Full Steam Ahead

I think most of you know I’m a Purdue alum, and a fan. I have been since I was a kid, and Duncan Meter gave dad tickets to a game every year. Nor did it hurt that my Brother in law whom I idolized to a large extent was an alum. While I applied to a few schools, including Notre Dame, and was accepted by them all, my heart was set on Purdue (likely to dad’s relief since it is a state school). I’ve never regretted it.

But being a Boiler has its downsides. We often have teams that are good, but not good enough. We are the school that graduated Len Dawson, Bob Griese, and Drew Brees, not to mention The Coach, himself, John Wooden, but we often fall short of quite being as good as we should be. This fall the first year of the Jeff Brohm era assuaged a lot of angst, but being from Indiana in the glory years of the no classes high school tournament nothing quite stirs the blood like basketball, remember Rick Mount? – we all do and the ‘Hurrying Hoosiers’ be damned.

And so, Matt Painter’s Boiler basketball team this year has been a dream. 27 and 8, 14 and 4 in the conference, including this weeks victory over Michigan, also one of the top 5 teams in the country, well the sky has become the limit. Anything less than a second consecutive Big Ten championship would be a letdown, and a win in the NCAA looks possible.

Purdue fans have low expectations, we are a lot like Cubs fans, we expect the worst and barely dare hope for anything better, but this may be our year. I’m not the only one either, Travis Miller over at Hammer and Rails is thinking like I am.

For 37 years we have seen nothing but failure in March on some level. We have failed to reach the promised land of a Final Four, let alone a title. In a way, the NCAA Tournament is, indeed, a crapshoot. If Connecticut can win a championship as a 7 seed in 2014 while dozens of better overall teams have not. Being excellent over 35 games is certainly a better barometer of greatness than having one bad night in March, but the system is what it is.

And this team is good enough to finally break through.

Last night convinced me of that. I don’t know what will happen in the final 9 games, the Big Ten Tournament, or the NCAAs. We have anywhere from 11 to 18 games left to watch this team, but it is a special team and these remaining games need to be savored. We could hit a tailspin, lose the Big Ten, lose the first game in New York in the Big Ten Tournament, and get bounced in the NCAAs in round 1 for a disappointing final 11 games. We could win all 19 and go down as one of the greatest teams in NCAA history.

Yes, that is on the table. We’re that good, and that is what I want to talk about.

There is a sense of “if not this year, will this thing ever happen?” with this team, but last night I finally started to let my guard down. I think it happened because Michigan is one of the few teams in the country that has the personnel to challenge us matchup-wise. Mo Wagner’s ability to play on the perimeter and their offensive scheme to run screens and switches to draw our bigs from the basket create a unique problem. Last night I said they were laying the blueprint in how to beat Purdue. For a 10 minute stretch of the second half they were scoring at will. They negated Purdue’s size advantage on defense by pulling Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms away from the basket. This created open looks from three for a team that loves to shoot threes and it created driving lanes for Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. Michigan shot 60% form the floor, Abdur-Rahkman had a monster game of 26 points and hit 6 threes. The Wolverines scored 88 points and were so good offensively they knocked Purdue from the top 5 nationally on KenPom all the way to 10th.

Think about that for a moment. Purdue is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They do this without turning the game into a quagmire like Virginia. Through 21 games we had a top 3 defense and one game against Michigan was enough of an outlier to cause a seven spot drop. Michigan has figured out how to score on Purdue and they even did it in the dungeon of noise that is Mackey Arena. During that ridiculous stretch the crowd was trying to ramp higher and higher to will a stop and Michigan had an answer. If you watch the replay you heard this several times:

Crowd: “(ramping up as Michigan took possession after Purdue scored) hrrrrrrrrRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!! AWWWWwwwwwwww (ramping down as someone, usually Abdur-Rahkman, hit a three.)

Michigan was one of the few teams to answer Purdue and figure out our defense. Dylan over at UM Hoops explained just how good they were:

Michigan and Purdue are two teams that are completely ill-equipped to guard each other and that was never more clear than the first 10 minutes of the second half.

