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Friday, February 20, 2009

A dish best served cold…

January 31, 2002 at Bloomington: #25 Indiana 66, Purdue 52 (Purdue finished 12-17, 4-11 Big Ten)

January 15, 2005 at West Lafayette: Indiana75, Purdue 73

February 22, 2005 at Bloomington (Gene Keady's final IU game): Indiana 79, Purdue 62 (Purdue finished 7-21, 3-13 Big Ten)

January 21, 2006 at Bloomington: Indiana 62, Purdue 49

March 1, 2006 at West Lafayette: Indiana 70, Purdue 59 (Purdue finished 9-19, 3-13 Big Ten)

Why do I mention those games? Those are the five games we are supposedly trying to avenge tomorrow. Many people want a 30 point blowout as a way to kick the Hoosiers while they are down. As you can see, however, even in those three seasons when we were at our worst and Indiana had a chance to kick us while we were down, the games were still competitive. That is what rivalries bring out in teams. That 2005 team was abysmally bad in Gene Keady's final season, but we still nearly pulled off a miracle in his final IU-Purdue game at Mackey Arena. We weren't much better the next year, but we kept under 15 points each time. Indiana this year is probably about as bad as both of those teams, but absolutely would not be surprised if they kept it close tomorrow. I expect to win, but the 30 point humiliation some are calling for would honestly shock me.

2008-09 record: 6-19, 1-12

2007-08 Postseason: lost to Arkansas 86-72 in First round of NCAA Tournament

2007-08 Final record: 25-8, 14-4 Big Ten

Blog Representation: The Hoosier Report, Inside the Hall

This really began a year ago yesterday. On February 19th of last year the Hoosiers topped us in Bloomington behind a stellar effort from D.J. White. Ever since then the Indiana program has been in freefall to this point. That was Kelvin Sampson's final game as head coach, and quite frankly the team quit on Dan Dakich for the rest of the season. The Hoosiers went 3-4 under him, but lost ugly games to Penn State, Minnesota, and Arkansas to finish the season. White was a class player and didn't deserve that kind of finish to his college career. To his credit Eric Gordon also played well, but struggled with his shot down the stretch. What players like Jamarcus Ellis and DeAndre Thomas did in quitting on their teammates, however, is shameful.

As we know, Indiana completely cleaned house after the season. Virtually anyone who contributed anything to last year's 25-8 near Big Ten title season is gone. The lone exception being the 1.3 points that former walk-on Kyle Taber brought back. Needless to say the results have not been pretty as the Hoosiers have already set a school record for losses in a single season. Only an absolute miracle (and likely necessary food poisoning scares by the other 10 Big Ten teams) run in the Big Ten Tournament here in a few weeks will have the Hoosiers playing anywhere in the postseason.

They have lost to the likes of Lipscomb and Northeastern while barely pulling out wins over IUPUI and Division II Chaminade. Their best win to date is likely a 72-57 victory over Cornell, who went to last year's NCAA tournament and is the front runner in the Ivy League to return to the dance. A 66-56 win over TCU (currently 14-12) isn't bad either. Indiana has only won once in the last 15 games since the TCU win. The Chaminade win is the only victory they have away from Bloomington, but at least it was a true road game technically.

Many fans on the GBI basketball board are derisive about saying Indiana plays hard. I am not one of those fans. I certainly respect it because we play hard too, we just have better talent at the moment. If you can get kids to play hard now, when they have absolutely nothing to play for, the team will get better in a hurry when the talent is there. That is why I am a little afraid of this game, but only a little. On the one hand, a victory would make Indiana's season. This is the only thing they have to play for because a win in Mackey Arena would humiliate us. We're going to get their absolute best shot. On the other hand, Matt Painter knows this rivalry. He will not let our guys take them for granted.

Statistically, Indiana is pretty brutal. Leading scorer Devan Dumes averages 13.7 points per game. He's a 6'2" junior guard that can drive as well as shoot the three. If he gets hot they might have a puncher's chance (rimshot). He's in his first year as a transfer from Eastern Michigan, but against the better teams in the Big Ten he hasn't been nearly as effective. Verdell Jones III is a promising freshman point guard that averages 9.2 points and 3.3 assist per game. His major knock, as it is for most of this team, is that he turns the ball over way too much.

Freshman forward Tom Pritchard is the teams' second leading scorer at 10.3 per game and leading rebounder at 6.6 per game. He has struggled of late, having been kept in single digits scoring-wise for the last seven games. Minnesota even shut him out in 27 minutes of play on February 10th. Pritchard shoots almost 50% from the field, but he is below 60% from the free throw line.

Indiana plays a pretty regular eight man rotation with Nick Williams, Matt Roth, Malik Story, Taber, and Daniel Moore each playing 18 minutes per night. Unfortunately for them, Taber is the only upperclassman amongst the group. While Dumes is technically a junior the rest of the core are freshmen. This could pay dividends in the future, but for now Indiana is struggling. This team is different from our freshman–dominated squad of last year because we at least had a few upperclassmen leaders like Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer, and Tarrance Crump to help ease the transition. IU does not have that luxury, and they are suffering for it.

Indiana is at the bottom of the conference in virtually every major statistical category. They score over five fewer points per game than everyone except Iowa. They give up over seven points per game more than everyone else in the league. They are the worst shooting team in the league, and teams are shooting the best against them by wide margins. Indiana's defense does cause about 14 turnovers per game, but they give it back 18 times per contest on average. That's four turnovers more than the nearest competition. Considering we force more turnovers than anyone in the league this could get very ugly.

Though Indiana plays hard, the truth is there are few things else they do well. The Hoosiers are somewhat strong on the offensive glass, particularly Pritchard who is second in the conference in that statistic. They are also good at getting to the free throw line, though they only shoot 66% as a team once they get there. If this team can ever get the fundamentals of the game down such as not turning it over and hitting free throws there is the potential for them to be good. Sadly, this is not a fundamentally sound team.

Some Purdue fans may be confused as to why I think it is sad that Indiana is awful this year. I want Indiana to be good. I want them to be good and I want to still beat them when they are good because it validates our success that much more. A Purdue win tomorrow is expected on both sides. We won't get any respect by thrashing them because that is what we are supposed to do. When this rivalry was at its height in the 80's and early 90's every single game was a battle. There was a grudging respect on both sides for the other. That element has been missing for some time and as a result the rivalry has died in the eyes of the national media. When both teams are good it rivals North Carolina-Duke in terms of national attention. I want to get back to that level, but the Hoosiers need to improve first.

This is a bit of a role reversal game because it wasn't that long ago we were mired in the Big Ten basement. In my opinion, this Indiana team is worse than our teams at the end of the Keady era. We quickly recovered though, and so can IU.

I honestly don't see how Indiana can win tomorrow unless Purdue is completely unfocused. We just took the #5 team in the nation and made them look bad on our home floor. It would take us being totally out of the game mentally for Indiana to have much of a chance. Instead of focusing on what we need to do to win it is more of a case of what they Hoosiers need to do. They need to take care of the ball against possibly the fiercest defense they have seen all year. They need to hit shots against a defense that makes teams shoot poorly. They also have to defend a team with as many as nine guys that can go for double figures in any game.

Indiana hasn't proven they can do this against anybody this year, so it would be a major shock if it all came together tomorrow afternoon. They might keep it close, but any loss by the Boilers would be a major upset. Purdue 75, Indiana 56

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Luckily, there’s a Family Guy

First off, I finally have a name to thank for the "Defense Lives Here" banner. Thanks to the GBI basketball board for drawing my attention to this, as we have Paint Crew Secretary Zach West to thank for the idea of the banner. I love it. My only wish is that I want to be about seven years younger. If this had been there when I was a senior in 2002 I would have gladly been right down in front helping to put each number up. Unfortunately, in that first year of the Gene Pool (of which I still have my shirt) the turnovers would likely have been counted for us. That year I would have done a John Allison rebound counter, but it would have been useless because it would have never moved.

Next we get to the entry everyone has been waiting for. It has been a long time since I have done a power rankings. I have also had numerous suggestions to do it with a Family Guy theme, but I have been holding off until I moved over to Hammer and Rails. It was going to be one of my debut posts. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like it will work out. SB Nation is taking longer than I expected for the move and we're running out of season. Since last night's Penn State-Illinois game helped us in the standings (and set the game of basketball back about 50 years) I felt it was time. I'll also separate into categories the teams that I think are in the NCAA's at this point. We'll have locks, likely safe, bubble, NIT, and no chance.

NCAA LOCKS:

1. (1) Michigan State (20-5, 10-3) – Peter Griffin – Peter is the star of the show and its biggest draw just as Michigan State has consistently been the Big Ten's marquee team for the past decade. Like Peter, however, they have a tendency to screw things up royally, be it early NCAA losses to George Mason or losing at home to Northwestern. All five losses this year have been surprise home losses or blowouts away from the Breslin Center. They are still a lock and likely top three seed in March.

2. (5) Purdue (20-6, 9-4) – Cleveland – Cleveland often doesn't carry a show, but it wouldn't be the same without him. My favorite is a recent episode where his wife came back while he had a new girlfriend. Completely out of character for him, he had a great line of, "I'm no meteorologist, but I do believe it's raining bitches!" He is even keel like our defense, and rarely breaks through to stardom like our program as a whole. Allegedly, he has his own spinoff coming though, just like we can make the Final Four. We still have the potential for as high as a three seed, maybe even a two if we win out because we are much better with Robbie Hummel. This is just like Cleveland because he is much better when placed in great situations.

