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.

Purdue football predictions — 2010 edition

Finally, the college football season is almost upon us.  Let’s take a moment and extend our sympathies to my wife, who will effectively be a widow for the next three months of Saturdays.  I’ve got my tickets in hand, my jersey cleaned and ready, and my optimism at full throttle.  Last year was pretty disappointing for Purdue fans, although there were encouraging signs.  A questionable timeout at the end of the Notre Dame game might have been the difference between a bowl game and staying home.  A respectable Oregon team barely managed a win at home, and eventual Big Ten champion The Ohio State got a big shock in West Lafayette.

The Boilers haven’t received much love from the national media (gee, doesn’t that sound familiar?), but that’s okay.  If everyone stays healthy, and no one else ends up academically ineligible,  Purdue could wind up being in the hunt for the Big Ten title at the end of the season.  Of course, many of the games it takes to get there will be close, so the end result could vary quite a bit.  Of course, I’ll be taking a look at each game week-by-week for Beonard’s Losers, but in the meantime, here’s my poorly-researched, quickly-written view of Purdue’s season.

At Notre Dame: The Irish are on their fourth coach (fifth if you count George O’Leary) this decade, and Brian Kelly has his work cut out for him.  Notre Dame has a new quarterback who is recovering from a knee injury, and a new coach to learn.  Notre Dame has some votes in the pre-season polls, but that’s more name recognition than anything else.  South Bend is not normally a friendly location for the Boilers, but they should be able to get a win.

Western Illinois: Directional Illinois isn’t necessarily a guaranteed win, as Northern showed last year.  Fortunately, Western is a less worthy opponent.  There’s no excuse for losing this game.

Ball State: BSU isn’t quite the pushover they were back in 2004 when Kyle Orton and company hung approximately one trillion points on them.  In fact, there was a time not that long ago when I considered the Cardinals the best team in the state.  That time has passed, and I wouldn’t expect to see Ball State do much better than they did last season.  This should be another confidence-builder.

Toledo: The Rockets have been a favorite early-season opponent the past few years, and generally help the Boilers get off to a confident, if overrated, start.  Toledo will be a good final test before conference play starts, but shouldn’t be too challenging.  There’s a reason I consider Purdue to be the MAC champions, and after this game they should be 4-0.

At Northwestern: It doesn’t seem to matter how good Purdue is, Evanston is always a tough place to play.  Since this game is in the first half of the season, the weather shouldn’t be too horrible, but it’s going to take more than a nice fall day to turn this into a win.  If senior quarterback Dan Persa can keep the offense going, Purdue will have a hard time winning this one.

Minnesota: Tim Brewster is the first of several coaches that Purdue may see the last of in 2010.  In three years under Brewster, the Gophers have never gone .500 or better in the Big Ten and their best finish is a tie for 6th.  Adam Weber needs a strong season, but without Eric Decker, I don’t think we’ll see anything better than “fair” from him.  If the Purdue secondary can play at all, the Boilers should win this game.

At Ohio State: Some of the key pieces are back from last year’s matchup, notably Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who gave Terrelle Prior nightmares.  It’s tempting to pick Purdue to get the upset again, but it’s worth noting that this game is being played in Columbus, not West Lafayette.  Not to mention the fact that the Buckeyes are pissed about last year’s game and will be out for revenge. This won’t be a guaranteed loss for the Boilers, but it’s likely.

At Illinois: Boy, this team is hard to gauge.  Ron Zook has a talent for recruiting good teams that under-perform.  He’s the second coach that may be packing his bags at the end of the season; it’s just hard to imagine that Illinois would be content with another disappointing year.  The Illini schedule is very front-loaded, so it remains to be seen how the team will handle facing Penn State and Ohio State on consecutive weekends.  Frankly, I think it’s more likely that Purdue will lose this game than that Illinois will win it.

