Friday, January 30, 2009

Michigan preview

Before getting into the Michigan preview I wanted to thank everyone who has come up with suggestion for a new name over at SB Nation. While Communism works in theory, I prefer a good old-fashioned democracy. Off to the side you will notice a new poll with my five favorite choices culled form the list I was given. I've give it about a week, and whichever name you readers pick will be the new one over at SB Nation. As mentioned, I will be leaving this site up with occasional different updates in order to keep some advertising obligations I have made, but for the most part everything will be done over at the new site. One thing they require is an open thread post for each game, so that will be a constant for football and men's basketball.

One of the names that was suggested the most was Boilermakings. While I really like this name, I know the GBI print edition has it on the last couple of pages. The last thing I want to do is piss them off since they are officially backed by Purdue, so I felt like I needed to cut from the list. Unfortunately many of the other really good suggestions were already taken domain-wise.

One note I forgot to mention in yesterday's mini-boilermakings: Kory Sheets participated in the Senior Bowl last Saturday as a replacement for the injured Jevon Ringer and made a couple of very nice plays. He finished with the longest kickoff return of the day and had had 31 yards rushing, good for the second highest total of anyone. He also had a touchdown, but it was called back due to a penalty.

Alex Magee also played and had an assist on a tackle. Though he didn't do much in the game, Sports Illustrated felt he had a fantastic week of practice and may end up going late in the first round of April's draft. That would give a modest streak of three straight seasons with a first round draft pick after going almost 20 years without one.

Michigan Wolverines

Michigan Record: 14-7, 4-5 Big Ten
2007-08 postseason: Lost 51-34 to Wisconsin in Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals
2007-08 final record: 10-22, 6-14 Big Ten
Blog Representation: MGoBlog, MVictors, Varsity Blue, Michigan Sports Center, iBlog for Cookies, Maize'n'Brew, Maize & Blue Nation, UM Hoops

It is very hard to get a read on Michigan this year. They have two of the best non-conference wins of anyone in the country by beating Duke and UCLA, but they have struggled in some other games. Since getting into Big Ten play they have been swept by Ohio State, giving the Buckeyes a major edge if both teams end up on the bubble. The Wolverines haven't been dancing in 10 years, which is the longest non-Northwestern streak in the conference. Many thought that the victories over Duke and UCLA were going to assure that streak would end, but they need to improve in conference play to give those wins more value.

Outside of Ohio State Michigan has struggled in Big Ten play with losses to Penn State, Illinois and Wisconsin. They are doing themselves no favors by going 1-4 on the road in conference play. The one win came in overtime at Indiana, a game in which the Hoosiers blew a 20 point second half lead. To me, that tells me that win belongs more to Indiana blowing it rather than Michigan making a great comeback.

Michigan's success comes from the fact that they have two of the best players in the Big Ten in guard Manny Harris and forward DeShawn Sims. Harris is a candidate for Big Ten player of the year with one of the best statistical profiles of anyone in the conference. He is second in scoring (17.8 ppg), second in rebounds (7.8 rpg, tied with Sims), and sixth in assist (4.5 apg). Penn State's Talor Battle leads in both points and assists, but he doesn't have the rebounding ability that Harris does. Harris is a definite playmaker that we must keep our eye on. He has had as many as 15 assists in one game, so he can do plenty of damage without scoring himself.

Sims (15.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is plenty good in his own right. At 6'8" 235 lbs he is developing into one of the premier power forwards in the Big Ten if not the country. His game reminds me a bit of Carl Landry's because he can step outside and hit the occasional three. His best game came against Florida Gulf Coast when he had a 20-20 game of points and rebounds. He hits better than 50% of his shots from the field and is a 75% free throw shooter.

The biggest news for Michigan is that it will be missing the services of Freshman starter Zack Novak. Novak is a guy we recruited from Chesterton, Indiana and he averages 6.7 points per game as a 3-point shooting threat. He'll have a seat for this one as he was ejected from Wednesday's loss at Ohio State for elbowing P.J. Hill in the face. That drew a one-game suspension that he will serve Saturday.

Freshman guard Laval Lucas-Perry (9.3 ppg) missed the first nine games of the season but has come on as a nice compliment to Sims and Harris. He was in double figures for the first six games he played in, but hasn't had more than 8 points since scoring 18 against Indiana. A big reason is that he hasn't been hitting his 3-point shot. Since the Indiana game he is just 5 of 25 from long range after going 16 of 35 before that.

Missing Novak will cut into Michigan's regular nine man rotation. Senior forward Jevohn Shepherd, who has played in 18 games but hasn't logged many minutes in Big Ten play, will likely see more playing time as the result of the suspension.

Michigan is the worst shooting team in the Big Ten from the field, trailing even Indiana at 42.3%. They are also one of the worst 3-point shooting teams at 32.6%. This bodes well for us since we make teams shoot well below their average. As bad as Michigan shoots from the field we must keep them off the free throw line. They are by far the best free throw shooting team in the league at an astounding 78%. They also don't turn the ball over much.

Defensively we can expect to see a team that thrives on creating turnovers and getting transition baskets. We top the league in forcing 16.2 turnovers per game while Michigan forces 14. Michigan's half court defense isn't very good as only Indiana has a worse field goal percentage for opponents.

This feels like a very good matchup for us. Michigan is primarily a team of Sims and Harris. If we can contain one or both of them it will greatly increase our chances of winning. Conversely, if both of them go nuts suddenly Michigan is a very good team. We must concentrate mostly on Harris. He has a tendency not only to score in bunches, but to get his teammates involved as well with his playmaking ability. Sims is a dangerous player in his own right, but Harris can do so much more with the way he distributes the ball. Just as our defense on Al Nolen in the Minnesota game disrupted his ability to get his teammates involved, we have to make sure Harris doesn't do the same.

In both games last season we did a good job of keeping Sims off the glass. With Harris, we held him to just three total assists. He had 25 points in the game in Mackey Arena, but he finished with just 10 in Ann Arbor. Short of the Big Ten Tournament game against Wisconsin it was one of his worst outings of the year.

What is also encouraging is that Michigan's defense has been significantly worse in Big Ten play. In conference games alone teams are shooting 49% from the field, though for some reason teams don't shoot as well from the free throw line against them. On the other end, Michigan has the worst field goal shooting percentage (39%) in league games. They only hit 30% from 3-point range as well.

If it was just one or two games I would say it was a fluke, but the Wolverines have established a poor trend in Big Ten play. We're talking about the worst shooting team in the league going against a team that makes opponents shoot we below their average. To me, that is a huge advantage we must exploit. If we simply play defense as we have been playing we should have a surprisingly easy time. Part of that may come from the fact that this is their 6th road game in 10 conference games. I feel like all we need to do is play our game and keep them off the free throw line.

Much of basketball is about matchups. This looks to be a very good matchup in our favor as long as we play our game on our terms. That's what good teams do. During this stretch of four road games out of five we cannot afford a let down in the one home game we have. Michigan State looked like Michigan State again last night, so their loss to Northwestern was more than likely a poor night rather than a trend. To keep pace with the Spartans this is a must win, and I think we will get it. Purdue 67, Michigan 53.

Official OTT Super Bowl pick:

This is an easy one. With one Boiler (Chike Okeafor) and two Canes (Antrell Rolle and Edge James) we're unanimously going with Arizona on Sunday in my house. Chike is a good guy, a 10 year vet, and is more than due to have a solid payoff to an unheralded career. The townie from West Lafayette High will become the latest Boiler to get his ring Sunday.

Also, as many of you know, online shopping eliminates much of the hassle of going tot he mall, finding a parking space, and fighting the crowds. That is why I like to shop online at a place where I can find nearly anything.

With summer just around the corner it is time to gear up for outdoor activities. Every biker needs good shoes, equipment, and clothes to bike in comfort.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Undone by the Plague, but announcing things

Last week it was just a cold on my return from South Carolina. This week I appear to be fighting a developing sinus infection that is leaving my head in a cloud. I feel like I am walking around with this constant look of, "What?" on my face. That's not going to prevent me from having a mini-boilermakings with a few announcements and thoughts on recent developments. The first is the promised major announcement, since I have more information.

Earlier this week I was approached by the good folks at SB Nation who were interested in having me move the blog over to their network. There, I would be the leader of their new start up Purdue community. This is a move that means more exposure to my posts, more involvement in the Purdue community, and greater opportunities for ad revenue. Since one of my ultimate goals is to expand on my writing career this is a great chance to expand my audience and gain better exposure for myself (yes, I said expose myself. Feel free to giggle like 12 year olds). I have decided to accept this opportunity because it is a huge break for me personally and professionally. As is common knowledge, the job situation for me at the moment isn't very promising. If this can help that, I am all for it. So basically, it boils down to good, old-fashioned capitalism.

