Purdue Boilermakers: Big Ten champions

The men’s basketball season ended for Purdue last night, with a close victory in Evanston against the Northwestern Wildcats. But in a sense, that game did not matter. No matter the outcome, Northwestern is likely to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. More importantly (to me), Purdue had already secured the outright conference title. Purdue now has 23 Big Ten titles to its name, reclaiming sole possession of the lead after Indiana tied it up last year.

Speaking of Indiana, it was against the hated in-state rivals that the Boilermakers clinched a share of the title. To be able to secure a trophy at home, on senior night, against a bitter rival? That was a special treat for team and fans alike. When the final horn sounded, confetti burst from the ceiling and the trophy was presented to the team.

Confetti rains down after Purdue defeats Indiana and claims a share of the Big Ten title. February 28, 2017

The Purdue men’s basketball team celebrates with their trophy.

Earlier in the season, it seemed like Wisconsin had the title all but locked up. A few head-scratching losses by Purdue made the title seem out of reach. But Wisconsin was a paper tiger.

Despite holding the conference title record, it had been 21 years since the last time Purdue won the title outright (and seven years since the last title). Promising seasons in the early part of this decade were cut short by injury, or by underperformance, or by who knows what. A string of consecutive first-round wins in the NCAA tournament came to an end with heartbreaking losses in consecutive years. Purdue fans were hungry, so being able to celebrate a season that seemed destined for failure felt really good.

Up next, we hope, deep runs in the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament.

Sports rules

Not like “sports rules!”, but the rules of sport. My beloved Boilermakers went down to Bloomington and beat the Hoosiers on Thursday night. It was a joy to behold, with the exception of one weird call toward the end of the game. It’s been called a “blarge“. IU’s Thomas Bryant lowered his shoulder and barreled into Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan. One referee called a blocking foul on Swanigan, another called a charge against Bryant (it was a charge). As a result, the call was a double foul.

This turns out to be the correct way to handle it. It’s also really terrible. Those two calls are mutually-exclusive. Especially in this circumstance, because it caused each team’s best player to foul out in the final minutes of a close rivalry game.

But it got me thinking about how and why the rules of sports get changed. Major League Baseball is apparently considering a rule change to speed up extra innings. I hope that goes nowhere. In my mind, it’s a fundamental change to how the game is played. Ostensibly, it’s to shorten games. MLB has made several changes over the past few years to try to speed the game up.

But here’s the thing: I like baseball because it’s a slow game. Baseball is a deliberate game that invites conversation and statistical analysis in-game. I don’t mind rule changes, but they should be to improve the game. Speed isn’t automatically an improvement. It can even be a detriment.

Coach of the Year?

On Monday night, the Big Ten conference announced the annual postseason honors for men’s basketball. It may come as no surprise that the Coach of the Year winners finished first (Bo Ryan in the coaches’ voting) and second (Mark Turgeon in the media voting) in the conference. Winning basketball games is a good way to get recognized for your coaching prowess. Some Purdue fans were upset that Matt Painter did not get recognized in light of the turnaround that his Boilermakers showed from the end of non-conference play.

After all, this is a team that finished last in the conference last year and was projected to finish toward the bottom again this year. Instead, after a string of embarrassing losses in December made the idea of an NCAA tournament bid nearly a pipe dream, the team got it together and finished in a tie for third place. Surely that is a sign of an excellent coaching job, right?

It is, but there’s a catch. Sure, Painter’s team exceeded expectations, but the expectations became low on his watch. It’s not like Painter inherited a depleted roster this year, as he did when he took over for Gene Keady a decade ago. Since walking into a 9-win season his first year, he had several teams that competed for a regular season title, one Big Ten Tournament winner, and two Sweet 16 appearances. The momentum was there, and for whatever reason (I’m inclined to say recruiting the wrong players for his system, among other reasons), the team slipped. Recruiting is part of the job, so why not reward a coach for having a roster talented enough to win the conference?