3. (4) Illinois (21-6, 9-5) – Adam West – I would have had the Illini higher, but last night's home loss was both painful and unforgivable. They looked like they didn't even know what they were doing while thinking they were above it all. This perfectly matches Adam West's character on the show. He is cocky and Illinois is cocky. I still recognize their two wins over us, however, because I think they are one of the worst matchups for us. That said, this team is a little flawed because if they aren't hitting shots they are awful like Adam West is a little off mentally.

4. (6) Penn State (19-8, 8-6) – Quagmire – Penn State will take any NCAA bid like Quagmire will sleep with anyone. They ultimately want more Big Ten basketball respect about as much as Quagmire wants to sleep with Lois. Does that mean their upset in East Lansing (of Peter) was like finally getting Lois? We'll see. I think they are a lock as long as they don't blow the Indiana and Iowa games. That would give them 21 wins, 10 in a tough conference, and road victories at two of the top three teams. They also have home wins over Purdue and Minnesota.

LIKELY SAFE:

5. (2) Minnesota (19-6, 7-6) – Meg Griffin – Historically no one really pays much attention to Minnesota in basketball, but historically they are pretty good. Meg doesn't get a lot of attention from her family, but she has some very funny episodes. She can come through with some great material while being ignored just as Minnesota has this year. Minnesota has dropped a few games lately, but as long as they win their remaining three at home they are in.

BUBBLE:

6. (8) Wisconsin (16-9, 7-6) – Stewie – The Badgers recent hot streak and victory in their only meeting with Ohio State has them ahead of the Buckeyes for now. They are like Stewie in that you always must take them seriously because they are plotting conference domination. Something always goes awry when they take good teams to the tournament though, just like Stewie's plans always fail. Having an NCAA discussion without them is like an episode with minimal Stewie.

7. (7) Ohio State (17-7, 7-6) – Neil Goldman – Neil is constantly trying to be suave and sophisticated, so this fits Ohio State to a T. The last two losses are to teams they probably should have beaten, however, and the early season wins over Notre Dame and Miami have less strength now. Of course, we're all jealous of their position like Neil thinks everyone is jealous of him.

8. (3) Michigan (16-10, 6-7) – Brian Griffin – Brian never finishes what he starts, just as Michigan is not finishing off what started as a very promising season. Their lapses into stupid basketball is like Brian's drinking problem. You know it's coming, but you hope it doesn't stop them. They have three wins in their last 10 games and two of them were against Northwestern. The Wildcats would be here had they gotten both. They have a very difficult finishing kick where a tough trip to Iowa is the easiest game.

NIT:

9. (10) Northwestern (14-10, 5-8) – Joe Swanson – Joe is physically strong and a great guy, but he is in a wheelchair. Northwestern players are incredibly intelligent and they have a lot of talent this year, but the way they finish games is like they are playing in wheelchairs for the final five minutes against people not in wheelchairs. I was shocked they finished off Oho State last night. It's too bad, but the home games they blew against Penn State, Purdue, Illinois, and Michigan all should be wins. That would have them as an NCAA team right now at 18-6, 9-4 easily. They might squeeze in if they win the last five because four of them are on the road, but they have to be kicking themselves at this point. Still, two more wins are possible and that would secure an NIT bid, which is huge for this program.

10. (9) Iowa (13-13, 3-10) – Chris Griffin – This is another team that is very unsure of itself, especially on the road, just as Chris is unsure of himself. At home they are decent, just as Chris is more confident in his room. Still, against good teams the evil monkey in the closet comes out. That causes them to panic and run away. Iowa could also be the evil monkey itself. Chris isn't a fantastic character, but Iowa isn't a fantastic basketball team. Both are very mediocre.

NO CHANCE:

11. (11) Indiana (6-18, 1-11) – Herbert the Pervert – Admit it, everyone has been waiting for this one I'll even field suggestions as to other characters they can be. I had to give them Herbert the Pervert though because they are old remembering the glory days while obsessing over young boys that are going to save them. This would be even better if Steve Alford were the coach of Iowa, since Iowa is compared to Chris Griffin above. I can't mention this without sharing the lovely photoshop work of Abugabby on the GBI basketball board. This should stoke the fires for Saturday a little.

I do have to give John of the Hoosier Report some great credit for an excellent rebuttal of Deadspin's knee-jerk reaction to IU's situation. I make fun of Indiana, but I am supposed to as a rival. They will be back. Remember, North Carolina had an 8 win season not too long ago. I respect coach Knight for waht he did in Bloomington while running the cleanest program in the country. That is what makes what happened last year so much worse.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Defense Lives Here

I love the members of the Paint Crew that have started this banner at all home games. Most teams track 3-pointers or points by a star player. Purdue has to be the only team in the country where the student section tracks and celebrates turnovers caused by its defense. It is old-school basketball, and I love it. It is a symbol hard work, tenacity, and commitment to team oriented basketball. I love it because I was not blessed with great physical basketball skills. I am the only player, to my knowledge, that was rated in a church league with, "no one works harder than Travis" as my only real positive contribution. That is what I see when I look at this Purdue team, only they actually have real basketball talent and I do not.

Make no mistake, defense won this game. The Spartans Weblog does an excellent statstical breakdown, but MSU just got beat. Almost every single great play on the offensive end was set up by a hustle play on the other end. As usual, Chris Kramer got things going at the start of both halves. First, it was a taken charge less than two minutes in. He followed that with an out and out thievery and fast break layup to start the second half. To me though, the most defining defensive play of the night came from Marcus Green. After missing a layup a Michigan State player came down with the strong rebound. Green, visibly frustrated for the miss, physically ripped the ball out of the dude's arms with both hands (not even touching anything other than the ball) and laid it in. It almost looked like a superhuman display of strength because that was a secured rebound, yet Green took it from him like he was a child.

Defense does indeed live here.

Positives from the Michigan State game:

Defense - Well, duh.

Michigan State looked lost in this one as a direct result of our defense. 22 turnovers is an absurd number for the #5 team in the nation. It could have been more too as we batted the ball away numerous times. We also added eight blocked shots officially, though there were more that JaJuan swatted safely away after fouls that don't count, but they prevent a potential 3-point play from happening. I think the most telling thing about our defense is that it never lets up. In a half court set the point guard often takes a second or two out by the ten second line to hold up and call a play out. Last night we didn't even give Michigan State that luxury. As soon as Lucas or someone else stopped and held up a hand to begin a play call he was immediately met by a Boilermaker trying to take advantage of the lapse to cause a steal.

After facing this all night it had to be especially suffocating. I lost count of how many times a Michigan State payer started to call a play, but was immediately forced to stop and defend the ball as a Purdue player got up in his face. This further disrupts opposing offenses. Sometimes simply disrupting a team's communication can be more damaging than any steal or blocked shot because it doesn't even let them set an offense. It's no wonder this led to 22 turnover and numerous poor passes out of bounds.

JaJuan Johnson – I'd like to see him rebound better, but last night there was no answer for him on the offensive end. He had a beautiful pick and roll with LewJack in the second half that led to everyone's favorite play: the two handed thunderdunk. I'd kill to be able to dunk like that on a regulation goal just once even if no one was around. Who wouldn't? It just looks like fun to beat a defense so badly that you get to sky like that and flush it with both hands over a guy scrambling to get back into the play. You have to add the yell too, and JaJuan obliged.

Seriously though, when we needed a basket JaJuan was there. As a big man he is going to get fouled a lot and he is learning to cash in at the free throw line. Last night in the final 10 minutes we recognized this and just kept feeding him the ball. He either scored or got to the line. There was no answer for him.

Marcus Green – Welcome back! Marcus was back doing the little things last night. He was rebounding, forcing steals, and both baskets were the result of hard work and hustle plays. Last night was exactly the type of game we need from him. When he plays like that and does all the little things it makes everyone else better.

Robbie Hummel – I think we look better with Robbie on the court not just because of his play, but because he forces other teams to commit someone to him. This freed up E'Twaun for some key early baskets and later allowed JaJuan to dominate. If we bring JaJuan out in the high post it leaves the lane wide open for guys like Robbie and E'Twaun to drive, plus it sets up JaJuan for the roll back to the basket. Having Robbie allows JaJuan to do this much easier. We may not have him 100% until next year, but even a slightly injured Robbie Hummel improves our team exponentially.

Lewis Jackson – I know some people hate him and he is still making some freshman mistakes, but his quickness gives us a dimension we were missing last year. Just as our defense didn't allow them to set anything up offensively, Jackson pushing the tempo does not allow defenses to set up against us. He's also improving as a defensive player as his steal led to Green's breakaway dunk. LewJack is going to have his good and bad games, but as long as last night was an average game for him we will be a very good basketball team.

Chris Kramer – What more can you say about this kid? As we were walking back to the parking garage last night an older gentleman made a great comment at the corner of Stadium and University. He said, "If Chris Kramer doesn't win defensive player of the year in the Big Ten there needs to be an investigation." Other teams don't like him because of his defense, but there is no rule that say you have to play off of a guy and let him call a play. It's almost like Chris' mantra is," do not let the other guy breath if he has the ball". He is everything we want in a leader. He plays hard and he plays hurt. As I said before, Chris Kramer is going to play unless he's dead, and even then he would just be downgraded to "questionable".