This means some changes for Off the Tracks. The first of which is unfortunately a new name. I currently own the domain I could not purchase the .com or the .net because someone beat me to them. SB Nation prefers a .com address, so I cannot move over there with the .org. The .com is currently owned by an Alaskan travel company. While my parents are being overly generous in taking the entire family on an Alaskan cruise this summer, the cruise line won't be offering me a chance to fight Sarah Palin to the death for the honor of owning I will keep some stuff over here at in order to fulfill some recent advertising obligations, but the updates will be few and none of the content posted on the new site can be reproduced here.

Which brings me to the name: I am willing to accept ideas from you readers since this will be your community as well. I have had a couple of ideas lately, but none of them have the zing that Off the Tracks has. The background behind that name is that it was the name of the very short-lived news show that I helped National Broadcasting Society produce from 2000-2002 when I was a student at Purdue. We only made like five episodes if that, but I liked the name and brought it over here. With that in mind, here is a short list of names I am considering, especially since I can't really go with The P Spot:

Decorating the Cowcatcher

From the Cab

Stoking the Boiler

Get Off the Tracks

Boiled Sports (kidding!)

The Switchyard

Blow the Steamwhistle

From the Depot

The Crossing Gate

Forged of Steel

Those are a few of the ones I have had, but if you have something better I am open to suggestion. As soon as I can come up with a name the changeover can begin, so it will likely happen some time next week. Once again, I have you readers to thank for this. If it wasn't for you guys stopping by I wouldn't have come even this far. It continues to be an honor to write for you guys and run this site. It does more for me personally than you'll ever know.

Curry dismissed from football team

In other news, another scholarship was freed up yesterday afternoon when Arsenio Curry was released from the team. By some counts we still have three scholarships open before signing day. It remains to be seen if this will help someone make a decision or not. We currently have three receivers and three "athletes" that could end up as receivers already in this class, so this could be a good thing for them.

I will say that Curry was a disappointment in his limited playing time. His drops, at critical times no less, easily outnumbered his two receptions on the year. I will miss his size, but if he wasn't going to put in the work I say good riddance. He knew what he needed to do, and he didn't do it. That's why I don't feel much pity for him. The top receivers now look to be Keith Smith and Aaron Valentin, but from there it is wide open for the other positions. Curry was supposed to be one of those top guys, so this obviously hurts our depth. We may start next season as more of a running team.

From the same article I do like the signing of Jermain Guynn and Nick Cavallo as graduate assistants. These guys were two of the harder workers in the program during the past few seasons. Their attitude can wear off on what is going to be an important recruiting class. One guy I'd like to see brought back in a similar role is Jake Standeford.

Baseball picked as #2 team in Big Ten

College baseball is just around the corner. Mrs. T-Mill and I already have booked our spring trip to Florida for the Miami-Florida State rivalry the first weekend in April. While our own Boilers don't have nearly as high of expectations as either of those two teams, 2009 looks to be a promising year. recently released its Big Ten preview and it picked Purdue to reprise its second place finish to Michigan from last season. The schedule does not have the non-conference heft that it did last year when the Boilers took on Baylor and Kentucky, but a good start could mean just the second NCAA berth in school history. Purdue begins by facing Cincinnati, South Florida, Michigan, and Notre Dame in the first annual Big Ten/Big East baseball challenge the weekend of February 21st down in St. Petersburg, FL. The biggest home game comes against 2007 College World Series team Louisville on March 31st. The Cardinals are ranked 16th in the ESPN/USA Today preseason poll

This season is a little bit different than in past years. Instead of playing four conference games each week with Saturday being a double-header of two seven inning games each conference season will be just three games. Purdue plays everyone in a series except Michigan, which could hurt their chances at an at large bid. The Big Ten Tournament will be held on a neutral field as well with the new Huntington Park in Columbus, OH serving as the host. As usual, Purdue has to play its first 20 games on the road.

Women's softball begins season on a promising note

Purdue's softball team made the NCAA's for the first time ever last season and even won a game over Cal State Fullerton. They will begin the 2009 season with another first as they have received votes in the preseason top 25 poll for the first time ever. The season starts next weekend at the Stacy Winsberg Memorial tournament out in California. They will be tested early, as perennial power UCLA awaits in just the tournament's second game. On Saturday the 7th they get a doubleheader rematch with Cal State Fullerton, another team that is strong every year. The Boilers will have to be road warriors this year as they only have 11 home games on the schedule

Painter is pissed

And he should be pissed. Coach Matt Painter spoke publically today about Joe Krabbenhoft's hit on Lewis Jackson during Tuesday night's game. Painter was right about his team not calling out the screen, but it still doesn't make the hit right. My friends over at Boiled Sports have already posted a video of the hit and you can clearly see Krabbenhoft throw the elbow and shoulder into the pick. It is my hope that someone from the athletic department is appealing to the conference because there is no way this should go unpunished. As stated previously, I don't have a problem with the pick, but the fact he dropped the shoulder and elbow makes it wrong.

Non-conference opponents update

We're starting to get a little help here, but not enough from the teams we have beaten. Here is what everyone is up to:

Detroit (5-14, 0-5 Horizon) –
The Titans just broke a seven game losing streak with a non-conference win over independent Chicago State. They are by far the worst team in the Horizon League.

Eastern Michigan (3-17, 1-5 MAC) –
Yet another last place team. They still own just one win against Division 1 competition.

Loyola-IL (12-10, 4-6 Horizon) –
The Ramblers are in a cycle of alternating wins and losses over their last 10 games. Sadly, this makes them one of our better non-conference wins.

Coppin State (5-15, 3-4 MEAC) –
The MEAC is awful, but the Eagles have won two in a row over Hampton and Howard. Hampton is one of the league's better teams, so maybe Coppin State has just enough for a conference tourney run.

Boston College (16-6, 4-3 ACC) – Much our non-conference schedule heft is dependent on Boston College continuing to have a surprisingly good year. After a four game losing streak Boston College has won three straight, two on the road. I am thinking they will be a tournament team if they finish at .500 or better in a tough ACC, making our win look even better.

Oklahoma (20-1, 6-0 Big 12) –
they could be the #1 team in the country before too long and we controlled most of that game against them. Blake Griffin is possibly the best player in the country and we are the only team that has marginally contained him. If we had beaten them we would be 5 spots higher in the poll and fighting for a #2 seed.

Duke (18-2, 5-1 ACC) –
this is the only team we have played that completely out-classed us. They have played one of the most ambitious schedules in the nation and have come out with only two losses. Most teams would have a minimum of five against that slate.

Arkansas Pine Bluff (6-12, 5-2 SWAC) –
The Golden Lions are playing some good basketball, but it is in another dreadful conference. The only way the SWAC champion is avoiding the play-in game is if there are numerous teams with losing records that win automatic bids. They have now won three straight and are in second place in the SWAC behind Alabama State. Alabama State at 9-8 is the only team in the conference with a winning overall record.

Ball State (9-9, 4-2 MAC) –
The MAC is down this year, but it is still fiercely competitive. Ball State is a surprise so far in second place. Still, only the conference tournament champion is getting into the tournament.

Indiana State (4-17, 2-8 Missouri Valley) –
In a continuing theme, the Valley is another conference in a down year. The Trees sit at the bottom of it after losing five in a row. They are the only team that has beaten first place Northern Iowa though.

Davidson (17-3, 10-0 Southern) –
We're not the only team that hopes Davidson stays hot in the SoCon. Only College of Charleston (15-4, 7-2) is a realistic challenger and they have already dropped a home game to the Wildcats. If Davidson finishes 20-0 in the SoCon again they will likely grab an at large bid in the event they lose the conference tourney. As it is, they are winning games by 20 points or more.

IPFW (8-12, 3-6 Summit) –
they have alternated wins and losses in their last eight games and are mired in the middle of a low conference. They travel to league leader North Dakota State this Saturday.

Valparaiso (6-15, 3-7 Horizon) –
the only team they lead in the conference is Detroit, and we have the same number of victories against the Horizon League that those two have. They did upset Wisconsin-Milwaukee last week for their best conference win. They play Butler tomorrow night at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cheap seats

It's playoff time, and that means you need tickets. For those of you remember this blog from its days as a Purdue blog, you know Carl Landry is taking part in a memorable Houston-Portland series at the moment. if you're in the area, you may want to check out some Rose Garden Tickets to see Carl play in person.