Wisconsin: Last year’s 37-0 shellacking in Madison can’t sit well with the Boilers.  Purdue will be worked up for this game, but I’m not sure it’ll be enough.  The Badgers should be good this year and all of the emotion in the world won’t fix that.  This year’s matchup will be closer, but Purdue loses this one, too.

Michigan: Purdue has only beaten Michigan 14 times in the history of the sport, and never three times in a row.  Yet that’s what’s at stake this November.  If the NCAA hasn’t done him in already, a loss in this game pretty much guarantees that the Wolverines bring the RichRod era to an end.  Michigan seems to be improving, but they won’t have enough to win this one, unless the two-game losing streak saps Purdue’s will to live.

At Michigan State: Purdue had the lead through three quarters last year, and, if they’d held on, would have become bowl-eligible.  It seems like (and I’m too lazy to check) Purdue and Michigan State have been very well-matched the past few years, and this year should be no different.  I’m not sure the Boilers will be seasoned enough to take away a win from East Lansing, but it should be a fun game to watch.

Indiana: Indiana has lost the last 2 matchups, and hasn’t won in Ross-Ade Stadium since 1996.  They’ve got a good quarterback, and a few other pieces, but I don’t see much of a team.  Bill Lynch is a pretty lousy football coach, and he may be done after failing again to reclaim the Old Oaken Bucket.

So that’s my look at this season.  We’ll see how horribly wrong I end up being.  If the above predictions hold true, Purdue finishes 7-5 overall, 3-5 in the Big Ten, 6-1 at home, and 7-1 in the state of Indiana.  This would be a big improvement from the past few seasons, and might help bump up the flagging ticket sales.  Boiler up!

Who doubted Purdue? Not this guy!

You’ll have to excuse this post.  It’s one of complete fanboyism, written while still under the influence of a nail-biting win and the 92 fluid ounces of Killian’s I had at Buffalo Wild Wings.  If you don’t want to read my excited babbling, it can all be summed up in two words “Boiler up!”  Remember a week ago when everyone was saying that Siena would be the only 14-seed to be favored in the first round?  Remember how even President Obama had written Purdue off?  Remember how the Big East was God’s gift to college basketball?  It seems things have changed.

Purdue has earned its way back into a second consecutive Sweet 16.  Like I had written last week, the Boilers needed the bench to step up.  D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith certainly earned their scholarships this weekend, although Patrick Bade made some solid contributions of his own. But it was senior Chris M.F. Kramer who really carried the team through the first two rounds.  Kramer simply refused to let his career be over, and in a repeat of the game at Alabama in December, took the team on his shoulders at the end and carried them to victory.

Let’s be honest, it’s not all beautiful for Purdue.  When JaJuan Johnson is shooting from the perimeter, there’s absolutely no one to get an offensive rebound.  E’Twaun Moore scored 15 points, but was still 7 of 17 from the field. Point guards Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow still make some really poor decisions at times.  Despite all this, Purdue is still one of only 16 teams playing in the NCAA tournament at the end of the week.  Very few people outside of the Purdue locker room and the loyal fans even considered this as a possibility.  You know what?  Some of us still believe that this Purdue team, without Robbie Hummel, could get past Duke and make it into the Elite 8.  How’s that for a big middle finger to the “experts” who figured Purdue would lose in the first round?

While we’re on the subject of disrespect, which conference was supposed to be the best in the country?  All season long we’ve heard about how the Big East is just leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of Division I basketball.  The funny thing about the tournament is that it points out when people are full of crap.  If you look at the teams in the Sweet 16, you’ll notice that there are three from the Big Ten, and only two from the Big East.  Even that pathetic conference called the Pac-10, which we were told was barely worthy to even play basketball at all, has a team in the Sweet 16 (and an 11 seed at that!).  So really, to all the experts out there (who will never read this), I cordially invite you to shut the hell up.