The crowd – This crowd wasn't quite as jacked as it was before the Duke game, but it really got into it when we had reason to cheer. I especially loved the standing ovation at the final TV timeout. The Paint Crew was on it as usual. As an alumnus t is quite a site to walk into Mackey Arena and see the students stretch from floor to ceiling, all in black, for multiple sections. I was a member of the first Gene Pool and we were lucky to fill the lower section alone above the current "Defense Lives Here" banner. I just love everything about this group, from that banner to the Bosnian flags that come out for Chally. You guys have done a great job all year and it would be awesome if the Paint Crew could do the entire 5k race en masse that I mentioned yesterday.

Negatives from the Michigan State game:

Officiating – It didn't affect the game, but the officiating was awful both ways. One second these guys would call a foul with very little contact, the next someone would crash to the floor with no call. High tower seemed especially concerned with making sure the fouls were even at a couple of points, but we got away with some calls too. I am not asking for expert judgment, but some consistency would be nice. As someone in front of me at the game said last night, "It's a good thing we're here to ref for you, Ed."

Rebounding – I know Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the country, but I felt we allowed too many offensive rebounds. It just really annoys me when teams don't box out, especially on free throws. This is an area we must improve on for the rematch in East Lansing because Michigan State is not going have as poor of a game up there.

Up next:

This was a great win. If our place in the NCAA Tournament wasn't solidified before it certainly is now. I would be shocked to see us not be a lock when tomorrow's Bubble Watch comes out. We're also back in this Big Ten race. We are more than capable of winning the final five games and taking at least a share of this conference title, especially if Robbie Hummel is as healthy as he says he is. It won't be easy. Ohio State is a nasty home game and I don't like playing at Michigan, but if we go into that final game in East Lansing with a chance that is all we can ask for after the season we have had.

Last night we played like one of the best teams in the nation. I have said all along that I don't care about how we play early as long as we're playing our best basketball at the end of the season. If we play at the level we did last night there are few teams in this country that can beat us.

Now we get Indiana. I haven't commented much about the Hoosiers because I don't believe in talking a lot about teams that really aren't that relevant at the moment. The GBI boards have been in full swing for a long time talking about what a beating we're going to hand down. I don't participate because I realize that Indiana is not going to be awful forever. They do play hard and Saturday is going to be their season for them. We're coming off of an emotional win over the conference leader. They have nothing to lose and would love nothing more than to ruin the season of their bitter rivals. I expect to win, but I would be surprised if it is the 30+ point blowout everyone wants.

I know our place in this series. Yes, we control the overall series by a lot, but I do respect that they have five national titles to our (debatable) one. That is a fact you cannot deny. It wasn't that long ago (2002) that they played for a sixth. They are one of the best programs historically and nationally we will be thought of as behind them until we start winning titles of our own.

That said, those banners will not help them on Saturday.


400th post gift

This post marks the 400th post in the history of Off the Tracks. It has been a pleasure to be here and I look forward to 400 more once we move over to Hammer and Rails at SB Nation. I still have not been given a set date for the move, but things are moving in that direction. As a gift I present to you a glimpse of the new logo. Tell me what you think!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Michigan State at Purdue open thread

Sorry there hasn't been more this week. I started a 1 month temp job yesterday, plus I have been doing some behind the scenes work for the move over to SB Nation (happening hopefully later this week), so I haven't had much to post. There hasn't been a ton of news anyway, but I know that will change tonight.

Mrs. T-Mill and I will be heading north in about an hour for the game. This should be a good one. Both teams are about even with Morgan and Hummel nursing injuries. I expect a thriller and hope I am not disappointed.

Comments are open for those watching at home. I'll have a recap posted tonight or tomorrow late morning depending on time, motivation, and result.

For those interested:

I just found this link on the Big Ten's site about the Big Ten Tournament. Apparently on the Sunday just before the tournament's championship game the Big Ten will be sponsoring a 5K race in downtown Indianapolis. I am defeinitely interested in representing Purdue by running in this 5K race since I normally do a 5K as a workout. If anyone is interested in joining me while sporting Purdue colors feel free to e-mail me.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Michigan State preview

Despite all we have been through in this Big Ten season we still control our destiny for a piece of the championship. If we simply win the remainder of our games we will no worse than tie either Illinois or Michigan State for that title. The determination of our final seed in the Big Ten Tournament will then rest on the results of the March 1st game between the Spartans and Illini. An Illini win at home on Senior Day would give them the number one seed (assuming Purdue and Illinois win the rest of their games). A Spartan win would give us the number one seed (again, assuming we win out). One could therefore argue that tomorrow night's game is one of the three biggest games left in the conference season.

Both teams are banged up heading into this one. Robbie Hummel continues to battle his back injury, though he does say he will be 100% tomorrow night. After watching Saturday's game at Iowa I kind of doubt that statement. Raymar Morgan has missed the last three games for Michigan State with walking pneumonia, but he will play tomorrow night. Despite the injuries, this looks like the game we all expected when the season started. It will play a major role in determining the conference champion between the two teams everyone expected would decide it.


2008-09 record: 20-4, 10-2 Big Ten
2007-08 Postseason: Lost 92-74 to Memphis in NCAA Sweet 16
2007-08 Final record: 27-9, 12-6 Big Ten
Blog Representation: Enlightened Spartan, Ground Zero EL, Sparty MSU, Spartans Weblog


Ironically, I think I would feel better about this game if it were in East Lansing. The Spartans are a spotless 6-0 away from the Breslin Center in Big Ten play but they are only 4-2 at home. Penn State is the only team that even played inside 10 points against them on its home floor, and the Nittany Lions were later able to shock them 72-68 in East Lansing. We have them and Northwestern to thank for having a chance at a Big Ten championship. Both the Nittany Lions and Wildcats came up with "where the hell did THAT come from" victories at the Breslin Center, otherwise the Spartans would be well in front at 12-0 and likely playing for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.


With Michigan State you know you're always playing one of the best teams in the country. Tom Izzo has never had a losing season in East Lansing and the Spartans haven't missed the NCAA Tournament since 1997. That streak will continue this year, as they are already comfortably into the Big Dance. They have been to four Final Fours in the last 10 years and even have a National Championship to show for it. So far they have had an interesting season. When they have lost, it has been a surprise each time because of the margin or the opponent. Maryland, a fringe NCAA team at best, blew them out by 18. North Carolina stomped them by 35 in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. The best win so far came against Texas when the Longhorns were ranked 5th, but they haven't done nearly as well since. Michigan State has a nice convincing sweep of Minnesota to its credit and did win at Ohio State.


Morgan's return to the lineup can only help them. He is their second leading scorer and rebounder at 12.3 and 6.0 per game respectively. It's not like they struggled without him for the past three games either, as all three games were pretty convincing wins over Minnesota, Indiana, and Michigan. Sophomore guard Kalin Lucas ignored my pleas last season to go pro early and he is leading the Spartans in scoring as a result at 14.8 points per game. He had a combined 36 points against us in both contests last season and his 20 in West Lafayette was a career high until he hit 24 a couple of times this year. If anything, he is even better than he was, so we had better watch him. He usually hits about three 3-pointers per game and he has a nearly unmatched ability to drive to the basket.


Lucas is also a strong distributor with almost five assists per game. He ranks fifth in that category amongst everyone in the Big Ten, but two of the four ahead of him in Minnesota's Al Nolen and Penn state's Talor Battle are players that struggled against our defense. Lucas is a player that is a lot like Battle because of his scoring ability, but he isn't as strong of a rebounder. What's encouraging is that we just shut out Battle last week, but you can rest assured that Michigan State knows this and used that tape to plan for this game.


In our losses we have struggled to keep teams off the offensive glass. Tomorrow night we will face the best offensive rebounding team in the league, and that has to give the Spartans confidence. Michigan State averages 14.2 offensive boards per game to easily lead the conference. They are also the best rebounding team overall at 42.7 per game, almost four boards better than second place Minnesota. In facing them we face a rebounding challenge we haven't faced since Oklahoma much earlier in the season. Goran Suton (9.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) leads the conference in rebounding and is especially good on the offensive glass. Only IU's Tom Pritchard can equal him in second chance opportunities, and Pritchard has the handicap of playing with some terrible shooters.


Suton is the only player with overwhelming size at 6'10", but Morgan and Freshman Delvon Roe are true forwards that allow him to play center. It will be interesting to see how having a player like JaJuan Johnson, who can handle the ball on the perimeter as a big man, will affect their defensive strategy. Row and Morgan can play outside on him, thus allowing Suton to stay in the paint like more of a true center.


Durrell Summers (9.6ppg) is also a dangerous scoring from the other guard position with Lucas. Both he and Chris Allen (9.3 ppg) are the Spartans' most effective 3-point shooting threats, though you have to include Lucas in that category as well. Essentially, this is the most balanced team scoring-wise that we have faced since Illinois. With all the trouble the Illinois gave us with their versatility it certainly has me concerned. They also have plenty of depth as ten guys see regular action. Freshman Draymond Green could be a bit of a surprise weapon as he notched a career high 15 points and 12 rebounds against Indiana last weekend. Like a Marcus Green for us, he can get lost in the shuffle only to emerge for some unexpected offense and rebounding from time to time.