If you like hockey though, I can't really help you. The Coyotes were awful this year, so you'll have to find Arena Tickets. You could always use a weekend in Chicago, however, and that is why there are
Chicago Theatre Tickets out there. Some events that comet through the Chicago are of great cultural signifcance. That's right, we're no longer just about sports here. We can be cultured too.

Road Thieves

Special thanks again to everyone who participated in the open thread last night. That was the most successful one yet.

I love that this has become an old-school Big Ten year. Every road game for each team is going to be a battle. Those that want to win the conference will be the teams that figure out ways to overcome difficult environments and win on the road. As we near the halfway point of the conference season Illinois, Purdue, and Michigan State have begun to separate themselves from the pack just a little. The common thread amongst them is that they each have won a couple of road games they probably shouldn’t have.

Purdue is now 3-1 on the road in the conference, with the one loss coming without two of its best players. Michigan State is 4-0 and has fended off a tough challenge each time. Illinois is only 1-2 heading into tonight’s game at Minnesota, but that is a very big one they have since it came at Mackey Arena in overtime. They are a perfect 4-0 at home, whereas Purdue and Michigan State each have an unexpected home loss.

I call us road thieves because we easily could be 1-3 away from home right now. We got very lucky at Northwestern and last night we played the final minutes like the Big Ten favorite most think we are. This was a brutal game to watch as the officials let both teams know early on they would be allowed to play with minimal whistles. It is my hope that Lewis Jackson reminded the Wisconsin huddle to look at the scoreboard as they walked off the floor.

Positives from the Wisconsin game:

Field goal shooting – I know the percentage was as high as it has been all year, but the clutch shooting of Kramer, Hummel, and Grant down the stretch was the difference. This team must really like the rims at the Kohl Center because we shot an exceptionally high percentage there last season as well. This year Wisconsin didn’t have a gigantic free throw disparity, but Nankivil brought 17 points of unexpected scoring to equal last year's binge. Wisconsin came in as the worst 3-point shooting team in conference play but 11 of 18. Nankivil was 5 for 5 after being just 1 of 4 for his career! On the other end, Kramer had a big three despite being just 1 of 8 on the season.

For the most part everyone shot the ball well. E’Twaun couldn’t miss. We need to get him more 15 foot jumpers because he will hit them all night if he is open. Even Chally had three very big baskets. One play in particular stands out. LewJack drove the lane and threw up a lay-up that came hard of the glass, hit the front of the rim, but had enough backspin to drop through. That’s just a sign it is your night.

Keeping Wisconsin off the foul line – This was critical because you felt they were going to get there a lot more in their own building. It’s a good thing too since they only missed one shot. I think this is a direct result of JaJuan’s defense inside. He is becoming a true difference maker because he’s going to swat anything within five feet of him. He’s also learning how to play without fouling. I sad it after the Minnesota game, but of all our defensive players he makes the most difference because he takes away everything in the paint.

It should also be noted that Marcus Landry has been in double figures for every Big Ten contest this season except both Purdue games. If we were playing at home this is where the chants of, “Carl’s better” would come through. Landry just doesn’t look confident when he plays us, and much of that goes to the way JJ defended him. He’s also 7 for 25 from the field against us.

PoiseBoiled Sports already hit on this earlier today, but we showed a tremendous amount of poise. I think Krabbenhoft’s cheap shot (which should have resulted in an ejection and suspension) served more to motivate us than it did Wisconsin. We ended up controlling a good portion of the game from there. Even at the end when we were down five we allowed few second chances and took advantage of our first chances. Grant’s late three was another that I thought was too deep, but splashed home. Kramer’s was unexpected, but in rhythm. As for Hummel’s shot, I originally thought he was on the line. Once they showed the replay though it was the correct call in making it a three. While Wisconsin was hitting threes all night, those three by us were like a combination knockout punch.

Credit also needs to be doled out to JaJuan again for grabbing a big rebound and hitting those free throws at the end. It seems like he really took the miss at the end of the Illinois game to heart. It's unfortunate that it is a miss that will resonate throughout the season, but we're doing a good job of lessening its effect.

It turned out we needed both because of Hughes, but he could have hit that last one from 90 feet and it wouldn’t have mattered. We also had the foresight to quickly inbound the ball after it was made to allow the small amount of time left to dwindle away before Wisconsin could set up its defense for a desperation steal.

Negatives from the Wisconsin game:

Perimeter defense – I know we didn’t expect them to make 11 3-pointers, but we struggled to adjust all night. I’ll give credit to the Badgers though. They were very patient and waited to find the open man. They actually finished with 15 assists, which is one more than we had. I won’t even get into the job we did on Nankivil. It is just frustrating to see a guy who is not a scorer have a night where he can’t miss.

Krabbenhoft – This guy is simply a thug of the highest order and has no place on a basketball court. The pick was fine. Raising the shoulder and elbow into it was uncalled for. I can’t believe an official was looking right at it and called nothing. There are two rules you don’t violate on the court: You don’t go at someone’s legs when they are in the air and you don’t throw elbows. The former happened to me once in a co-rec game and I would have gotten into a fight had I not landed on my spine and been rolling around in pain. The later happened to LewJack last night. I really hope he reminded Krabbenhoft to look at the scoreboard when it was over.

I'm sorry, but his shot really bothered me and lowered my opinion of Wisconsin's profile. I was taught from basketball camp in the second grade on that you never through the shoulder and elbow into someone on a pick. Instead, he blew up LewJack like Jake Standford blew up that random Eastern Illinois defender in 2007. Shoot, if he is smart and just goes limp he likely gets a cheap foul on LewJack. As much as Jackson changes the game for us it is more damaging to have him ont he bench in foul trouble.

Up next:

After we started the Big Ten season 0-2 I was really worried about this five game stretch we are currently in. I had figured our championship dreams were over because there was no way we’d go 5-0 in this stretch where four of the five are on the road. Well, We’re 40% of the way through and we haven’t lost yet. Now we get a Michigan team at home that seems to be very up and down. They are the only team in the country that has beaten Duke, but they’ve also lost to Maryland who recently lost to Duke by 41. I won’t even go into detail about the fact they beat Savannah State, one of the worst D-1 teams in the country, by two in overtime. This feels like a game Purdue could win by 25 or have all kinds of problems.

After that we go to Ohio State and Illinois. We have never won in Ohio State’s new arena and Illinois is spotless at home in conference play. This just means our work is far from over. If we can win these next three it will likely erase our slow start. In truth, however, we don’t have an easy game until facing Indiana on February 21st.

For now I will take being where we are at. With a pair of games against Michigan State and one with Illinois remaining we control our own destiny in the Big Ten. The way we have been playing lately leaves me with little doubt we can make good on that promise if we continue playing well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

#17 Purdue at Wisconsin open thread

Purdue heads back to Mad-town

I had promised power rankings today, but I am going to hold off on them for another week. The past 36 hours have been exciting behind the scenes for me at Off the Tracks. There are some things brewing in the works that could be a huge step forward for me personally and professionally involving this blog. I cannot say anything right now, but there could be a major announcement about this blog looming in the very near future.

For now, however, I am all about Wisconsin. I have always been slightly partial to the Badgers because my high school adapted On Wisconsin as its own fight song. To this day any time I hear it when Purdue is playing them I have to remember that it is a bad thing in that contest. Tonight it definitely is a bad thing. I was talking with a fellow Purdue alum yesterday at my dad’s business and I agree with his sentiment. He wanted to get one out of two on this road trip, but after how we played at Minnesota he’s now greedy and wants both.

For those interested, I will have an open thread available for tonight’s game. I am supposed to be covering a high school game up in Zionsville but the weather could get in the way of that. Either way, I will be able to comment along for the second half and I am counting on you readers to carry the day.

Wisconsin Record: 12-7, 3-4 Big Ten
2007-08 postseason: Lost 73-56 to Davidson in NCAA Sweet 16
2007-08 final record: 31-5, 19-2 vs. Big Ten (regular season and tournament champion)
Blog Representation: none

There is little argument that our win in Madison last season was the biggest win for the last five years of Purdue basketball. This basketball team showed it was immediately ready for higher expectations, especially with their comments after the game. As I said after that game, we were for real again.

GBI already beat me to it this morning in mentioning that both teams have gone in opposite directions over the past 16 days. Purdue has now won four straight while Wisconsin has lost four straight. Another loss at home tonight would likely put Wisconsin on the sad side of the bubble in a competitive Big Ten. There will be plenty of chances to play off of that bubble, but two would already be gone with another pair of losses to Purdue.