I understand that reasoning, but I’m not sure I agree with it. After all, the award is Coach of the Year, not Coach of the Years. The fact that Matt Painter wasn’t doing his job well enough for a few years shouldn’t handicap him now. But they don’t give me a ballot, and I can’t help but think those who reflexively vote for the top-performing teams regardless of expectations make a reasonable argument. After all, there are some coaches who can make a lot of the talent they have (Tim Miles last year), there are some coaches who can bring in talent but underperform (Tom Crean), but the successful coaches in the Big Ten are the ones who can get talented players and make the most of them (Ryan, Tom Izzo, Thad Matta). Matt Painter has shown the ability to do both, but not necessarily at the same time. If he can get both parts of the coaching duties in line, he’ll have plenty of awards to put on his trophy shelf.

Baseball and apple pie

Baseball isn’t as popular as it used to be. That’s hardly news. Some, including incoming Commissioner Rob Manfred, have argued that it’s too slow-paced for modern American society. To that end, he’s talking about some rule changes. The first is a “pitch clock”, designed to keep the game moving along. I don’t find that particularly objectionable, thought it would certainly take some getting used to.

The second, more obnoxious change, would be to ban defensive shifts. Seriously? If the idea is to generate more offense (it’s been a pitcher’s game since the end of the steroid era), my response is “who cares?” If you want to see a lot of hits, show up for batting practice. I’ll admit that I tend to be biased in favor of defense in sports. I’d much rather see a great dive and throw to first than a home run. If the shift is a problem, perhaps batters should learn to hit to the opposite field. I’m looking forward to Manfred proposing that players have to stand still until the ball hits the ground. Perhaps if he were the NFL commissioner, we’d finally see the “5-second count” rule for blitzes.

Next up for Rob Manfred: eliminating the apples from apple pie so people can eat it faster.

Purdue fires Danny Hope

It’s hardly news at this point (it’s been hours since Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke made the official announcement), and I don’t often write about sports here (frankly, I don’t often write here any more), but I wanted to assemble my thoughts about Danny Hope’s new-found unemployment.

I’ve been critical of Hope for a while, and was publicly in favor of firing him last year. My undergrad years mostly lined up with Kyle Orton’s time at quarterback and the last years of Joe Tiller’s successful period, so maybe my expectations were unrealistic. Or maybe not.

Danny Hope had four years as head coach (and a year before that to focus entirely on recruiting as the coach-in-waiting) to build the program. In some ways, he did just that: he improved recruiting from the end of the Tiller era, and player GPAs went up during his time as coach. The statistic that ended up mattering most was the fifth consecutive year of declining attendance.

I’ll readily admit that I’ve skipped purchasing football tickets the past two years for a variety of reasons. Time commitments and personal finances may have been the most compelling, but the on-field product did little to convince me to make the necessary arrangements. It’s not that the players lack talent or effort, although there have been occasions where the players made maddening errors (the 2011 team, in particular, was far more penalized than a veteran team should be). For the most part the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the coaches. Week after week, the team appeared unprepared. Week after week, halftime seemed to consist of an all-you-can-eat pasta buffet (how else can you explain the struggles that Hope’s teams routinely had in the third quarter? They certainly weren’t using that time to adjust to the way the game was going).

Under Danny Hope, Purdue could take two unbeaten teams down to the wire on the road or lose at home to MAC schools. Purdue could beat an Ohio State University or get embarrassed by Minnesota. Hope’s “best team” — a team with the talent and the schedule to win the B1G Leaders division — opened conference play with five straight losses. If not for the sanctions against aOSU and Penn State this year, Purdue’s 6-6 record would result in yet another Detroit bowl game. While any bowl game is better than no bowl game, it would be nice to see Purdue beat teams with a winning record from time-to-time.

Contrary to what Sally Hope said, I’ve never wished for Danny Hope to lose. I have tremendous respect for him as a person — he’s universally described as being a very friendly man, and the players obviously love him. I’ve always wanted Danny Hope’s time at Purdue to be very successful, but that’s not how it played out. Given the choice between losing cleanly and winning sleazily, I’ll take losing cleanly every time, but I refuse to accept that those are the only two options.

Danny Hope very obviously enjoyed being the head coach of a Big Ten program. His optimism was unflagging, at least until about a month ago. Hope enjoyed his work and he loved being with the players. The problem is that the talented players never seemed to get much better than when they first set foot on campus. In the end, Danny Hope was a great guy who was in way over his head. I wish him the best of luck wherever his next job is.