It is difficult to find a weakness for the Spartans. They do have a tendency to turn the ball over on occasion, but it isn't a glaring weakness. Their overall defensive numbers are on par with our own, so we can probably expect another game in the low 60's or even the 50's unless one team gets hot from the field. Their overall defense went from 10th to second in the conference if you count just Big Ten games, so they clearly have gotten better once conference play got rolling. They aren't a particularly strong free throw shooting team at just 68%, so that may come into play.


The first key to a Boilermaker victory is clearly a better shooting performance from the field. Hoisting up brick after brick from 3-point land like we did Saturday at Iowa won't get it done. Michigan State likes to foul, committing about 19 per game. I say we let them foul and get ourselves to the line. This is an inconsistent area for us, but if we can hit them in this one it will slow things down. The Spartans are the highest scoring team in the league by far at 74.6 points per game. We're second at 69.2. What makes this very interesting is that both teams feature very good defenses. Whichever offense can make the most headway will win. It should be a very interesting chess match type of game.


Finally, let's look at both of last year's games. Robbie Hummel missed the game in East Lansing and Purdue made a statement. Though the Boilers lost, they were surprisingly competitive and it was the first real time that the conference saw how good we could be. In one of the biggest "what if's" of last season, Robbie Hummel probably would have meant a victory in East Lansing and eventually a Big Ten title for us. He had 24 in the game in West Lafayette, including four 3-pointers. Kramer had 19 in the game in East Lansing while Chally had 18. If we can somehow get those two to repeat that performance we have an excellent chance at winning.


Defensively we must contain Lucas. If he starts scoring and distributing the ball to his teammates in key spots we are in trouble. Should we contain him like we did Battle last week we will take away a major part of their offense. Unfortunately, this isn't the only thing we have to do. Michigan State has many more weapons than Penn State. We have to keep them off of the offensive glass and avoid second chance points. Whenever a shot goes up we need to have someone personally boxing Suton out of the play so he isn't anywhere near the ball.


Much of this game depends on how well we start. I Robbie is playing effectively and we're hitting our shots I think we we'll win. If not, the Big Ten title will return to East Lansing. That said, I like our chances at home. I'm not driving up tomorrow night for nothing, after all. Purdue 62, Michigan State 60.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tickets

After today's experinence in getting some Big Ten Tournament tickets I am relieved that we live in a world vastly connected by the internet. If I end up going to San Francisco I can easily find some San Francisco 49ers Tickets. If I am on the other side of the country during the NFL season I can get some Washington Redskins Tickets.

It is not limited to the NFL, either. If Purdue ever plays Texas it will be a tough ticket to find. That's why I am glad I can find some Texas Longhorns Tickets.

Winning ugly

Special thanks to everyone who stopped by and participated in the open thread tonight. I apologize for my own comments cutting off so suddenly, but the battery on my laptop went from 36 minutes to 2 minutes in about three minutes. Black Heart Gold Pants’ open thread flat out kicked our ass in comments 399-25, but we won the game, so ha! It was also fun to watch the game with some students at Jake’s on campus. I am sure I put off the creepy older guy with a laptop vibe, but it was still fun to be there and cheer en masse when something good happened.

Early on the game had the feel of what it turned out to be. Defense ruled the day and points were at a premium. Iowa slowed things down and made us work for every basket, but unfortunately that is not the way to beat us. You can’t often beat a defensive minded team by forcing them to play that type of game because they know how to squeeze possessions. We know how to overcome in these tight, low-scoring contests so it played right into our hands.

Positives from the Iowa game:

E’Twaun Moore – I saw so much basketball today that the games are starting to blend together in my head. When I found out that E’Twaun’s double-double as the first of career I thought it had to be a mistake. It certainly didn’t seem like he had 16 points. As it turns out, the only other game where he has been in double-digits for rebounds was at Northwestern this year. He had 11 rebounds, but only 8 points then.

What really stands out about his game is that it was a very quiet 16 points he scored. As I was watching the game it didn’t seem like he had one huge basket or that 1 in every four points we scored was by him. There isn’t one basket that really stands out, while LewJack and Kramer’s points seemed to be in bigger spots. That is what makes it so big. All 16 points came in the flow of action and didn’t draw the attention of the defense. It was almost death by papercuts.

JaJuan Johnson – Defensively Iowa was afraid to get anywhere near him. He had the play of the game when he jumped about 47 feet in the air to reject a shot and start a fast break in which Kramer got a huge layup. Has anyone ever seen a guy go so high for a rejection? That was ridiculous altitude he got on that. I couldn’t jump that high if you let me jump, stop at the apex of my jump, and jump again from there!

Can you also believe he didn’t pull down a single rebound? This was another stat that I was sure had to be an error, but it wasn’t. Best of all, he stayed out of foul trouble. I continue to believe that JJ is the most important defender we have on the floor because he instantly takes away anything within five feet of the basket.

Negatives from the Iowa game:

Defense on Jake Kelly – How slow is our perimeter defense when Kelly continually drove to the basket time and again against us? This was almost embarrassing at times. He was another guy that has set or tied a career high for points against us. That is becoming a disturbing trend. We have to fix this against Kalen Lucas on Tuesday or he may score 40 against us.

3-point shooting – I’m certainly glad we didn’t need this because we could not knock down any open looks we got from outside. If we hit our shots in this game there is no way it is even close at the end. The only reason we ended up winning is because Iowa’s offense was poor and they were missing two of their main players. How much of a difference does a guy like Cyrus Tate make in today’s game? At least we were 17 of 27 inside the arc.

Free throw shooting – Once again, it was awful today. I am convinced we will not have consistency in this area at all this year. I am really tired of it being feast or famine. At least if it was consistently bad we could know what to expect and prepare for it each game. The scary thing is even Robbie missed both free throws he shot. Of course, who knows how much better the numbers would have looked had we gotten to the line more.

Final Thoughts:

What else can you say about this one other than it was a win? It was your typical ugly win on the road in the Big Ten, but I’ll take any win on the road in this conference. When you look at it that way, what is so bad about this? I am sure that Wisconsin would rather have an ugly win at Iowa than the overtime loss they had. The same is true for Northwestern. That is what is seprataing us from being a true bubble team right now. We have found ways to win games like this one and Northwestern where we probably had no business winning.

I also like that Robbie Hummel played, though he played timidly for most of the game. With Michigan State coming up it may be useful to have him on the floor even as a decoy if he isn’t 100%. When he is out there he demands the attention of opposing defenses even now. That will just open things up for everyone else. This is, of course, assuming we can actually knock down some shots.

We’re going to need our best game of the season Tuesday night against Michigan State now. That’s kind of why I am glad we won today while playing like crap. I’d rather get that crap game out of the way now than have it Tuesday night. For a previous example, see our earlier game against Duke. For now I am about basketball’d out and I am simply going to rest on this win.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shop Wiki

What is more fun than shopping? Well, if there was a way to combine my love of Wikipedia with shopping that would help. I have discovered that everything is better with Wikipedia. Even some of my favorite pop culture topics have created their own wiki's. Harry Turtledove, a favorite author of mine, has his own Wiki for the universe he has created int eh genre of alternative history. The same is true for 24, Star Wars, and other great sagas. It is a way of keeping things in order while cross-referencing them. In short, it is an addition.

That is why I love Shop Wiki. Shop wiki works on the same principle of many other wiki pages, only it is for shopping.It is a great place to purchase plenty of office supplies for your home or your office. They have dozens of choices for lighting and different lamps. these lamps can be used for your home, or as desk lamps at work. The new low voltage halogen lamps also save money on your electric bill.

#23 Purdue at Iowa open thread

Just a reminder that I will be doing a liveblog from Jake's in the Village during today's game. If anyone wants to stop by and say hi I'll be the guy sitting by himself with the laptop in a booth during the game. I'd love to meet and thank any Paint Crew member for coming out and supporting the team this season, and for reading. You guys make this possible.

This is also the official open thread for the game. Feel free to stop by and comment if you're not at Jake's today.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Iowa preview (with Boilermakings)

I feel like I am back in college this week. Tomorrow will be my second of three trips to West Lafayette within a week as I have been asked to cover a couple of basketball games in the area. When you combine that with nest Tuesday’s Michigan State game it makes for the most time I have spent on campus in a short period of time since I was a student. Tomorrow’s 4pm tipoff of the Purdue game gives me the chance to enjoy watching the game in a great atmosphere on campus.

As a result, I wanted to announce that if there are any students that are up for an impromptu Iowa watching party I’ll be live blogging from either Jake’s or Buffalo Wild Wings on campus. I would prefer Jakes, but if they don’t have wireless internet (and if someone knows, please let me know) I’ll be headed to B-dubs. I figured that I had to find a place to file my first story on the Western-West Lafayette High game, so I might as well do it on campus.

