Anyone who pays even the least bit of attention to college basketball has heard about the total blowout that happened in Indianapolis on Saturday. Minnesota earned their way into the NCAA tournament with a 27-point dismantling of Purdue. With the loss, Purdue dropped to 0-2 against NCAA-bound opponents since Robbie Hummel’s season-ending ACL injury. There’s a lot to be disappointed about for Purdue fans. 11 first-half points, 14% from beyond the arc, 44% free-throw shooting, being out-rebounded by 25, Lewis Jackson and E’Twaun Moore getting injured.
But not is all lost. My good friends at Boiled Sports have summed the game up pretty well, but their tone is unsurprisingly deflated. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t crushed after watching the game, but there’s no need to give up yet. This season isn’t quite what we’d hope it would be. A Final Four run seems nearly impossible, but there’s still a Big Ten title to hang in Mackey. And who knows what the NCAA tournament will bring? There’s a reason March is the best month.
For Purdue fans, Saturday’s game does have some positives to take away. Most notably, the contributions of two key freshmen. The oft-maligned Patrick Bade has spent most of the year being a liability, but he has stepped up since Hummel’s injury. At 6’8″, Bade helps fill the gap between JaJuan Johnson and the rest of the team. In the last five games, Bade has played an average of 9 minutes. Those minutes include 1.8 points and 1.4 rebounds. Those aren’t great numbers, but he’s turning into a solid basketball player, and that’s important for the Boilermakers right now. Bade still picks up a foul every 5 minutes or so, but his fouls have become fouls of effort, not of clumsiness. If Patrick Bade continues to improve, Purdue’s chances for success increase dramatically, not only this year, but next.
D.J. Byrd has also received some scorn in his freshman year. The Mister Basketball candidate had a lot of expectations and has been fairly underwhelming through most of the schedule. At 6’5″ and 214 pounds, Byrd could also find a spot on the football team’s depleted secondary, and some of his fouls have resembled tackles. On Saturday, though, Byrd provided what was closest to passing for a spark. Making his first three-pointers since December 22 (ending a streak of about 13 misses), D.J. Byrd provided nearly a quarter of Purdue’s points against Minnesota. That was Byrd’s first double-digit scoring since the season opener. For a team that has been relying on Johnson and Moore for most of the points, Byrd’s off-the-bench contributions will be very welcome, and even necessary.
On Friday afternoon, Purdue takes on the Siena Saints in Spokane, Washington. Siena has a losing record against the Big Ten, but includes a first-round upset of Ohio State in last year’s tournament. Purdue has won its last 11 first-round NCAA tournament games, and has a good chance to extend the streak to 12. It will depend largely on the contribution from the bench, and on Johnson and Moore not having bad games. Even noted optimist and Purdue basketball expert Sara Yelich has said she “might [have] Purdue getting beat (sic) in the first round.” By Friday evening, we’ll know, but Purdue fans still have reasons to be optimistic.