Not a whole lot has changed since the more in depth preview I published two and a half weeks ago. Wisocnsin is still a very good team. They have simply lost in two of the tougher places to play in this conference (Illinois and Purdue) and in a pair of overtime games.

The most glaring loss was probably the Minnesota one. The Gophers are a good team, but the Kohl Center has been a place where no one goes to win except Wisconsin. Minnesota squeezed out an overtime victory after Lawrence Westbrook hit a 3-pointer to send it to overtime. To that point Wisconsin had controlled the game as they often do at home. After that, Minnesota had seized the momentum and was able to parlay it into an overtime win.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why Wisconsin has a four game skid. The simplest explanation is that they are missing that extra gear they had lat year. That, or the conference as a whole has caught up to them. Against everyone not named Purdue last season they were unstoppable. The won close games and blowouts. They won at home and on the road. They lost Brian Butch, but in reality everyone else caught up to them.

That doesn’t mean we will have an easy time of it tonight in Madison. Sure, we’re the only team in the conference with a winning streak of more than one against them, but they are desperately needing a win. Wisconsin may have dominated the Big Ten last season, but you know some people doubted their championship because they didn’t beat us. They are still one of the teams in the conference that fiercely defends its home court. They are still 148-15 at the building since it opened in 1998. Two of those losses have already come this season, so you get the sense that their fans feel their minute quota of home losses has already been met.

I think the reason we have had such success against Wisconsin recently is that they are simply a good matchup for us. They don’t have overwhelming size to punish like Illinois did. They play a defensive style of basketball that we see every day in practice. They are the worst 3-point shooting team in Big Ten play, behind even Indiana. When you face them you know you are going to get a game where you need to work on the boards and make every single possession count.

One thing we have to look out for tonight was mentioned by Larry Clisby during the radio broadcast at Mackey Arena. Wisconsin shot just 6 free throws in that game, but they are known to parade to the line in their own building. By comparison they shot 33 free throws and made 30 of them in Madison against us last year. Playing defense without fouling will be paramount to our success. If we can do that Wisconsin will have a hard time staying with us.

Many people thought that our meeting earlier this month was JaJuan Johnson’s best game as a Boiler. You can bet he will be a focus of their defense after his 20-10 performance. From what I saw in Minneapolis though I think we can survive this. As I have long said, Purdue will only be successful if we can recognize that the hot hand is going to rotate from night to night. The sooner we find that hot hand and exploit the better we perform. Against Minnesota it was Ironically Lewis Jackson, someone we don’t count on each night for much scoring, that was hitting key basket after key basket.

In the first meeting we also played fantastic defense. Only Joe Krabbenhoft made it to double figures with 13 points. Trevon Hughes was flustered all afternoon in trying to get open. Marcus Landy also had an awful game. Getting those two to remain off their games will be another critical aspect.

Unlike the Minnesota game I have a really good feeling about this one. I think for stretches of the Minnesota game we played some of our best basketball of the season. Everyone was on the same page offensively as we got contributions from more than just the hot hand. As poorly as Landry and Hughes played for them, E’Twaun Moore was worse for us. AS long as we keep playing lockdown defense and keep them from consistently getting to the line I think we win. Purdue 65, Wisconsin 60


With the NFL season just around the corner it is time to score some good seats for all of the action. Living in Indianapolis, I am used to deal with waiting lists for NFL tickets. The Colts have had one for years, but it isn't nearly as bad as the one up in Green Bay. I would put myself on that list, but I am afraid that I would be long dead before my name came up. Other teams aren't as bad. I have also found quite a few sites where you don't have to wait nearly as long.

The Redskins are always contenders in the NFC East, making Washington Redskins Tickets very hard to find on short notice. They sell out even though they play in the league's largest stadium. Our own Kyle Orton is taking over out in Denver, meaning that Purdue fans will be very interested in Denver Broncos Tickets this year. It is my hope that he has a screw you season, much like Drew Brees in 2004. Finally, Boston Celtics Tickets are in vogue again thanks to numerous trades and the 2008 NBA title. It isn't quite the Boston Garden, but it will do.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Direct TV

Recruiting and coaching news breaks

The past few days have been busy on the football side of things. Both of Purdue's coaching vacancies have since been filled, but we lost a quality recruit Miami. The loss of Shayon Green is troubling. I don't blame him for wanting to head to Miami because of the weather. I can't fault him for that when I want to move down there myself. It is troubling though because his defection comes at a position where we have proven we regularly put guys into the NFL. There is no guarantee he was next in our long line of defensive ends. We have had other guys come in with higher expectations who never even played a down for us at the same position. Green looked like a player with a major upside though. Finding playing time at Miami with their huge number of talented player will be tough. I do wish him well though. Because of Mrs. T-Mill I'll get to see him play on Saturday's, just in a different uniform.

This doesn't make up for it, but we did get another recruit yesterday in Antavian Edison from Ft. Myers, Florida. He's not a big kid and isn't highly rated, but as the old adage goes, you cannot teach speed. As soon as I saw his 40 numbers I was immediately thinking kick returner for this kid. We haven't had a punt return game to speak of since Anthony Chambers left. Part of what made us dangerous in 2007 was that we had a threat on every kickoff to take it to the house. More than likely Edison is a redshirt target for the 2009 season. You never know when his sheer speed could make a difference, however, in the return game. Remebmer, Devin Hester is roughly the same size. He also tested slightly faster than Edison in the 40.

The other major news was the hiring of Cornell Jackson as running backs coach and Donn Landholm as our new defensive coordinator. Landholm is the more important hiring since he leads an entire unit, but it is an underwhelming hire. We certainly are not going to be highly touted coming into the 2009 season based on the coaching staff alone. I tend to agree with Boilerdowd in that this is a rather underwhelming hire. Of course, I could be proven wrong. Maybe he actually has the ability to make in game adjustments and cover a receiver that is beating our secondary like a rented mule. That, or he might actually know that a halfback screen or a draw is indeed a legal play and we're allowed to stop it. I don't care if he just finished coaching in the California Penal League (to borrow from Major League), as long as he does the job well.

Jackson could be a good find, but I do question why we hired a guy to coach running backs when he has been coaching linebackers for several years. The running is what is going to carry next season, at least early on. Our most promising recruit is a running back. Therefore, this is a coaching position that will need to produce immediately. Fortunately, I like that we have Jaycen Taylor coming back, The fifth year senior is almost like a coach at this point for the younger guys. I think his leadership will help as Jackson gets acclimated. Unfortunately we don't have a similar leader on the defense. Don't get me wrong. I like the guys we have coming back. It's great that we have everyone in the secondary back and plenty of experience returning on the line. What we lack is a take charge leader on the field. Of the player returning, I could see Chris Carlino growing into that role.

I was going to finish today's entry with a new themed power rankings, but I am having troubling linking each team to a cast member from Family Guy as per suggestion for the last rankings. For now I will hang on to it until tomorrow when we have another look at Wisconsin.

Of course, if you want to place a friendly wager or two on the game, feel free to visit Bet Against Me. There is absolutely zero risk because Bet Against Me doesn't even use real money.

Instead of betting your own money, when you log in to Bet Against Me you use virtual cash on the site. All the payouts are supported by ads and there Grand prizes in addition to daily and weekly prizes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

2009 Chevy Tahoe

U.S. Automakers are in serious trouble, but that isn’t stopping them from bringing incredible products into the U.S. Marketplace. The only way the U.S. auto industry is going to get better is if we buy American cars. Not everyone has the advantage I do. My sister is a Delphi Automotive employee and that means some passive discounts if I was interested in purchasing a Chevy Tahoe.

First, however, I would want to do some major Chevy Tahoe Reviews. That is why I am glad that the Car Connection is out there. The Car Connection is my number one source when I am looking for a chevy. They have comprehensive reviews on the 2009 Chevy Tahoe, as well as numerous other cars.

Let me tell you a little story about the durability of the Chevy Tahoe from previous models. I am sure this carries over to the present models. One of my friends in high school had an older Tahoe that he drove all the time. One time he decided he was going to perform some general jackassery in an open field. Well, this fool loses control and puts his Tahoe nose first right in the middle of a ditch. One would think this would be the end of his car, but instead he was able to pop the thing out of the ditch and drive it home. There wasn’t even any damage to the frame as the thing held up beautifully. That is what you can expect out of your 2009 Chevy Tahoe.

Most Impressive

My apologies for having a late post today. I was sub teaching and couldn't access blogger until late this afternoon. This is where I would insert the clip of Darth Vader saying, “Most impressive” as an assessment of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber abilities during their duel in Cloud City.