Purdue football predictions — 2011 edition

I was much more enthusiastic at this time last year. Many people are quick to explain away Purdue’s lousy 2010 season with the inexplicable rash of injuries, and there’s no doubt that the ever-growing list of disabled players was a significant factor. Unlike some, though, I haven’t absolved Danny Hope of blame. There have been too many questionable decisions and failures of fundamentals to think that this season will be as rosy as Hope seems to think. While there are some very talented players on the roster (Ricardo Allen may be the most exciting member of the Purdue secondary since Stu Schweigert), but there are a lot of questions hanging over this team.

Perhaps the largest is one of offensive identity. Despite the loss of Rob Henry to an ACL injury, Hope insists on running a two-quarterback scheme. I just don’t see that big of a difference between Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve that would justify this. Pick the best one and go with him until someone else is better. We’ll see how it plays out, but I have serious concerns and hope that Hope will settle this sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, let’s look at the schedule and see how badly I do. Admittedly, I’m surprised that I came up with six wins here. I figured 4-5 would be more likely.

Vs Middle Tennessee State: MTSU is 0-2 against the Big Ten, including a loss to a comically bad Minnesota squad last year. Still, they did make a bowl game last year, something that Purdue can’t claim. There’s no reason that Purdue should lose this game, but there is a recent pattern of losing at least home game against a team that should have been an easy victory. Purdue should win this one by double digits, but the game will be closer than the scoreboard indicates.

At Rice: A long road trip to hot conditions have some fans scared. Rice is no Texas juggernaut, and if Purdue shows up to play, this should be a win. The big concern is that the team isn’t well-hydrated and everyone falls over from cramps sometime in the 3rd quarter. The large Purdue contingent in Houston should give the Boilers a boost.

Vs Southeast Missouri State: If Purdue loses this game, I’m calling Morgan Burke.

Vs Notre Dame: It pains me to say this, but the Domers may be pretty good this year. Last year in South Bend, the Boilers looked incredibly lackluster, perhaps due in part to the fact that Robert Marve was still getting used to playing football again. Purdue hasn’t lost the Shillelagh four straight years since the mid-’90s, but I don’t have much hope for this game.

Vs Minnesota: Gopher fans have to be pleased with the fact that Tim Brewster is gone. Jerry Kill has beaten Purdue before (as the head coach of Northern Illinois in 2009), but he doesn’t have much to work with. Purdue’s defense might get tested a bit, but this game should be a win.

At Penn State: The first Leaders division game is a doozy. Penn State looks to be competing for the division title (especially if aOSU ends up with a post-season ban from the NCAA), whereas Purdue isn’t. Last year’s Lion squad was a bit of a disappointment, but I like them to be an 8-9 win team this season. It’s not out of the question, but I can’t see Purdue winning this one.

Vs Illinois: You can never tell what the Illini will do. Ron Zook is eternally on the hot seat, only to have his team do well enough to keep him around one more year. Last year, Purdue absolutely crapped the bed in Chambana, and I’d hope the coaching staff will remind them of that. Even in down years, Purdue tends to do well against the Illini at home and especially on homecoming. This will not be an easy win, but I expect it will be a win.

At Michigan: Brady Hoke was a smart hire for the Wolverines, but he still has to clean up from the RichRod era. If Michigan’s not bowl-eligible by the time this game rolls around, this might seal the deal. No matter what may be happening in Ann Arbor, the fact that Purdue has only won there one time in forty years does not bode well for the Boilers.

At Wisconsin: Wisconsin has outscored Purdue 71-13 in the past two years and Bret Bielma has not developed a reputation for mercy. The Badgers will contend for the Big Ten title and potentially be in the national title picture. Coming away from this game without being embarrassed will be about all Purdue fans can ask for.

Vs Ohio State: Last year’s game in Columbus was an atrocity. It was to be expected after the upset Purdue pulled in 2009. Will this year’s game in Ross-Ade be a repeat of said upset? There’s at least a chance, as it remains to be seen how the Buckeyes respond to their off-season drama. No matter what the rest of the country hopes, this won’t be a terrible team. Although Purdue has a chance to win, they probably won’t.