It’s also worth noting that the state of Indiana has two teams represented in the Sweet 16: Butler and Purdue.  Both teams survived close games in the second round, but either or both of them could find themselves in the Elite 8.  Considering how much basketball means to the state of Indiana, that is only fitting.  Although I have a bit of a personal dislike for one of the Butler players, I’d be happy to see them keep progressing through the tournament, and I hope my Boilermakers do as well.  All I know is that the moment Robbie Hummel’s ACL gave way, most of the country was done with Purdue.  But not me, not the other loyal fans, not the coaches, and certainly not the players.  Boiler up, and beat Duke on Friday!

All is not lost for Purdue

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.

Big Ten tournament predictions

This afternoon, the 2010 Big Ten men’s basketball tournament tips off in Indianapolis.  This marks the beginning of the best five weekends of the year.

Game 1 Michigan vs Iowa – Without a doubt, Michigan has been the biggest disappointment in the conference this year.  The Wolverines beat top-seeded Ohio State at the beginning of January, and swept 6th-seeded Minnesota. Their other four conference wins came against the bottom three teams in the conference.  Iowa, meanwhile, has exceeded expectations by winning four conference games. Iowa has been playing hard, but they’ve got no answer for Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims.   Michigan by 11.

Game 2 Northwestern vs Indiana – After starting the season 10-2, it looked like Northwestern might make the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history, but without Kevin Coble it has been a tough season for the Wildcats.  They closed the regular season with an overtime loss to an underwhelming Indiana squad. The Hoosiers have played most of the season without their best player as well, which has contributed to their 4-14 season. They’ve had trouble against Northwestern, but Indianapolis is practically a home game, and I think they’re ready to pull off an upset.  Indiana by 4.

Game 3 Minnesota vs Penn State – Penn State is a better team than their record suggests. The Nittany Lions closed the season by nearly upsetting Michigan State and Purdue.  Talor Battle receiving help from his teammates has been the difference in the late part of the season.  In fact, Penn State looked better against Purdue when Battle was on the bench being treated for leg cramps.  On the other end, Tubby Smith plays Minnesota deeper than any other team in the Big Ten, with every player on the roster getting at least 2 minutes per game, and no one in the thirties.  That kind of depth, along with the multiple threats that the Gophers pose, will spell the end of the season for the defending NIT champs.  Minnesota by 7.

Game 4 Ohio State vs Game 1 (Michigan) – Thad Matta’s strategy is the exact opposite of Tubby Smith, keeping the starters in for most of the game. The key to OSU having a successful tournament run will be the ability to keep that level of effort going.  And, of course, Evan Turner, who was out with a back injury when Michigan defeated the Buckeyes in January.  Ohio State is the hottest team in the conference right now, and with the best player in the country healthy, Michigan will miss the tournament again.  Ohio State by 10.

Game 5 Wisconsin vs Illinois – These two teams faced off on Sunday to close the season, with Wisconsin blowing out the Illini in Champaign.  The Illini have been two different teams this season, but the bad team lately, having closed the season 1-5.  In large part, the fortunes of Illinois follow the performance of Demitri McCamey.  Illinois is playing for a tournament appearance, and a win here would help reserve them a space.  However, the Badgers have been playing very well of late, excepting a loss to Minnesota.  Wisconsin by 8.

Game 6 Purdue vs Game 2 (Indiana) – The conventional wisdom is that it is very difficult to beat a team three times in one year, but most Purdue fans are looking forward to a potential re-rematch against an in-state rival that has looked really bad lately.  Without Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers need to re-prove themselves and a convincing win on Friday would do just that.  The Hoosiers ended the season by snapping their second 10-game losing streak of the year. People in Bloomington would love to see Tom Crean’s team win this game, but they’re at least another year out from that.  Purdue by 6.

Game 7 Michigan State vs Game 3 (Minnesota) – If the Gophers want to make it into the NCAA tournament, they need to win this game.  With wins against Wisconsin and Illinois in February, and a pair of close games against Michigan State, that doesn’t seem out of reach.  Michigan State has looked vulnerable in losses to Purdue and Ohio State and a near-loss to Penn State and will note the absence of Chris Allen.  If the Minnesota guards can contain Kalin Lucas, they’ll move on to the semifinals. Minnesota by 2.