Last night’s basketball game was a release both for me personally and for the program as a whole. For me, I needed a good distraction after a very rough day. For the program, we needed a solid win to re-assert ourselves as one of the top programs in the conference. Our previous road performances at Penn State and Northwestern had me skeptical as to our ability to play the better teams in the conference away from Mackey Arena. That skepticism is now gone. Even our opponents were impressed.

In doing last night’s live blog I have some stretches where I went several minutes of the second half without making any comments. I didn’t feel the need to. We were playing so well that I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the ride. A 15-4 run from the 13:35 mark of the second half until the 8:59 mark was the best stretch of play. Unlike previous games, however, there wasn’t an especially bad stretch either before or after it. It was merely a finishing kick rather than a sudden, unexpected burst. In that stretch we had huge 3-pointers from Keaton Grant (expected) and from Chally and LewJack (certainly unexpected). The triple from Chally was an especially large sign that we were in our best stretch of basketball. It was not his best game by far. That 3-pointer is probably the only positive thing he gave us, but it came at a critical time.

LewJack was the key to that stretch. He had five points in it, but had assists on both Chally’s and Grant’s 3-pointers. He was probably the player of the game for us in what will turn out to be a huge win in the long run.

Positives from the Minnesota game:

Lewis Jackson – I think this was his best game as a Boilermaker so far. If both he and JaJuan continue to develop as they are right now we will be nearly unstoppable offensively. I can overly LewJack’s five turnovers if he produces like he did last night. Each assist was huge. He had a career high 12 points and finally learned how to make a layup in traffic in the process. This was one of the first games where LewJack really played within himself. It was probably his best game on the defensive end as well. He gives us an offensive element as a distributor that was sorely needed at times last year. The fact he is becoming a more reliable scorer is even better.

JaJuan Johnson – JaJuan played without fear last night. It may not seem like much, but that is essential to our success. We already know that Robbie Hummel (when healthy) is going to score and do a little bit of everything. E’Twaun Moore is going to create his own shot and be the guy that can go for 30 if he gets hot. Keaton Grant is going to find his shot and hit a couple of threes each night. Chris Kramer is going to lock guys down defensively. Those factors already make us a pretty good basketball team. When LewJack is running the offense and JaJuan is playing in the paint without fear we go from good to great. When you add those two factors it opens up our entire offense. Robbie is struggling through his injury at the moment, but we didn’t miss him at all. JaJuan is quickly becoming a player that we can go to when we absolutely need a basket. Best of all, he is a big man that can get to the foul line and actually hit his free throws.

On the defensive end he is likely going to leave Purdue as the all-time leader in blocked shots at the pace he is on. Right now he trails only Ohio State’s Dallas Lauderdale with 2.5 blocks per game for the conference lead. In Big Ten games only he is averaging 3.2 per game, nearly one block better than anyone else in the conference. Lately it seems like he is rejecting anything he can get his hands on within five feet of the basket. This makes a huge difference not just with his actual blocks, but with the shots he alters because of his mere presence. How many wild layups did Al Nolen miss last night simply because JaJuan was there? For each block it seems like he alters 3-4 more shots into misses. As much as Kramer disrupts other teams from getting into an offensive flow JaJuan is just as valuable by not allowing easy baskets. The fact he is becoming a major factor offensively is just an added bonus.

E’Twaun Moore – E’Twaun was a major factor last night simply by being E’Twaun. He created his own shot when necessary and beautifully utilized his pull-up 15-footer. He didn’t score in bunches, but that is what made his 16 points seem like more. Each basket came at a critical moments that either started or augmented a big run. E’Twaun hits the mid-range jumper that has become almost a lost art. Too many teams settle for either lay-up or 3-pointers. The game of basketball has gotten to the point that the 12-15 foot jump shot is almost deflating to defending teams when the opposition hits it. I know this because it is the one shot I can hit with startling accuracy, yet I might get one attempt per game when I get the chance to play. The fact that E’Twaun can hit this means teams really don’t know how to defend it.

Focus – Unlike the Northwestern and Penn State games we were focused from the beginning. This allowed us to do two things: First, it let us play stifling defense and force Minnesota into shots they didn’t want to take. Second, we quieted their crowd before they could even get into the game. It was almost like it was a reverse Duke effect. When we played Duke they quickly took our crowd away. You could tell we were begging to get back into it, but we never had a chance to. The same happened last night with Minnesota. Though they were dying to get loud, they never had reason to.

Bob Knight – I made this comment last night in the GBI forums, but I actually liked listening to Bob Knight as a color commentator. He was the rare color guy that actually brought something to the table and added to the broadcast. Speaking strictly as a basketball fan I have always respected his knowledge and passion for the game. It is simply unfortunate he had to become a legend at Indiana of all places. He is clearly one of the greatest coaches ever and I certainly respect him for never giving an inch in doing things his way. He is a man that if you respect him, he will show you respect in turn. Last night he showed an enormous amount of respect for our basketball program and I look forward to watching more games covered by him in the future.

Up next:

I don’t really have many negatives from this game other than the fact that we let Minnesota stay in the game from the foul line. Even then, I never had a feeling that we were about to lose control. We had an answer every time they made a push and that is what good teams do. This game is right up there with Davidson in likely being our most complete performance of the season. We looked like the highly ranked team we are supposed to be last night, and the scary things for everyone else is that we did with our supposed best player struggling through a back injury.

Robbie’s injury is a concern for me. We already have our second bye this week after just six conference games. That means we have 12 very tough games before the Big Ten Tournament. This is his last chance to get some extended rest and heal before a pretty brutal run. If we have an extended run in both the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA’s that could mean up to 19 games or more without a long period of rest. Can he hold up for that long?

Speaking of the NCAA’s, I think last night’s win all but sealed a bid unless we totally collapse. I know it was thought of as a formality long before the season even began, but after dropping the first two Big Ten games and seeing how strong the rest of the conference was there had to be a little doubt. We now have 15 wins with three quality victories away from Mackey Arena (Boston College, Davidson, Minnesota). We will be very hard pressed to not make the tournament now. That means we are playing for a seed.

This team appears to have woken up after the close call at Northwestern. With the way Northwestern has played since then event hat is a quality win now. Shoot, they are currently ranked 39th in CBS’s RPI. That’s higher than Boston College at 56. Penn State at 85 is our “worst loss”. Illinois, Oklahoma, and Duke are all in the top 20 RPI-wise at the moment. We have had two very solid games since narrowly beating the Wildcats. I predict that if we can keep playing like this and win the next four we will control our own destiny again for the Big Ten title. With that I think a top four seed somewhere in March will be easy to obtain.

For now though we must rest and heal. Let’s get some of the best medical care for Robbie Hummel’s back, Chris Kramer’s foot, LewJack’s knee, and Keaton Grant’s shoulder. A week off for all of them should do wonders before a tough trip to Madison.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

#18 Purdue at #20 Minnesota Open thread

Feel free to stop by and comment during the game's ESPN2 broadcast tonight. I'll be here commenting along with you. BOILER UP!!!!!

Also, we're not all about basketball here at Off the Tracks. I actually am a big fan of the NHL, even though there isn't a team anywhere near here. For those of you out in Denver that are Avalanche fans There is a great place for you to pick up some Pepsi Center Tickets. If you're a New York Islanders fan though I pity you. be sure to pick up some Nassau Coliseum tickets and buy a beer to drown your sorrows as you remember the great Islanders teams of the 80's

For my readers out in L.A. you know how hard it is to get Staples Center tickets, especially with the Lakers doing so well. After all, you can't get seats from Jack every night. If you want tickets with hsi Departed co-star Marky-Mark be sure to look for some Gillette Stadium tickets.

Chaos! Panic! I love it!

I was originally going to save today’s entry for an open thread during tonight’s game, but the events of last night prompted me to comment on much larger matters. Last night is a prime example of why I love the game of college basketball.

Absolutely no one is safe anymore. The only undefeated team in the nation lost at home. The only winless team in the nation, in the midst of a 51 game losing streak, finally won a game for the first time in almost two years. NJIT’s streak can’t even be put into proper historical perspective. Since they are in the final year of reclassifying from Division II the 51 games can’t be considered the longest Division I losing streak. That “honor” still belongs to Sacramento State at just 34. Ironically, Sacramento State now inherits the longest active losing streak at 13.