Vs Iowa: According to Jim Delaney, the Hawkeye’s are Purdue’s Most Hated Rival. Without Ricky Stanzi, Iowa is less of a threat. This team won’t be a failure, but assuming Purdue hasn’t all of the skill players again, the Boilers should win this game.

At Indiana: I hate saying anything good about IU, but the fact is they have the Bucket right now. Hoosier fans have good reasons to feel positive. Although they won’t have a great team this year, they seem to be headed in the right direction. They haven’t won the Bucket in two consecutive years since ’93-’94. Purdue will want this game, but here in September, I’m not convinced that Purdue will have enough at the end of November to win in Bloomington. It will be a close game, and either team can win, but I think IU gets this one. I sure hope I’m wrong.

Overall record: 6-6

Conference record: 3-5

Leaders division record: 1-4

 

The NCAA: stupid or really stupid?

There are few coaches in basketball that are so widely respected for both coaching ability and all-around-good-guyness as Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.  This is what makes his recent one-game suspension a thing of stupidity.  Izzo was punished for violating a new NCAA rule because someone “associated with a potential recruit” worked for a week at an MSU basketball camp for middle schoolers.  The amount this person was paid?  $475.  For services rendered, no less.  I have a friend who works at Purdue and her cousin is on a team.  Are we breaking the rules, too?

What makes this even more appalling is the lack of punishment for Cam Newton and several other Ohio State football players.  I’m willing to grant that the NCAA was unable to prove that Newton was involved in the dealing, and that no money apparently changed hands, but the same can’t be said for the Ohio State players who traded memorabilia in exchange for cash and services.  These players have all been handed five game suspensions, but they won’t be in effect until the 2011 season.  This means that they’ll still be playing in their bowl game on Saturday, and some of them will be in the NFL next year, which means they effectively face no punishment at all.

I feel bad for the student athletes.  They’re unable to make any money off their own effort while everyone around them is getting rich, but they’re subject to the arbitrary and capricious rulings of the NCAA.

Beonard’s Losers — 2010, Week 14

Listen here!

Howdy, football fans!  Last week’s big loser sure wasn’t the BCS.  The moment Nevada upset Boise St., the BCS no longer was in the uncomfortable position of having to make excuses for excluding the Broncos from even the possibility of a championship.  Of course, it’s also worth noting that Nevada lost about a million dollars in bowl revenue by beating Boise.  Speaking of teams not in a BCS Bowl, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was publicly mocked by a pop star this week after the coach cried during the end of the season banquet.  Fortunately for Rodriguez, the season isn’t over for the Wolverines, they’ll have a bowl to play in for the first time in three years.  The regular season isn’t over for some teams, so let’s take a look at this week’s games.

Illinois at Fresno State

Ron Zook’s tribe looked to be headed for a decent bowl game, until they suffered a late season collapse.  On Friday night, they’ll travel to Bulldog Stadium to take on the Central Valley pups.  The mutts haven’t fared very well against quality opponents, and they’ll need more than just a fierce bark to keep the visitors out of the end zone.  Beonard’s loser? Fresno State

Oregon at Oregon State

With a victory in the Civil War, the Corvallis chompers could wind up in the postseason.  To do that, they’ll need to pluck an explosive flock of Ducks.  Chip Kelly’s birds will play for the national championship if they win this game, so don’t expect them to overlook their rivals.  It’s hard to see that this game could even be close.  Beonard’s loser? Oregon State

Auburn vs South Carolina

With the rules questions for their quarterback solved, the Tigers can focus on winning the SEC Championship.  If they do that, they’ll play for the national crown in January.  First, they’ll need to get past Steve Spurrier’s chickens who want to get their first SEC title.  When these teams first met, the cats won by a touchdown.  This game may be closer, but the outcome will be the same.  Beonard’s loser?  In a close one, South Carolina

Florida State vs Virginia Tech

After losing their first two games, the Hokies reeled off 10 straight to win the ACC Coastal.  They’ll go for the conference title against a Seminole squad with two conference losses.  Both teams average just under 18 points allowed per game, so it’ll be up to the offenses to tip the scales.  The turkeys have scored at least 26 points in every game since the beginning of October, but the tribe average just three points per game fewer.  It’ll be close, but I think Frank Beamer has things worked out.  Beonard’s Loser?  In a close one, Florida State