Iowa presents an interesting challenge tomorrow. We dominated them by 22 points in West Lafayette, but historically Carver-Hawkeye has not been kind to us. Against an even worse Iowa team last year we only won by five in Iowa City. The 2007 team suffered a devastating loss 78-59 to a mediocre Hawkeye squad that nearly cost them a bid in the NCAA’s. last season’s win was our first in Iowa City since 2003, and I remember our 1996 team (I think) lost there on the final day of Big Ten play and it nearly cost us the Big Ten title and #1 seed.

I honestly don’t know if Iowa has enough offense to beat us. Everyone has been making a lot of our mystical 64-point threshold (We’re 18-0 when we hold teams under 64, 0-6 when they pass it). Can you honestly look at Iowa and expect them to score 64 points against our defense when they haven’t been there in their last six games. This is also the team that just lost to Indiana. Yes, it was in Bloomington and the Hoosiers played them tough in Iowa City too, but it is still this year’s Indiana squad.

That said, they have been tough at home like every Big Ten team is tough at home. All three conference wins came at Carver-Hawkeye, two of them against Northwestern and Wisconsin who played us tough. Only us and Illinois have better defensive numbers in this conference than the Hawkeyes do, and Michigan State is the only team to crack 70 points at home against them.

In our first game we did a good job of controlling their main scorers in Jeff Peterson and Anthony Tucker, but we let David Palmer (4.8ppg) go off for 19 points against us. I know the guy was an excellent President on 24, but it is disturbing that he is yet another interior player that has enjoyed a career day against us. Then again, when how much harm can he do if he was their only consistent offensive weapon.

A big key to our first victory was Keaton Grant hitting four 3-pointers and Chally giving us 10 off the bench. We rained threes on them to start the second half and it was really over from there. Though Iowa plays defense, they are not known for their offense and have not established a dominant scorer. I really like our chances in that regard, especially since we just shut out the Big Ten’s most prolific scorer. All we really need to do is go in and play our game and things should turn out fine. If we’re missing shots and letting Palmer go wild again without checking his teammates we’ll be in trouble. Purdue 65, Iowa 50.

Torri Williams returns

In a move that will make our secondary even better, Torri Williams has been granted a sixth year of eligibility and will return to the defense in 2009. Torri’s time in West Lafayette has been tumultuous to say the least. He has had three career-threatening injuries to go with multiple arrests, but really seemed to turn things around a season ago. He finished second on the team in tackles and lead the team (with Dwight McLean) with two picks. He shifted from safety to corner for most of season, and I like that move because he is the first big, physical cornerback we have really had in a long time.

The secondary, a glaring weakness a few years ago, will now be a major strength of our defense nest year. Williams, McLean, David Pender, and Josh McKinley all have starting experience and will return. Royce Adams is a quality reserve that has seen plenty of time on the field. Sure, it means that we’ll have to completely rebuild in 2010, but at least 2009 looks promising.

Baseball a week from starting

I have long tried to promote the Purdue baseball program because I feel they are the most neglected program in the athletic department. Everyone else has top notch facilities, but in reality our baseball field is an embarrassment. These guys still go out and work hard, so it is good to see them starting to get some serious recognition. They are now a week away from beginning what could be their biggest season in over 20 years.

Purdue made its only NCAA Tournament appearance in 1987, but that drought can end this year with a solid start. We finished second in the Big Ten last year to Michigan, which spent most of the season in the top 25 and took the conference’s only NCAA bid. Rivals.com picked us to repeat that performance, but what held us out of the tournament a year ago was a slow start. We were unable to win close games against ranked teams in Baylor and Kentucky. This year the schedule isn’t as tough, but we have to win some games against Cincinnati, Michigan, South Florida, and Notre Dame in next week’s Big Ten/Big East challenge down in Florida.

This season also features a change in scheduling. The Big Ten, always a weak conference, used to play eight four-game conference series with Saturday double-headers. This season they opened things up to more non-conference games by scaling back conference series to three game series like every other conference does. That allows us to play some decent non-conference teams, and one of those games will be March 31 when Louisville, a recent College World Series team, comes to Lambert Field.

Purdue Sports has a great preview for the baseball season posted today. I think a Big Ten Championship is possible, but we’re like the Cubs in that department. Our last Big Ten championship came in 1909.

Freshman David Boudia may be champion of the world

In another cool piece of news, freshman David Boudia was recently selected to compete in the 2009 FINA World Diving Championships in Rome. This is not a surprising move. Doudia finished fifth in the synchronized 10M platform event at the Beijing Olympics and 10th in the individual event. He already owns every school diving record possible and he hasn’t even finished his freshman season yet. He’s also already broken the record for being named conference Diver of the Week by winning that distinction seven times this year.

I don’t think it is a stretch to say that a 2012 Olympic medal may be in his future.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yes, you got beat by a Townie

I remember watching Bobby Riddell play in high school. His Harrison High plays my beloved Kokomo Wildkats every year and I usually cover the game when it is played at Harrison. He was a deadly accurate 3-point shooter then, and Kokomo ended up playing his team twice in three of his four years of high school because both teams were in the same sectional. Kokomo ended his high school career in a bit of an upset during his senior year. At the time, I thought he was another very good high school player whose career was ending. Little did I know he would have a successful coda at Purdue.

Last night was the crescendo of said coda. Bobby had to play quite a bit as a freshman because of injuries, and has been a fan favorite since as the walk-on 3-point specialist. It was probably a combination of his 5’8” stature, his walk-on status, the fact he played high school ball less than 10 miles from Mackey Arena, and that he seemed to cash in on every little opportunity given.

I and the guys at Boiled Sports have been calling on him to play during Hummel’s recent injury hiatus simply because he is an experienced player that could spell a guy for a few minutes at a time. He’s been in the system for ages and he’s a very intelligent player, so what harm could he do? If he hit the occasional three it would be a bonus, but generally his playing time in critical minutes served only to rest others and not screw things up.

Last night was an incredible game for Bobby not just from a scoring standpoint, but from an overall effort as well. Sure, we needed the 13 points, but Bobby Buckets was even more integral by making smart passes that led to four assists and a couple of free throws when JJ or Chally got fouled after his great entry pass. That means he was probably responsible for at least 12 more points because of the way they finished the pass. In all, it added up to a badly needed win.

Positives from the Second Penn State game:

Bobby Buckets – As we were leaving the arena last night Bobby was all alone on the floor after being interviewed by the Big Ten Network. Not only did he shake hands with the front row of the students, several alumni came by the tunnel and cheered for him as he left by himself. He had the biggest smile you could imagine on his face. There will be no NBA for him. He’s getting an accounting job after this season and will limit his basketball career to rec leagues. For 2 hours last night He was the focus of adulation for 14,123 people. That’s just a great experience for him.

This isn’t the first time he has proved his worth in multiple minutes this year. Against Valpo he had 9 points in 21 minutes, both season highs before last night. In both games he was simply in the zone. I mean how often does a 5’8” walk-on go coast-to-coast on a drive for a key layup? He provided a huge spark, as he will in every game, because the place simply erupts whenever he scores. I think we have found a key bench player even when Hummel returns.

Nemanja Calasan – Last night’s weather was awful. That and the early tipoff meant that we didn’t get there until the second TV timeout. I missed most of Chally’s offensive work, but it was another solid game for him. His free throw for is even uglier when I see it in person. Still, he has been an incredibly valuable asset and I love when we play both him and JJ at the same time.

JaJuan Johnson – Please allow me to use hypnosis for a moment: “JaJuan, you are not ready for the NBA. You need to stay in school. The NBA is bad. Get a masters degree…” One thing I fear, with the way he is getting exponentially better before our eyes, is that someone will whisper into his ear that he can jump to the League now in order to further his development there. I see what we have coming next year and especially in the 2010 class with Travis Carroll and I am dreaming of seeing a banner in Mackey Arena. If he stays (as well as E’Twaun and Robbie) that 2010-11 team is going to be incredible because all the pieces will fit together. “You’re not ready JJ. You’re not even old enough to go to Harry’s yet. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it…”

Zero – Talor Battle came in as the Big Ten’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game. Last night he got nothing. That’s right. We held the Big Ten’s most prolific scorers to zilch, and we made him like it. As I said in yesterday’s very brief preview: we just needed to contain one of their big three of Pringle, Battle, and Cornley. I would have been happy with what we did on Pringle, holding him to just five, but holding Battle to nothing was incredible.

As Boiled Sports points out, much of the credit here goes to LewJack for clamping down on him most of the night. I think that LewJack had a very underrated game both here and on the offensive end. It was fear of him as a weapon that opened things up for Bobby Buckets. Last night was a prime example of when we are the most dangerous. When we have guys like Buckets and Chally throwing in 24 points teams have no idea who to guard. They have to commit players to guard our guys that don’t normally score much and that frees things up for our normal scorers.

We have nine guys on this team that have been in double figures at least once this year, and none of them are relying on an Arkansas-Pine Bluff-type game as their one trip on the happy side of ten points. Each one has done it in a game where we needed it. How do you prepare for a team like that where nine players are legitimate threats? Then you add that we can completely take away an opponent’s leading scorer and it makes the equation for a win that much more favorable.

Negatives from the second Penn State game:

Marcus Green – This is the only negative for the night, but he has absolutely disappeared in the last three games. We need him to do the little things in order to be successful. I am talking about rebounding, post defense, offensive putbacks and the like. He’s done virtually nothing lately.