Just about the only constant that remained was North Carolina’s home court dominance over Clemson. Close to home, the biggest news was Northwestern’s massive upset over Michigan State. Virginia Tech is a good team and NJIT had to win some time, but absolutely no one expected the Wildcats to go into the Breslin Center and win a game. That is especially true with how well Michigan State had been playing of late. In reality, the Spartans had avoided a number of close calls. Illinois and Penn State had chances to pull upsets in their final two games but were unable to do so.

This throws the entire Big Ten race into disarray. Do not laugh, but you have to even consider Northwestern a threat to make the NCAA Tournament right now. It is not as far-fetched as things seem. If the Wildcats can just win the games they are expected to win (two against Indiana and Iowa each, as well as a non-conference game against Chicago State) they will suddenly be at 15 wins. They already have quality wins in Minnesota, Michigan State, and Florida State, so if they were to find five more somewhere else it is possible.

Even Iowa isn’t totally dead after showing impressive resiliency in beating Wisconsin in overtime. Every non-Indiana game in this conference is going to be an absolute war the rest of the season. This could easily be a year in which the conference gets seven and maybe even eight teams into the NCAA’s. Here is my breakdown of who is currently safe, who is on the bubble, and who has work to do but is still alive:


Michigan State – Last night’s stumble aside, the Spartans have done more than enough already to merit a bid. I am still considering them the conference favorite. I can’t see them losing more than four conference games, which would easily put them in with 24 overall wins.

Minnesota – For now the Gophers are safe barring a collapse. There still needs to be something said for going unbeaten outside of your conference these days. They will get a lot of mileage out of the Louisville win, and they still can grab 2 or 3 quality wins in conference. Just not tonight, please. FYI: Minny-centric previews of tonight's game can be found at the Daily Gopher (there I did a short Q&A) and at From the Barn.

Illinois – I’d feel better if they could have finished the job against Clemson, but Illinois already has 16 victories and a nice road win at Purdue. The split with Michigan was good and they have an impressive win over 16-3 Missouri as well. There is no way they won't win at least four more games, especially with one at IU.

Purdue – I was tempted to put us on the bubble, but for now I will leave us as the last “safe” team. If Boston College can get on another winning streak it will help even more. Obviously Davidson is a good win too. We really don’t have what you would call a “bad loss” and won’t unless we lost to Indiana at this point. All four losses are to possible at-large NCAA teams. If 20 wins is the benchmark for making the tourney I can guarantee we’ll win six more games.


Penn State – The Nittany Lions need to do a better job of playing on the road. They can get to 20 by simply winning five winnable remaining games at the Bryce-Jordan Center, but a non-Indiana road win would do wonders for them.

Ohio State – This is the one team in the conference that has a shot to make it with less than 20 wins. The three game winning streak over Miami, Notre Dame, and Butler is about as good as it gets, especially since only one of those games was in Columbus. A 10-8 conference finish would give them 10 wins overall and probably put them in.

Michigan – A week ago I probably would have had Michigan in the lock category, but not anymore. Not only have they lost three in a row, they barely bothered to show up in road games at Penn State and Illinois. Both are teams they are fighting for a potential bid. Saturday’s home game against Northwestern is now huge for both teams.

Work to do:

Wisconsin – I think the aura of invincibility in the Kohl Center is gone. They too are on a three game losing streak, but the last two were in overtime. Seven more conference wins to get to 20 may be hard to come by.

Northwestern – As mentioned above, you have to at least consider them, even if they are a longshot. They just got the best conference road win you can get this year. They are proving that Welsh-Ryan Arena is a difficult place to play. Their style is simply so different that they may be able to pull off an NCAA bid. Unfortunately they could really use the Penn State and Purdue games back now. 12-4 and 4-2 in the Big Ten would have them up one tier.

Iowa – The win over Wisconsin last night gives them a bit of a reprieve, but they have the most work to do of anyone with a semi-realistic chance. They are still probably a year away. Even a 5-7 finish down the stretch probably gets them into the NIT as a consolation.

Next year:

Indiana – Expect a large number of firsts (such as Penn State’s first win in Assembly Hall) and long IU winning streaks to be broken the rest of the way. February 4th when Iowa comes to town may be the best chance for the Hoosiers to win a conference game. Everyone is counting them as an automatic win already. I originally thought they’d be able to sneak one or two wins out of this schedule, but the rest of the conference looks just too tough. At least they beat Ivy League favorite Cornell.

Bear in mind that this is a very early projection. We still have the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis that should be an incredibly fun four days. I expect by that time that the five teams that don’t have to play on Thursday will have already locked up a bid and will be playing for seeding. At that point there will be between two and four teams needing a couple of wins to secure a place. Since almost every win this year is a good win it could mean that an Illinois-like run of three wins before falling in the title game will steal a bid. There is also the auto-bid out there for the taking, as Iowa knows very well. The Hawkeyes are the only team to win four games in four days, doing so as the 6 seed in 2001. Illinois has twice made the title game as a double-digit seed.

For Purdue fans thinking we can use it as additional help don’t expect it. Our Boilers have the worst record in Big Ten Tournament play. We’re tied with Northwestern at 4-11. Two of those wins came when we made the final of the first Big Ten Tournament in 1998.

Note: I am planning an open comment thread during tonight's game, but Blogger is telling me there will be a scheduled outage at 4pm Pacific time. That's right at tipoff, so we will see if I am here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Barn Dance

Second place in the Big Ten is on the line tomorrow night when the Boilers visit the Barn in Minneapolis. This will be our first trip to the Twin Cities since January 3, 2007. Even then it wasn’t a pleasant one. An improved Purdue team managed to play poorly and lose to a 6-8 Gopher team that ended up finishing 9-22. That victory was just one of three Gopher Big Ten victories that season, and it was in the midst of a very long road losing streak for us. The general consensus at the time was that we wouldn’t manage a road win in the Big Ten at all if we couldn’t beat lowly Minnesota, but fortunately we were proved wrong later.

We’ve lost in our last three trips to Minneapolis, the first two of which came during the struggles of Gene Keady’s final season and Matt Painter’s first year. Our last victory came on February 21, 2004. That win moved us to 17-9 on the season, but we would lose our final three regular season contests, a Big Ten tournament game to the Gophers in Indianapolis, and a first round NIT game at Notre Dame to finish the year at 17-14. It would be coach Keady’s final winning season.

The Gophers have won five of the last eight games against us, but we have won the last two (both in Mackey Arena). This year’s Gopher squad is a much different animal than in years past because of Tubby Smith.

Minnesota Record: 16-2, 4-2 Big Ten (Ranked 21st in AP Poll, 20th in ESPN/USA Today)
2007-08 postseason: Lost 68-58 to Maryland in First round of NIT
2007-08 final record: 20-14, 10-11 vs. Big Ten (Big Ten Tournament semi-finalist)
Blog Representation: Daily Gopher, From the Barn, Buck Bravo, Gopher Football

Last season was a turning point for Gopher basketball. Since appearing in the 2006 NCAA Tournament the Gophers went on a bit of a downslide. Rock bottom occurred with the aforementioned 9-22 season in 2007 that cost Dan Monsoon his job. Minnesota certainly could have done much worse in replacing him with Tubby Smith. Smith only has an NCAA championship and coached Tulsa, Georgia, and Kentucky to 14 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Smith has only lost once in the first round of those fourteen appearances and reached at least the sweet 16 in eight of those. He gives the Gophers a coaching advantage that few teams have in this conference and it is already starting to pay dividends in his second season at Minnesota. He and Michigan State's Tom Izzo are the only two current Big Ten coaches with NCAA championships

Minnesota turned things around with an NIT appearance last year. For most of the season I thought we would be battling them for the fourth NCAA bid. As it turned out, we got the quality wins needed in order to make it to the NCAA’s while Minnesota did not. They were a 20 win team, but the only win of note was over a flailing Indiana team in the Big Ten Tournament by a miracle shot.

This year the Gophers do have some wins of note. The biggest was a 70-64 win over Louisville in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals are currently a top 10 team that owns a win over former #1 Pittsburgh. Minnesota’s only two losses came at home to first place Michigan State and at Northwestern on Sunday. They have good conference wins over Ohio State and at Wisconsin, but North Dakota State (current leaders in the Summit League) may be their second-best non-conference win.

We should be concerned for tomorrow night’s game because Minnesota has been solid at home. Only Michigan State has beaten them in the Barn this year, but the Spartans are playing some of the best basketball in the country at the moment. Their last home game was a 20-point victory over Penn State just after the Nittany Lions beat us.

Minnesota is lead in scoring by junior guard Lawrence Westbrook at 14.1 points per game. He has been in double figures for every game except the Louisville win. Amazingly the Cardinals held him to just two points in 11 minutes of action, yet the Gophers still dominated the game. This tells me that they can do just fine if he struggles. Fellow guard Al Nolen (8.1 ppg, 5.1 apg) picked up the slack with a season high 17 in that game.