Oklahoma vs Nebraska

It’s been rare lately to see balance between the Big XII North and South, but that’s exactly what we have this year.  Bo Pelini would like to take the Big XII title before the shuckers move to the Big Ten next year, but Bob Stoops has the wagons circled.  It’ll be a tale of two offenses, with the southerners in the air and the north on the ground, but in this battle, the south wins.  Beonard’s loser? Nebraska

And how about the one game from next week?

Army vs Navy

The Midshipmen sail into Philadelphia next week hoping to extend their streak to nine games.  Army seems to be at a disadvantage, though, gaining 40 fewer yards per game on the ground than their nautical counterparts. This may be one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in college football, but it’s becoming a little one-sided these days.  Beonard’s loser? Army

Well, friends, that wraps up this season of Beonard’s Losers.  I’m sad to say that this will be my last.  It has been a real pleasure doing this, and I hope there is someone else out there who will continue the memory of Leonard Postosties, the world’s foremost pigskin prognosticator.  Get me out of here, Percy.

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Beonard’s Losers — 2010, Week 13

Howdy, football fans!  The end of the season is almost upon us.  Many teams play their final games this weekend.  For some teams, the final game is for pride, but many teams are playing for bowl positioning or even a chance at the the BCS Championship.  So let’s take a look at this week’s game.

Auburn at Alabama

One of the best SEC West games this season has no bearing on the division.  Gene Chizik’s cats have clinched a seat in the SEC championship game, so now they’re playing to keep their likely spot in the BCS Championship game.  To do that, they’ll have to hold off the Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium.  The Tigers have relied on their offense to outscore the opponent, but this game will depend on the defense.  Beonard’s loser?  In a close one, Alabama.

Arizona at Oregon

Mike Stoops brings his kittens into Autzen Stadium on Friday afternoon with one goal in mind:  to pluck the Ducks and ruin their bid for the BCS Championship.  Chip Kelly’s flock had only 15 points two weeks ago against, Cal, but they’re still averaging over 50 points per game.  This may be the most explosive offense ever, and the Sun Devil defense just won’t be able to contain it.  Beonard’s loser? Arizona

Northwestern at Wisconsin

Bret Bielma’s Badger boys have their eyes on the Rose Bowl, but to get there, they’ll need the three-way tie at the top of the Big Ten to continue.  Their mission is to dispatch the purple kittens heading north from Evanston.  Pat Fitzgerald’s squad is missing their starting quarterback, so they puts them in a tough spot.  The cheeseheads have been nearly untouchable in Camp Randall Stadium this year, and it’s unlikely they’ll get cat scratch fever.  Beonard’s loser?  Northwestern

Michigan State at Penn State

Mark Dantonio’s spear-toters nearly saw their Rose Bowl chances slip away last week against a lousy Purdue squad, and they’ll have to be a little more careful in State College if they want to stay in the race.  JoePa has announced that he has at least one more season in Happy Valley, and he’ll need it to end the season on a high note.  The Nittany kitties are winless against ranked teams this year, and Sparty will make sure that trend continues.  Beonard’s loser? Penn State

Iowa at Minnesota

The gilded rodents stunned the football world with a surprise victory over Illinois two weeks ago.  They’ll close the season by hosting the Hawkeyes in TCF Bank Stadium.  Iowa needs to snap a two-game slide to get a better bowl berth, and they’ve got an easy opponent to face.  But at the Illini learned, the rodents may be down, but they’re still capable of a nasty bite.  Beonard’s loser?  Minnesota

Michigan at Ohio State

RichRod may have gotten the Wolverines back into the postseason, but there’s still an important goal he has not met.  The Columbus sweatervests own a 6-game streak in The Game, and it’s become a sore issue in Ann Arbor.  The visitors have the offense to keep up with the nuts, but the defenses couldn’t be further apart.  A win today could keep the Bucs in a BCS Bowl, so don’t expect to see an upset in the Horseshoe.  Beonard’s loser? Michigan

