel like dropping some coin on a little wager, however, feel free to head over to You can take advantage of plenty of Superbowl betting at any time.

From the second half of the Notre Dame game forward the defense played extremely well. I, like many, ripped them for quitting in the second half of that game. They played more than well enough for us to win games against Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Oregon, and Michigan State only to have the offense let them down. The best part is that most of that unit will be back.

That is why it is critical for our new defensive coordinator to keep this momentum going while figuring out that we are indeed allowed to make in game adjustments. Virtually our entire secondary on the two deeps (if Torri Williams decides to pursue a medical redshirt) returns with starting experience. We have three very promising linebackers (Joe Holland, Chris Carlino, Nickaro Golding) returning with three years of eligibility remaining. If the long-awaited Jason Werner plays we’ll have depth too. Mike Neal and Ryan Kerrigan are very good building blocks along the defensive line. That is the only area where we will be looking for new starters. Players like Kawann Short and Kris Cooke are promising replacements.

There is also the question of recruiting. One of our top targets, Jordan Barnes, already mentioned that he is disappointed that coach Spack left. We are in a critical part of our recruiting cycle. Several of the better players we have been looking at are on the fence and were being courted by Spack. We cannot lose the headway that head and coach Hope were making, especially in an area that has been a deficiency for some time.

Whoever replaces Spack has to keep the defense improving. It is our one hope for having a good 2009. If the defense stays the same or even improves a little I am confident that our offense can make enough positive strides to get us back in contention for a bowl game. If it takes a step back under a new coordinator wins will be hard to come by. I am already looking at games against Toledo, Northern Illinois, and Indiana as likely wins. Oregon, Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, and Minnesota are all possible wins, but we obviously must play better.

I wish Brock Spack the best in his new pursuit. He leaves Purdue in a very interesting position. We would not have had as much success as we have had without him, but we may not have been as bad the past few years without him. He is still young enough to return as a head coach somewhere further down the line, as I am sure he will be first in line if Danny Hope doesn’t work out. Until then, his primary responsibility is the Illinois State Redbirds.