Nolen is known as more of a distributor though. The Louisville game is the only contest in which he has reached double figures in points. He is currently fourth in the conference in assists per game. Westbrook and 6’7” junior forward Damian Johnson are often on the end of Nolen’s assists. Johnson averages 9.6 points per game, but is not a strong rebounder. That points out a major Gopher weakness as Johnson is their leading rebounder at 4.1 per game. 6’11” Center Ralph Sampson III (6.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and 6’10” forward Colton Iverson (6.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg) round out the starting five.

I think it is telling that Minnesota starts two players over 6’10”, yet they rebound more by committee. They are tied with us in second place in the Big Ten for team rebounds at 39.2 per night. Theya re also the conference’s second best team on the offensive glass at almost 12 second chances per game. We cannot afford to let them control the offensive glass like Penn State did. It will be critical for Johnson, Hummel, Calasan, Green, and others to continue to work hard inside.

Minnesota is a very deep team, often playing a ten man rotation. Eight players average at least five points per game even though only Westbrook is in double figures consistently. They have the same balance that we hope to achieve when we are playing our best. Their total scoring is virtually equal with our own. We do have a slight edge defensively, as we are holding teams to four points less than Minnesota averages, and that is against slightly tougher competition.

This will be a very interesting game to watch. Minnesota is a team that is likely going to the NCAA Tournament unless they completely collapse, but they are still looking for at least one more marquee win to solidify their place. We fill that role perfectly for them. The winner of this game will have a leg up for catching Michigan State, especially since it is the only schedule meeting between the two teams. When I look at the overall team statistics I see that we are ranked very close to the Gophers in almost every major category. In terms of overall field goal percentage these two are the two best defensive teams in the Big Ten.

Minnesota is coming off a stumble in a trap game as described by the author of From the Barn. From reading that blog I see a team that is much like our own from a season ago. They are young, but very good. They have pulled off a few surprises and now find themselves in the Big Ten race. Our win over them caused some separation in the middle of the pack, and we must repeat hat victory in order to stay alive with the strikes we already have against us.

Purdue played much better basketball against Iowa. Unfortunately we have followed some of our best efforts this season with some of our worst. We are beginning the most difficult stretch of our season. Four of our next five games are on the road against likely NCAA teams from our own conference. This is our time to either announce that the 0-2 start was a fluke, or settle into the middle of the pack and fight for a 7-10 seed in the NCAA Tournament at best. Starting that stretch with a win over a ranked team in one of the Big Ten’s toughest venues is a good beginning.

The key to this game will be disrupting Nolen from controlling the offensive flow. Minnesota relies on him to get things going, so we must deny him from distributing the ball easily. That should be Chris Kramer’s job. Next we must keep them off the offensive glass by continuing to put forth a conscious effort toward rebounding. This game will be won with defensive intensity. Whoever brings it the most will walk away the winner. In that, I think we have an edge because when we want to, we are one of the best defensive teams in the country.

Still, I have a bad feeling about this one. We’re still fighting injuries and we looked a little too good against Iowa. Since this is a ranked team we are facing on the road it makes it our most difficult road contest to date. Despite everything we have accomplished we still do not play well away from Mackey Arena. Last year’s win at Wisconsin is our only road win over a ranked opponent in the last five years. Because of that I will give Minnesota a slight edge, asking our guys to once again prove me wrong. Minnesota 66, Purdue 62

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Catching up

It has been a few days since I have been able to write, so I missed pretty much everything from the Iowa game. My grandmother finally passed early Thursday morning, so I had to make travel arrangements all day Thursday. Saturday we flew down to Columbia. Naturally, we had to do the family thing in South Carolina all day on Saturday for the funeral. I only managed to catch the final few minutes of what turned out to be a pleasant blowout Sunday afternoon. Yesterday was another travel day, plus I was suffering the effects of the Plague and felt like I had been run over by a truck. The effects are still there today, leading to this rather half-assed attempt at publishing. Needless to say, I haven’t been able to think much about the Iowa game. Fortunately, Boilerdowd was able to provide an excellent analysis complete with shiny graphs and everything!

After we struggled with the Hawkeyes so much in last year’s home contest it was a welcome relief to see us stomp a team at home. This is especially true coming just a few days after a rather lackluster effort up in Evanston. That close win doesn’t even look as bad now that the Wildcats rose up and got a huge win over Minnesota on Saturday. The Wildcats are an incredibly dangerous team as everyone found out this week. It would be very nice if they can help us out by knocking off Michigan State tomorrow night.

Back to our win over Iowa though. The keyword in that game was balance. We didn’t have one player going off for 30 points. Instead, we got solid contributions from everyone on the floor at both ends. We limited our 3-point attempts, but we didn’t need to shoot that many by hitting two thirds of our attempts. Out defense hassled them into a sub-40% shooting day and caused 18 turnovers. By comparison, Iowa was shooting 46% on the year and averaged little more than 12 turnovers per game. David Palmer got loose a bit, but we clamped down on everyone else.

Offensively I cannot stress our balance enough. Five Purdue players had 9 points or more. We efficiently ran our offense and didn’t get in a hurry against a team that likes to play defense. We even managed to cut down on our own turnovers. In short, we played like the top 10 team many expected us to be when the season started. Teams like that easily take care of business at home against the bottom of the conference. Iowa is only about a step behind everyone else at the moment, but as we saw that is a pretty big step.

That leaves us with a pretty big game Thursday night at Minnesota. The Gophers are reeling a bit after losing at Northwestern. They are a bit of an enigma in that they pulled off a rare win at Wisconsin, yet they struggled at Northwestern. They play well at home, but they were unable to hold a lead later on against Michigan State in the Barn. The Gophers are the only team we do not face in Mackey Arena this season. Beating them would be a major boost to our conference tournament championship hopes. I will have more on the Gophers later this week when I do a full Minnesota preview, but it is safe to say that these next five games will decide if we even have a chance to win the Big Ten.

Non-conference opponents update:

I am always thinking about our NCAA Tournament seeding and chances. That is why I like to take a look from time to time at how our non-conference opponents are doing. Our current RPI is just 51, meaning we definitely need to keep winning games in order to feel safe. Here is a quick look at how all 13 opponents are doing so far:

Detroit (4-12, 0-7 Horizon League) – Just about the best thing Detroit has done this year was last week’s four point loss at Horizon League leader Butler. The Titans actually led by four at the half, but couldn’t hang on. They are winless in the Horizon League and everyone else has at least two wins.

Eastern Michigan (3-14, 1-2 MAC) – We continue to get no help from the Eagles as they actually have a loss to Detroit. The one MAC win came in overtime against Central Michigan last week. It was their first win over a division 1 team this season.

Loyola-IL (11-8, 3-4 Horizon League) – Loyola is only going to be a tournament team if they win the Horizon League tournament, but they are at least getting a few wins to help us out. They are threatening to get into the top 100 RPI-wise too at 136 currently according to CBS. They have struggled against the better teams in their league, but it is a surprisingly tough conference.

Coppin State (3-15, 1-4 MEAC) – The Eagles are in dead last place in one of the worst conference in the country. Their one conference win came against North Carolina A&T, who will not be mistaken for the Tar Heels any time soon.

Boston College (13-6, 1-3 ACC) – The youth of the Eagles is starting to come through. After the huge upset at North Carolina, Boston College has lost four straight going into tonight’s game at Georgia Tech. They desperately need a win or the last place Yellow Jackets will pass them in the ACC. The four straight losses have come to Harvard, Miami, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. What’s worse is that all the losses were at home except against Va Tech. That has dropped them to 66 in the RPI.

Oklahoma (17-1, 3-0 Big 12) – The Sooners continue to dominate the Big 12, having already grabbed a pretty big win over rival Texas. They are playing like one of the best teams in the nation, which makes our missed opportunity against them that much larger.

Duke (16-1, 3-0 ACC) – I am really amazed at Duke. They have played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but have come through virtually unscathed. The Michigan loss is more of an anomaly than anything. They have quality non-conference wins over Georgetown, Purdue, Davidson, and Xavier. Next week’s game at Wake Forest is a potential #1 vs. #2 matchup.

Arkansas Pine Bluff (4-12, 3-2 SWAC) – For what it is worth, the Golden Lions have been playing some pretty good basketball in an awful conference. They currently sit in 4th place after a 101-77 win over Alcorn State. It is still not a good conference and they are headed to the play-in game if they make the tournament.