Michigan played its best offensive game of the season* on the road against the No. 3 ranked defense in the country. The Wolverines posted an impressive 72% effective field goal percentage, making 63% of their twos and 57% of their threes.

It’s hard to complain about turning the ball over on 17% of possessions, but Michigan’s giveaways seemed to come in the most critical spots. The Wolverines also rebounded 36% of their missed shots for 19 second chance points.

The offense might not have scored every possession down the stretch, but Michigan should beat any team in the country if it scores 1.35 points per possession. Prior to this game, the best offensive performance by a Big Ten team in a losing effort this year was Illinois scoring 1.17 points per possession against Iowa.

Big Ten teams that score 1.15 points per possession or better are 27-1 in league play. Before tonight, only three teams — Michigan State vs. Maryland, Ohio State vs. Maryland and Purdue vs. Iowa — had scored more than 1.35 points per possession in a league game.

Think about that. Michigan’s offense was so absurdly good it was in the top 5 of any offensive performance in all Big Ten play this year. They just happened to do it against one of the other top 5 offensive performances in conference play, and it was by far the best effort out of a losing team. It did this on the road against one of the nation’s best defenses, in one of the toughest road environments in the country. They scored 88 points when Purdue hadn’t given up more than 70 against anyone anywhere since December 1st at Maryland.

All that says Purdue probably should have lost this game, but it didn’t because the Boilers had an answer every time, and an already excellent offense got better. The first 10:50 of the second half was an absolute joy to watch if you’re a basketball fan. The teams didn’t just trade baskets, they traded haymakers. Purdue’s first two possessions of the half were made threes by Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson. The teams scored on a combined 13 of 15 possessions in the first five minutes alone. By the 9:10 mark the lead had changed hands 13 times on 13 straight possessions where a team made a basket. Michigan was playing out of its mind, much like how Minnesota (and specifically Nate Mason) played last year when the Gophers won in Mackey. It was basketball at its highest level and it was punctuated by a three from Vince Edwards with 9:10 left that tied the game 68-68.

Well, we’ll have to wait and see, but in watching Purdue since about the time of the Rose Bowl trip with Griese as quarterback, I’ve rarely been as hopeful. What a fall and winter it has been.

And the best part, in my opinion, is that there is no real star, it’s a team effort every time. The way it should be.

The Coach would be proud, I remember those UCLA teams, sometimes they had a star but they were always a team. just as the Franklin Wonder Five was that The Coach idolized.

Boiler Up

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

8 Responses to Full Steam Ahead

  1. the unit says:

    Enjoyable read and pleasant distraction from all the negative stuff we are dealing with day to day.
    I wish them good fortune. Obviously talented kids. I’ve decided to watch how they do and pull for’em “with the time that is given us”. 🙂
    Hope they don’t have a day like I do sometimes. Usually things go well and I get done what needs to be done. Then for whatever reason comes a day that nothing goes right. I’m probably the only one that happens to. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      That was kind of the point, ready for some distraction myself.

      You have those? Thought I was the only one! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Yeah, I needed it bad. Read M. A.’s latest post last night, “The Silent Coup d’état”.
        If you haven’t, wait like Scarlett O’hara and think about reading it tomorrow. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Sounds like good advice. 🙂 Levin was talking about it last week as well, I agree with them.

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          I do too and I don’t hope they’re wrong (as Hitchens said he hoped he was wrong). I hope the memo is released and not doctored up and the traitous acts they (and we) think is so is set right by what it takes.
          Keeping on topic, it wouldn’t be obstruction of justice if Purdue fights back against one predicted to win. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Not it would be obstruction of justice if we didn’t win. Been a long time coming, I’m not sure our last national championship wasn’t when the coach was playing, and that’s been a while! 🙂

          Like

        • the unit says:

          Though I said I don’t hope they’re wrong, that doesn’t mean I like it. Just what Frodo said. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Yep. 🙂

          Like

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