Up next:

Last night’s win likely clinched an NCAA Tournament bid for us. I can’t see us dropping Saturday’s game at Iowa after we blew them out a month ago and I certainly don’t see us losing to Indiana at home. That would give us 20 wins with several of them being “quality” wins. The first goal of the season is therefore achieved. We will go to the NCAA tournament.

Now is the time to improve upon our seed and take things one game at a time in order to cash in on our slim chances of winning the conference. Most people are writing that game off, but if we beat Michigan State next Tuesday we will control our own destiny. I won’t give up on that goal until it cannot mathematically happen (and yes, I know I gave up on it after the Illinois game. Sue me.)

Housekeeping notes:

I recently answered a series of questions for The Rivalry, Esq. concerning our signing day and expectations on the 2009 football season. The Rivalry is an interesting blog, as it is a collaboration of an Ohio State fan and a Michigan fan. As soon as I make the move over to SB Nation he’ll be a colleague there as well.

Second, I wanted to mention that congratulations are in order for the women’s softball team. The Program earned its first top 25 ranking ever after upsetting #4 UCLA last week.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Hey everybody! Come see how good I look!"

Sorry for the reference there, but I watched Anchorman today and couldn't help myself. Aren't we a little bit like Ron Burgundy right now near hte end of the film? I am referring to the scene when he passionately admits to the bartender that Veronica was better than him. Illinois is better than us right now, as much as we hate to admit it.

Hopefully we won't be saying the same thing about Penn State tonight. This is a difficult game, especially since it looks like Robbie Hummel won't be playing again, but we at least have Chris Kramer back. We need to stick him on Talor Battle and concentrate on keeping Cornley off the boards. The Nittany lions have three outstanding players in Battle, Cornley, and Pringle, but they are not as balanced as Illinois. If we can take away just one of those three I really like our chances especially since their overall production really drops off after those three.

I wasn't able to sell my tickets, but the game I was supposed to cover fell through anyway. Consider this an open thread tonight for anyone who wants to stop by. I'll be in attendance for the first time in a long time, which is a nice little bonus given to me by life. If anyone is around section 112, row 13 feel free to stop by and say hi. Purdue 66, Penn State 60

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fighting an overtime hangover

This is the first week of the conference season we have not played in the Tuesday night or Thursday night focused game. That could be a good thing because this team seems to fare better when it is out of the spotlight. Most people are handing Michigan State the Big Ten championship right now, and they probably are deserving of that. Unless we win out I don’t think anyone is going to catch them. At the very least we must win both games against them to have much of a chance right now. A split would leave us still two games behind.

What is disturbing is the pattern we have had this season. Should that pattern play out, we will win the next six games, then lose to Northwestern and Michigan State before winning the Big Ten Tournament in three games and advancing to the elite 8. The Northwestern loss will come in overtime. The Michigan State loss will come in a less than spectacular effort. The elite 8 loss will then be another overtime loss. That’s the way everything has been to this point. We run off a string of wins, then follow that with a tough overtime loss (Oklahoma, Illinois, Ohio State). We then proceed to play like crap in the next game because Hummel gets hurt (He got hurt against Duke originally) or he doesn’t play at all. The Oklahoma loss is the only loss in which Hummel was fully healthy, and it took a gigantic free throw discrepancy for that to be a loss.

Someone asked the question on the GBI boards today about why we struggle so much after overtime losses. Duke was somewhat understandable. They are a very good team, but after getting drilled by Clemson, losing to Michigan, and struggling in overtime against Miami I am convinced that game was more of a poor effort on our part. Against Penn State we were without Kramer and Hummel, but we recovered from a big early deficit and played well enough to win in the second half. The final five minutes of that game were just terrible and it came immediately after a very good stretch of play. Against Illinois the second time we just sucked. Hummel would not have made a difference healthy or not. Despite that, we have had a severe let down in each game following an overtime loss. We have started poorly, played flat, and basically packed it in when we discovered it wasn’t our night.

Part of it is the short bench. The obvious solution is to play more guys, but sadly a Ryne Smith or a Bobby Riddell don't fit in Hummel's spot. They would perfect to spell E'Twaun or Keaton, but not Robbie because of the size differential. I do think one or both should get at least a few minutes to spell other guys. Marcus Green needs to step up too after being all but invisible the last two games.

What I like about this team is that it can play with anyone in the country. The Oklahoma game is proof of that. They are well on their way to a number one seed and I think most of you will agree with me that it feels like we let that game get away. That is why I am not too concerned about our chances in the NCAA Tournament. Much of that is about getting hot at the right time and finding favorable matchups.

The latest ESPN Bracketology has us in the 5-12 game against a dangerous Siena team. Siena was a 13 last year and smoked fourth seeded Vanderbilt. Kansas State, Arizona, and BYU are projected as the other 12 seeds, but I view Siena as more dangerous. When you get a team like Siena as a 12 seed it is usually about as high of a seed as that school is ever going to get. That means they are very good and very dangerous.

Assuming we can get past such a game I like our chances against a four seed like Villanova. After that, you’re damn right I want another shot against Oklahoma. If this bracket were to continue to play out as it actually is we would then possibly have a Final Four berth on the line against Michigan State. That has the potential to be the fourth meeting in six weeks against the Spartans, so anything could go there.

What is critical for us is that we avoid teams that can go inside-out on us. If you look at all six losses the common theme is that they have come against teams that have both good interior games and good perimeter games. Defensively we are incapable of stopping both at the same time, especially if the big men in the post are good passers. Penn State is probably the worst team we have lost to, but they are still and NCAA Tournament team. They can cause those exact matchup difficulties we have faced in the past, so it will be interesting to see our response tomorrow night. So far we have followed each two game losing streak with dominant wins. The Duke follow-up was easy because Arkansas Pine Bluff is one of the worst teams in the country. Thumping Wisconsin after the Penn State loss was a very good win at the time.

This team has to find an answer as long as Hummel is sidelined. If he doesn’t come back until the Big Ten Tournament I am fine with that. This group can still win enough to at least secure an NCAA bid before then and that is all that matters if we aren’t going to win the conference. As long as we don’t lose to Iowa or Indiana we’ll be dancing. From there we can get a healthy Robbie Hummel and be a very tough middle seed to beat. I am confident we can beat anyone in this conference, but Illinois and Ohio State are tough for us to beat because it is such a poor matchup for us. Still, we should have beaten Oklahoma and that was a poor matchup as well.

Quick thoughts on the Ryne Smith/Donnie Hale saga

I normally don't get into rumors that much, especially on message boards, but this has been a hot topic for a couple of days. With our 2009 recruiting class full there is some speculation that there will be a transfer in order to get New Albany swingman Donnie Hale. Hale is a player in the mold of Robbie Hummel, and should we get him he would filled the voide left by Scott Martin's transfer. unfortunately, we would need to free up a scholarship to do so. Personally, I don't see why we went after him when Jeff Robinson is doing very little for Lawrence NOrth, but what do I know.

The unfortaunte casualty, according to the rumor mill, would be freshman shooting guard Ryne Smith. I like Smith, I really do. I think he is a good kid and should be seeing a little more playing time. He could develop into a dangerous 3-point shooting weapon off the bench. Since Keaton Grant is struggling with his shot why not give him a chance for a few minutes each night. unfortunately he has seen little outside of mop up duty since Big Ten play started.

Once again, going back to the rumor mill, some are saying he is being pressured to transfer to open a spot for Hale. if this is true it is a pretty shitty move by our coaching staff's part and it would leave me very disappointed. I know one lamentation at the moment is that we didn't get Matt Howard, who is tearing up at Butler, instead of Scott Martin. In that situation we simply made a choice and got burned. We had four open scholarships and five targets. Howard ended up being hte odd man out. now we're in the same situation and we're trying to force the issue? There is no guarantee Hale is going to become a player of Howard's caliber, while Smith is already here and could be a valuable asset in a year or two.

I really doubt this is true, but the other issue is that we have had numerous players, both good and bad, transfer since coach Painter took over. I have no idea what goes on behind closed doors, but I do see trends. Chris Lutz, Dan Vanderviernen, Nate Minnoy, Korey Spates, Jon Uchendu, and Scott Martin are far from isolated incidents. It scares me ever more to think that E'Twaun is one of the players listed as a transfer risk too.

Non-Conference opponents update:

Detroit (7-16, 2-11 Horizon league)
– The Titans have been playing better of late, winning two of their last three in league play. They also took Butler to the brink before losing at home by five. They remain in last place, but they did top Valpo by one in their last game. They really haven’t been that far away, as only three of the 11 conference losses have been by more than ten.

Eastern Michigan (3-20, 1-8 MAC) – For a team that was supposed to compete for the MAC title this year they are truly abysmal. Ironically, they played a better game at Illinois than we did, losing by only nine. Central Michigan is the only Division I team they have beaten, and they have lost seven straight by double digit margins since.

Loyola (IL) (12-13, 4-9 Horizon League) – Until a few weeks ago they were showing signs of being a decent team. They’ve now lost four straight by double digit margins to the middle of the league and are below .500 overall for the first time since November.

Coppin State (8-16, 5-5 MEAC) – the Eagles have been playing well of late, winning five of their last six. In a league as bad as the MEAC they could be a threat to steal the auto-bid, but that is the only way they are going anywhere.