Ball State (7-8, 2-1 MAC) – The Cardinals are headed in the right direction in the always competitive MAC. Tonight they host Western Michigan with first place in the conference on the line. Western Michigan is the only team still unbeaten in MAC play. That makes for a very muddled conference, especially if Ball State wins tonight.

Indiana State (4-14, 2-5 MVC) – I can’t figure out the Sycamores. One of their conference wins was an overtime victory at Northern Iowa. The other was against Illinois State in overtime. Both of those teams are at the top of the Valley standings at the moment, while Indiana State has done little else. They are way too up and down to rely on for any solid help.

Davidson (14-3, 7-0 Southern) – The Wildcats are officially on cruise control once gain in the Southern Conference. They did not lose a conference game last year, and this year they need more of the same just in case of a conference tournament stumble. They even already have a road win at second place College of Charleston.

IPFW (7-11, 2-5 Summit)
– Dane Fife’s squad continues to struggle in Summit League play. Saturday they have the alphabet bowl against IUPUI. They will be no help unless they win the conference tournament. Division 1 newcomer North Dakota State is running away with the conference, but they have a group of seniors that has been building toward this year as their first that they would be post-season eligible.

Valparaiso (5-14, 2-6) – Valpo jumped from the Summit League to the Horizon League as a step up in weight class and so far it is not paying off. They lead only Detroit in the standings and have not been close in several of their games.

Friday, January 16, 2009


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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Escape from Evanston

We escaped.

That’s the only explanation for that win. I only saw the second half, but the first 14 minutes of that half told me enough. Those 14 minutes were among the most infuriating I have ever watched. My incessant pacing and ranting actually sent Mrs. T-Mill out of the room (hard to do in a two room apartment) to watch the Office. Defensively we were getting called for every little ticky-tack touch foul, so much so they were in the bonus for the last 14 minutes of the game. On offense we had the return of Crisco hands and our inability to break their 1-3-1 trap was maddening. It’s not that hard. When they close the trap on the guy that picks up the dribble 35 feet from the basket we have to have everyone else move without the basketball. Instead, we stood around like lawn statues expecting the guy to make an impossible pass.

We were playing poorly, but I must give credit to Northwestern on the defensive end. They were doing a brilliant job of switching and trapping. They played like there were nine of them on the floor at times, denying us anything within 25 feet of the basket. They did such a good job that I still have no idea how we made that comeback. Even after the gift of the intentional foul on Kramer’s drive we still allowed the lead to balloon back up to 12 at one point. That’s when I though we were done.

This game could be a wakeup call. We have not been a good road team this year. In just three true road games we struggled offensively against a middle of the road MAC team, lost at Penn State, and barely escaped against Northwestern. The resiliency shown in this game can go a long way toward winning games in some much tougher venues. The remaining seven road games will not be this easy.

Positives from the Northwestern game:

JaJuan Johnson – For the second straight game JaJuan absolutely owned everything within five feet of the basket. His biggest play was not one of his blocks, but the tip he had with 1:47 left that kept the ball alive for Hummel to come swooping in and tie the game. He even did the smart thing by trying to miss the final free throw. If he is successful there, Northwestern has no timeouts and has to go the length of the floor in 2.2 seconds. At that point, if a guy throws it in the basket from 70 feet you just tip your cap. As it was, Northwestern got the ball in the hands of the best 3-point shooter in the league with an open look from about 28 feet. That’s not JaJuan’s fault though. At this point I’ll just take the point.

Coach Painter has taken some flack lately for some in-game decisions, but the one to give the ball to JaJuan in the last few seconds was absolutely the correct one. It shows just how far JaJuan has come that we know he is a major advantage in the paint with the game on the line. He was either going to score there or get fouled. He wasn’t fouled on the shot (it was clearly before the shot) but he got two shots anyway because of the double bonus and hit them in a pressure filled situation. As Steve Lavin said during the broadcast, he had a chance a few weeks ago to beat Illinois with a free throw and didn’t get it. That’s how much JaJuan has grown in 16 days.

Chris Kramer – This team is much better when Chris looks to get involved offensively. As mentioned numerous times before, if he can become a threat it makes guys like Hummel, Moore, and Johnson that much more dangerous. Two of the four field goals Chris made were absolute circus shots. You can’t count on those all the time, but they were huge in the end.

Rebounding – 39-23. Northwestern runs an offense that lives and dies on the success of one shot per possession. Our defense did a pretty good job of taking away the backcuts, but 3-pointers were still big early on. When we adjusted during the run we took that away. Rebounding comes into play here in that we didn’t allow them to get second chance points. E’Twaun was especially effective here by securing multiple boards late. His 10 rebounds were a lot bigger than his eight points.

Keaton Grant – I have really gotten on Grant of late, but his play has deserved it. It looked like more of the same from what Scotty Leisure said about the first half, but man did he hit two absolutely huge 3-pointers in the final minutes. Keaton also finished with 6 assists. Those threes were probably the biggest shots he has hit all season. We weren’t getting good looks from long range. His first one was especially true as it was a “Why did you take that, it’s too dee- I guess it’s not too deep!” type of shot. It’s appropriate that that was the shot that started the rally, and the second triple was the one that gave us out first lead.

Crunch time defense – The only field goal Northwestern had in the final five minutes came on Coble’s cut to tie it with 47 seconds left. The rest of the time we did a great job of forcing bad looks and grabbing the rebound. How we defended that 3-on-1 in a tie game with 20 seconds left is beyond me. The subsequent scrum at the other end and loose ball recovery was sheer guts as well. Both were cases of being lucky instead of good. Our defense also had the handicap of not being able to use their feet to deflect balls like Northwestern was allowed to do twice.

Robbie Hummel – Robbie played like the Big Ten Player of the Year in the final minutes. Even after the ESPN2 crew banged home the free throw jinx (3 for 3 on the night, leads Big Ten at 90% for season) just before his miss he came up with a big 3-pointer and the tying putback. We needed him to step forward and play and he did just that at the absolute right time.

Negatives from the Northwestern game:

Turnovers – Where do I begin here? At the rate we were going at for awhile I thought we were going to finish with 30 turnovers. I can’t give enough credit to Northwestern’s defense though. They did a great job of forcing us into multiple jump passes per possession. Still, we helped them by not moving without the ball and helping the guy in the trap.

The officials – I am not like my mother. To her, every basketball loss for Kokomo, Purdue, the Indiana Pacers, or any other team she wants to watch is directly the result of the officials. I am the opposite. 99% of the time officiating rarely has an impact. Tonight though… There were at least two turnovers caused by Northwestern kicking the ball, but Ed Hightower wouldn’t call a kicked ball in a World Cup soccer match. We had too many touch fouls that weren’t called at the other end. Things were a little one-sided, but the key calls (the intentional foul) were the right calls.

Offensive flow – We simply cannot afford to have any more games where it takes us 35 minutes to get into some kind of offensive flow. Part of this was caused by Northwestern’s defense, but it still took us way too long to realize that we could get the ball inside to Hummel and Johnson any time we wanted to if we could just break the trap. That all comes from moving without the ball.

Final Thoughts:

We did not win this game. Northwestern lost it. We were dead and they simply could not finish things off when they needed to. They got a little too conservative on offense, didn’t get good looks when the shot clock ran down, and got on the wrong end of clutch 3-pointers by Hummel and Grant. We hit every big shot we needed to hit. We got every critical loose ball down the stretch. We also hit our free throws and they did not. The Wildcats’ last six trips to the free throw line ended with one make and one miss. That is six points left on the floor in the final nine minutes.

We can build on this though. Good teams find ways to win games they have no business winning. Bad teams find ways to lose games they have no business losing. It is plain to see who the good team was and who the bad team was tonight. I feel sorry for Northwestern because they played more than well enough to win for 35 minutes. They had a 10 point lead with six and a half minutes to go, but got outscored 18-6 in those six minutes.

I’ll take it though. It counts the same in the standings as a win over Michigan State. We avoided a “bad loss” that would have caused problems with our seeding in March. The Big Ten Conference is back to the point where any road win is a good one. Michigan State already struggled in winning at Northwestern earlier this year. Even Indiana has proven to be a tough out in Bloomington. Northwestern is going to win its share of games this year if it can simply learn how to finish. For now the Tweak comparison from earlier in the week remains true.

Tonight we did learn how to finish though. This was very similar to the game that I covered on Tuesday night. In both cases the winning team didn’t even have the lead until the final minute or so. It is imperative now to get home and defend the home court against Iowa to get on the plus side of the Big Ten ledger.