Notre Dame at USC

Brian Kelly ends his troubled first season on the road Saturday in Troy.  The Papal pigskinners will go to a bowl this year, even if they lose this and end up 6-6, but they’d much rather get the win.  Both teams have unimpressive resumes, minus a pair of upsets on November 13.  In this case, I have to go with the home team. Beonard’s loser?  Notre Dame

Indiana at Purdue

Both teams nearly pulled off an upset last week.  Instead, they’ll both stay home for Christmas and settle for battling for the Old Oaken Bucket.  The boys from Basketballtown have won this trophy twice in the past decade, and not in the West Lafayette switchin’ station since 1996.  Strength will be set against strength and weakness against weakness, but the train always has plenty fo steam for this game.  Danny Hope’s squad will clear the tracks, and perhaps rid Bill Lynch of the burdens of employment.  Beonard’s loser?  Indiana

Well, friends, that’s all I have for you this week, come back again next week when we’ll have more losers.

Beonard’s Losers — 2010, Week 12

Howdy, football fans!  I apologize for missing last week, but it worked out well for me.  Who would have expected Minnesota to win a game?  Or for Utah to lose to Notre Dame?  For that matter, does anyone expect that Bret Bielma will be voted ‘Most Popular’ by the other Big Ten coaches after running up the score against Indiana?  Wisconsin may still actually be scoring points from last week’s game.  But we’ve got football on the baseball field and coaches trying to keep the paycheck coming, so let’s take a look at this week’s games.

Wisconsin at Michigan

Bret Bielma’s Badger Boys look to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive in their last road game of the season.  With two straight wins, RichRod moves to .500 in the Big Ten this season and, mo re importantly, keeps himself from getting thrown to the curb.  The hometown animals will need to use every bit of their offensive prowess to stay in this game, as the cheeseheads have made it clear what they do to lousy defenses.  Beonard’s loser? Michigan

Purdue at Michigan State

Danny Hope’s bartenders have the distinction of being the only team that failed to score an offensive touchdown against one of the country’s worst defenses.  They’ll have to do better than that if they want to pull off an upset in East Lansing on Saturday.  Mark Dantonio’s spear-toters  need this win to remain the front-runners for a trip to Pasadena.  I don’t see a scenario where they don’t decimate the visitors.  Beonard’s loser? Purdue

Penn State vs Indiana

Bill Lynch will try to salvage the season, and potentially his job, this weekend.  He can thank the IU athletic department for this game being played in Landover, Maryland instead of Bloomington, and that probably won’t do his team any favors.  Joe Pa’s kittens have had a rough time getting to the end zone this year, but against a team that gave up 83 points last week, they should do fine.  Beonard’s loser? Indiana

Ohio State at Iowa

The birds would like nothing more than to help determine the Big Ten champion by knocking off Jim Tressel’s nuts in Kinnick Stadium.  Two of the top 10 scoring defenses in country will make this game one for the ages, but Kirk Ferentz will need more reliable offensive production than he’s seen if he hopes to keep from breaking his beak.  Beonard’s loser?  Iowa

Illinois at Northwestern

This may be the most embarrassing game of football played all season, and it has nothing to do with the players.  Due to safety concerns at Wrigley Field, both teams will try for the same end zone for the entire game.  With Northwestern’s quarterback out for the season, I can only guess that the Illini signal caller will be under center for both teams.  Maybe we’ll just have a game of two-hand touch.  Beonard’s loser? Northwestern, the Big Ten, and football fans everywhere

Army vs Notre Dame

In another football-game-played-in-a-baseball-stadium moment of brilliance, Army takes on the Fighting Irish in Yankee Stadium.  At least there’s enough room there for two end zones.  Army is in the unusual position of being able to prevent Notre Dame from becoming bowl eligible while having already qualified themselves.  Unfortunately for the Black Knights, the task may not prove as easy as some of their other wins have been.  Still, Brian Kelly’s squad has shown the ability to lose badly to service academies, so all is not lost for the West Pointers.  Beonard’s loser?  In a close one, Army.

Well, friends, that’s all I can muster this week.  Come back again next week when we’ll have some Thanksgiving losers.

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