Boston College (18-7, 6-4 ACC) – These Eagles continue to do exactly what we need them to do in ACC play. With just two wins in their final six games they will likely lock up a bid and be a very good win for us. This year’s ACC is pretty brutal, so I can’t see them being left out if they finish even .500 in league play.

Oklahoma (23-1, 9-0 Big 12) – They just keep rolling along. This team is going to be a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and could easily be the #1 team in the country before too long. As mentioned before, we really let one get away there. Other than the loss to Arkansas we are the only team to even take them to overtime.

Duke (20-3, 7-2 ACC) – This will likely get me banned as a college basketball writing, but I really don’t give a crap about tomorrow’s UNC-Duke game. North Carolina has so much talent they should be unbeaten, but they look like a team that is going to choke an early NCAA game away. Duke got drilled at Clemson and should have lost at home to Miami Saturday. Mrs. T-Mill was especially upset with that last one.

Arkansas Pine Bluff (8-14, 7-4 SWAC) – The Golden Lions are cementing themselves as the third best team in their conference, but that’s like being the third best Spice Girl or member of 98 degrees. They might be a threat to win the league’s auto-bid and could at least be at .500 overall by the end of the season.

Ball State (10-11, 5-4 MAC) – I got a chance to see one of Ball State’s top recruits Friday night in Jauwan Scaife. They could sue him this year, as they ‘ve lost two straight. I was more interested in his sophomore teammate Jeremiah Davis, who is one of our 2011 targets. Davis is a solid player that could be a very good outside shooter and replacement for E’Twaun Moore when he graduates.

Indiana State (5-19, 3-10 Missouri Valley) – Indiana State is the epitome of a team that plays up to the competition. Illinois State is 19-5 with the best overall record of Valley teams, but has a pair of overtime losses now to the Trees after last weekend. Indiana State is actually 3-0 in overtime in the Valley, beating its two best teams, but is winless in the rest of its games.

Davidson (20-4, 13-1 Southern) – The Wildcats are unbeaten no more in SoCon play. College of Charleston grabbed a 77-75 over them on Saturday to break a 43 game conference winning streak. That streak was one short of the league record, set by West Virginia when they had some guy named Jerry West back in the 50’s. Who knows what happened to that guy. Davidson is still probably a safe bet to make the NCAA tournament even if they lose in the conference tourney. College of Charleston is the only team even remotely close to them in that conference.

IPFW (10-14, 5-8 Summit) – The Mastodons got probably their biggest victory on Saturday since joining the Summit league when they beat defending champ Oral Roberts 74-65. North Dakota State is still this league’s likely tournament team, as they have the best record by far at 18-5, 12-1 in league play.

Valparaiso (6-18, 3-10 Horizon) – The Crusaders have now lost seven of their last eight and one of those was to last place Detroit. They have the worst overall record in the Horizon League.

Composite record: 150-156 (70-66 conference record)

Notable crossing of paths: Duke 79, Davidson 67
Boston College 57, Iowa 55
Oklahoma 82, Davidson 78 (this prevented a second Davidson game for us)
Duke at Boston College (this coming Sunday)

Monday, February 09, 2009

Signing Day Roundtable

It’s that time again. The Big Ten bloggers’ network has come up with a roundtable to discuss the exploits of signing day. I figured I would participate. Instead of whining about basketball and Robbie Hummel’s back it’s time to whine about football and our poor recruiting class. Special thanks to Zombie Nation for organizing this event.

1. Were you pleased with this year's recruiting class? Where did your team excel? Where did they fall short?

Purdue needed to go in a different direction and we did by cleaning up the leftovers in the state of Florida. I say leftovers because you are rarely going to pry the top players away from Miami, Florida, and Florida State. Getting even anyone marginally good out of Miami-Dade county is impressive because Randy Shannon has a headlock on the talent down there, but fortunately there is so much talent in the state that those three schools can’t possibly take all of it.

This class is long on speed, but short on the star power to make it excel on all the ranking lists. We managed to grab four guys with 4.6 or better speed in the 40. They are guys that can play all over the field. I am very intrigued by quarterback prospect Rob Henry. If Justin Siller struggles and Joey Elliott is not fully recovered from shoulder surgery he could see some immediate playing time. He is mobile and has good mechanics.

2. Name one or two players you want to see get on the field ASAP, and where you think they will fit in.

Running back Al-Terek McBurse was our highest rated recruit and you can bet he will see some time in the backfield with returning senior Jaycen Taylor. It is nice to have Taylor back, but getting a guy back after a torn ACL is always dicey. McBurse is a guy who can contribute immediately at a position where we needed such a player.

We also need to get the tight end involved more in our offense. Kyle Adams was supposed to help with this last year, but he got hurt on the season’s first play and we were missing that element the rest of the season, Incoming freshman Gabe Holmes looks like a solid option there.

3. This one's purely for the sake of argument. Much has been made about the SEC's recruiting 'dominance' over the Big Ten, particularly this year. Either validate that claim, or try to prove it wrong. At least vent a little bit. You know you want to.

You know what, screw the SEC. These things go in cycles. People need to realize this. The SEC is always going to be a tough conference because there are very good football teams down there. That is not going to change, nor will it in the Big 12, Pac 10, or Big Ten. The Big Ten is down right now, but decades of history are not going to go away overnight. We’re not Notre Dame. It’s been far less than 20 years since we were relevant as a conference overall.

4. Going into next year (already), where does your team need to focus its efforts? How about the Big Ten as a whole? What can the conference/your team do better to attract more highly-regarded recruits, or is it even an issue?

Well, we have nowhere to go but up. We finished with the worst rated class in the Big Ten, but we get an immediate chance in the non-conference to make some noise for the conference. The first step is that we have to beat Notre Dame at home. Michigan and Michigan State can help out by beating them. Whether they are having a good year or a bad year it is a name win when you beat them. If they go 0-3 against the Big Ten it makes the conference as a whole look better while causing Irish fans to freak out.

A second thing we can do, and it would probably be even better since they are a better team, is beat Oregon at Autzen Stadium. No one is going to give us a chance in that game, but I am crazy enough to think we have a shot. They lose many key players and we weren’t that far from them last year. Our defense returns enough to give us a chance against them, and offensively I know we can compete with them. Painter didn’t even have a good game when we almost beat them last year, so as long as Siller/Elliott doesn’t turn the ball over I know we have a chance. That would be a huge win for the conference to have one of its weaker teams go in and beat a top 15 team on the road.

I know, I am crazy for thinking that, but I have to stay positive.

One word/number answers...
How many freshmen (in your class) redshirt in 2009?

half

Did you watch live TV coverage on signing day? If not, how many times did you hit 'refresh' on your browser on signing day?

No, and not much

Are you going to your spring game?

Yes

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Beatdown

The Purdue highlight of the weekend happened in relative obscurity yesterday. The women’s softball season began its season by shocking 11 time national champion and 4th ranked UCLA on its home field yesterday by a score of 2-1. I mention that because it is a much better highlight than today’s basketball game. We needed a wetsuit to get through that one.

In short, we sucked. If not for wetsuits we would have drowned This was not a situation like the previous three Big Ten losses where an injured or absent Robbie Hummel could have made a difference. You can't take away a player of his caliber and expect to be great, but we're better than we showed today without him. We played so poorly today that it wouldn’t have mattered if he played or not. We couldn’t play defense and we couldn’t hit shots. That’s an easy equation to figure out for a loss even if you do some things, like rebound, well.

Without Hummel it is apparent we are even more vulnerable to teams like this that can play the inside-outside game. Meachem had just nine points, but they came on three huge 3-pointers. Mike Davis owned us inside. We had no answer for him and couldn’t keep him off the offensive glass. To me, any time our defense forces fewer than 10 turnovers it is a pretty poor effort. This was just a brutal game to watch and earned the infamous “I turned it off” level with about five minutes to go.

The few positives from this game were JaJuan and LewJack. They were our only two consistent offensive threats and I do like the rapport they are forming with each other. JaJuan is evolving into the point where he will be a dominant player once Robbie Hummel gets fully healthy. If we can keep the two of them on the floor we will create so many matchup problems because many other teams won’t have big men to guard JaJuan in the paint and Robbie when he plays on the perimeter.

The negatives from this game are glaring though. Illinois’ balance is clearly an issue that causes problems for us when we play them. We can’t really focus on one player to stop like Davidson with Stephen Curry or to a lesser extent Wisconsin with Trevon Hughes. They play an offensive style that forces us to take a different approach defensively, and we haven’t adjusted to it yet. We’re not rotating when we need to rotate. I don’t know if it is a lack of communication on the floor or fatigue from only going seven beat, but something has to change.

Offensively, we’re not going to do squat unless we shoot better. If we’re not hitting from the perimeter there is only so much we can do inside with JaJuan. E’Twaun is the only player that can score consistently with dribble penetration, so if we’re not hitting from outside other teams simply work to deny JJ the ball and dare us to hit from outside. With that, a very good team suddenly becomes quite average. I realize that LewJack is getting better on his drives, but his layups are still a dicey proposition.

Unless we win the rest of our games now we can forget winning the Big Ten championship. Winning the rest of our games guarantees us a tie because we still have two in our pocket against Michigan State. I also think Michigan State is a team we match up better against. At this point, I don’t care if Robbie sits out as long as it gets him healthy for the NCAA’s. If he comes back at that time we suddenly become a very dangerous team no matter what our seed is. We’re 1-3 without him (and the one win was over an awful Arkansas Pine Bluff team), but we’re 16-3 with him. Two of those losses came in overtime as well.

Until he comes back though there are few solutions other than asking for better play from everyone else. Personally, I would give Bobby Riddell a couple of minutes a night just to get some rest for the other guys. It doesn’t have to be much, but he is capable of spelling guys and he can shoot the ball if he is open. At this point what can that hurt? It’s not like he hasn’t played before. You can’t tell me a short bench was an issue today when Illinois went with just seven guys for most of the contest themselves.

Wednesday won’t be easy because Penn State is a team that is getting better as the year goes on. They just suffered a demoralizing loss to Wisconsin at home, so they will be looking for a big win to get back into the NCAA discussion. Fortunately, I think it is a better matchup for us than the past two games have been. The extra day off after a Sunday game should help as well.

Speaking of Wednesday’s game, if anyone is interested I do have my tickets available. I was originally going to go, but I have to work on Wednesday night now covering a high school game. Since I have to take work where I can get it at the moment I am forced to give them up. If anyone is interested I am looking for face value for the tickets. If you live in Indianapolis it is even better because I can meet you to make the exchange.

For now though I am going to watch Drew Brees play in the Pro Bowl and try to forget today’s game ever happened.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A second chance in Champaign

The results of voting are in and when the move is complete over to SB Nation the new site will be named Hammer and Rails. I think this has a pretty good ring to it, actually. Of the five choices it was my favorite, thought I liked some of the others that were already taken domain-wise better. With Hammer and Rails I even envisioned a new logo with Pete's hammer and a set of tracks crossed over each other. This would be superimposed over the Boilermaker statue and have the words Hammer and Rails reading across them like a railroad crossing sign. It looks good in my head at least. It's just too bad I have the artistic drawing ability of a special needs elementary student.

With the new name selected the move will likely occur over the next few weeks. There are several administrative tasks and such that I must do before everything goes live, but the first step is taken with the new name. The beauty of keeping this site is that I will be able to make a formal announcement here once everything is ready to go. As mentioned, I will keep this site running with less frequent updates in order to maintain some advertising contracts I got into. Some of the more recent content will port over, but this can stay active from an archiving standpoint as well for those of you readers that just cannot get enough of me.

With that done, we look ahead to Illinois on Sunday. Since Wisconsin finally played like a team that is interested in fighting for an NCAA berth it takes a little bit of the luster off of our game with the Illini. They aren't a good road team in conference play, which makes our loss in Mackey Arena to them doubly frustrating. It is their only road win in five attempts in conference play. If we can return the favor to them at the Assembly Hall it will likely knock them out of the Big Ten championship race with their fifth conference loss.

I don't have a good feeling about this because, like Ohio State, this is not a team we match up well against. As we learned last year in the Big Ten Tournament, Demetri McCamey has the ability to get hot at any time and start raining threes. In the first meeting this year they hit just one triple as a team, but they pounded us inside with 30 points from Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. When you add that Alex Legion had 12 points in just his fourth game of the season (while only averaging 4.8 since) it is no wonder they beat us.

Another key to that game was poor shooting on our part. We shot less than 40% and were battling injuries to Kramer and Hummel that would cost them the next game at Penn State. Sadly, we find ourselves in the exact same situation this time against a team that plays even better at home. Only Clemson, currently a top 10 team that just crushed Duke, has gotten them at home this year, and that was by two points in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Paint the Town Orange is wary of the Paint Crew making the hundred-mile or so trek over to Champaign. I doubt we'll take over the building like we did with a small contingent in State College, but I urge those that go to follow my personal motto when I travel to see the Boilers on the road: Go loud, there are fewer of us so it just means more work to do.

As of right now, the Illini are probably on the happy side of the NCAA bubble. ESPN's first Bubble Watch came out yesterday and it had only Michigan State as a lock, but both Purdue and Illinois in the "Should be in" category. I think that the winner of this game will be a virtual lock. For Purdue, it gives us another solid road win and puts us all alone in second place. For Illinois, it gives them a sweep over a team that has been consistently in the top 25. Right now, they probably need it only slightly more than we do. Regardless, I think both teams are going barring a monumental collapse. (Side note: I love our bracket in the newest bracketology. The four seed in a region where the top three are teams we have played in the last two years and are familiar with is a happy place to be.)

One factor we did not see in the first game was the son of Michael Jordan. Jeff Jordan has played in every game for the Illini this season except the first Purdue game. He's not much of a scorer, but he is known for his defensive presence. If their defense hassled us into a sub-40% day the first time we played them I don't feel good about having him on the floor.

This is such a difficult matchup for us defensively because they have the ability to go elsewhere if we take something away. Four players average in double figures, and they are all within two points of each other. If we collapse down inside on the Mikes they can go outside with McCamey and Meachem. If we guard the perimeter we do not have the post players, especially with an injured Robbie Hummel, to stop the Mikes from dominating like they did in game one.

Free throws were the biggest difference the first time around. A 15 of 27 day was the difference, especially since one more made freebie at the end of regulation would have made it a victory. We won the battle of the boards and even had double digit offensive rebounds, but poor shooting killed us. If we can force more turnovers this time and hit our shots I like our chances. Unfortunately, our losses tend to come in pairs and the Illini are awfully good at home. Illinois 68, Purdue 64

A couple of other things I wanted to touch on:

It is starting to look like six or even seven Big Ten teams will get into the NCAA's this year. Road wins become even more valuable because they will likely come against good teams that you are battling for a berth with. It doubly hurts them because it costs them a home game and forces them to make it up on the road in turn. While I am saving the Family Guy power rankings for one of the first posts on the new site, here is who I think has the best shot to go dancing in the Big Ten.

Michigan State – 100% chance – It is bizarre that they have two losses at home, especially to Northwestern and Penn State. Those serve to only muddle the rest of the conference picture behind them. With 18 wins and two games left against Indiana there is no way they don't get to the magic 20 needed.

Purdue – 97% chance – And I am likely moving us into the lock category with just one more decent road win. With Indiana at home and a (relatively) easy trip to Iowa left we'll have at least 19 wins.

Minnesota – 90% chance – The only thing hurting Minnesota is that they finished 0-3 against the two best teams in the league. With four of their next six on the road I think they are safe as long as they get one of them, especially since they are all against fellow bubble teams

Illinois – 90% chance – Outside of the Purdue win the Illini have a terrible road record. Should they lose next week at Northwestern they had better win at Penn State or Ohio State to feel totally safe. Assuming they hold serve at home though I can't see them out of the tournament at 22 wins even with a 1-8 Big Ten road record.

Penn State – 75% chance – The Michigan State road win did wonders for them. Unlike Minnesota, they are 2-1 against the top two and can really make a statement if they win in Mackey Arena next week. With only one game left against Indiana they have several chances to get NCAA quality wins, and probably only need two.

Ohio State – 75% chance – Add Ohio State to the list of teams using a victory over us as a "good win". The Notre Dame win continues to lose value, but the Miami win got a boost when the Canes rocked Wake Forest this week. There is a slight asterisk by it as Jack McClinton was ejected for most of that game and he is a huge difference maker. On the other hand, Miami still blew a big lead without him.

Michigan – 50% chance – The Wolverines have an odd road trip to Connecticut tomorrow. If they pull it off you might as well put them in the dance right now. That would give them three non-conference wins over teams that could easily win three of the hardest conferences to win (four if they get Michigan State or Purdue later). Because of some struggles in conference play they do have a tight margin for error with seven conference games to play. One critical one would be winning at Northwestern, as it would give them a sweep over a team that can catch them from behind.

Northwestern – 25% chance – It is a numbers game at this point for the Wildcats. If they keep winning they will climb higher. Each loss will deal a critical blow. It is absolutely essential that they win their remaining four home games against Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, and Iowa. If they can then, in turn beat Iowa and Indiana on the road that would put them at 10-8 in a rough Big Ten and 19-10 overall. From there, a good showing in Indianapolis will build even more of a case.

Wisconsin – 10% chance – The Badgers got a pardon from the governor by breaking the six game losing streak last night, but I think it may be too late. Three of their final eight come against Iowa and Indiana, but I think they need to win at least six to be seriously considered. The Big Ten Tournament can help them greatly.

Iowa – 1% chance – And that one percent comes if they win four in four in Indy for the Big Ten Tournament. I can't take any team seriously that loses to Indiana this year.

Indiana - .00000001% - I say that only because they still get invited to the Big Ten Tourney and therefore have a small chance. A massive food poisoning scare that takes down the other 10 teams, but spares the Hoosiers would do the trick. With all the recalls out there you never know what might be "accidentally" overlooked on a shipment of food to Indianapolis area hotels.

Congratulations in order:

The final news of note came from the GBI print edition that I got a chance to read today. Drew Brees, who will always be one of my favorite players, became a father for the first time on January 15th. Drew and Brittany welcomed Baylen Robert Brees into the world. Now we just need to find a few more quarterbacks before he takes the reigns as a recruit in the class of 2027. Congratulations to Drew and Brittany. Their house in new Orleans is indeed the Cradle of Quarterbacks.