Game 8 Game 4 (Ohio State) vs Game 5 (Wisconsin) – Both teams ended the season by dismantling Illinois and they’ve yet to face each other healthy. Wisconsin defeated a Turner-less OSU in Madison and then fell in Columbus when Jon Leuer had a broken wrist.  This is definitely the sexiest matchup of the tournament, and will be a good chance for Evan Turner or the Badgers to impress people.  Despite what the Big Ten media might think, Bo Ryan is the better coach and I think he’ll have his hot team a little hotter.  Wisconsin by 4.

Game 9 Game 6 (Purdue) vs Game 7 (Minnesota) – Losing Robbie Hummel in the first half of the game in Minneapolis nearly derailed Purdue, it was all the Boilers could do to stay in the game and manage a very close win. Minnesota still hopes to be invited to the big dance, and defeating two of the Big Ten co-champions on consecutive days would give their resume a nice boost.  By spreading the minutes around, Tubby Smith should ensure that his team is relatively well-rested, and the Gophers have a range of weapons.  However, Purdue can shut down any weapon that you can bring. If E’Twaun Moore has come out of his recent slump, the Boilers will have a chance to defend their tournament title.  Purdue by 6.

Game 10 Game 8 (Wisconsin) vs Game 9 (Purdue) – Purdue has had Wisconsin’s number in recent years, going 5-1 against them in regular season play the past three years.  If Purdue can manage to win the tournament, they can ensure they remain a high seed in the NCAA tournament and certain sportscasters will be told where to go.  Wisconsin won the first matchup this season even after losing Jon Leuer mid-game and nearly got the upset in West Lafayette on the back of Keaton Nankivil’s 25 points.  This may be the lowest-scoring game of the tournament, but Purdue will have a hard time containing the Badgers without the help of Robbie Hummel. Wisconsin by 7.

A tale of two Mackeys

It was the happiest of crowds, it was the saddest of crowds.  That’s how I’d describe the 14,123 fans who filled Purdue’s Mackey Arena on Sunday afternoon to watch the Boilermakers play host to Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans.  A win would have kept Purdue in sole possession of the Big Ten lead and an easy road to the first conference championship, but everything changed in Minneapolis on Wednesday night. Robbie Hummel’s torn ACL was big news in college basketball, so big that “Robbie Hummel” was a trending topic on Twitter for a while.

The national media gave up on Purdue very quickly. After Kansas and Kentucky both lost on Saturday, there wasn’t even mention of the fact that #3 Purdue might win against the 13th-ranked Spartans and would be the default choice for a #1 ranking. Loyal Boilermaker fans refused to be swayed by the lack of confidence displayed by writers and analysts across the country, though, and they showed up early to give their team encouragement.

Twenty minutes before tip-off, the seats were nearly full.  By the time the teams came out for the game, Mackey Arena was as loud an energetic as I’d ever heard it.  Two hours later, the fans were slowly shuffling out in disbelief.  A game that was winnable and would make a big statement turned into a seeming vindication of the doubters.

My good friends over at BoiledSports.com have already written about some of the numbers from yesterday’s game, so I won’t repeat the effort.  While it is obvious that Purdue could have benefited from Hummel’s presence, his absence wasn’t the difference maker.  It’s hard to blame E’Twaun Moore for his poor shooting, since Tom Izzo made sure he was always covered in a sea of green.  But you can blame Chris Kramer (never thought you’d hear me say that, eh?) for committing five turnovers.  You can blame JaJuan Johnson for spending most of the day away from the basket.  You can blame Kramer and Keaton Grant for not pulling the trigger on open threes. You can even blame Tom O’Neill, Curtis Shaw, and John Higgins for repeatedly missing MSU walks in the first half.

Still, there are positives to take away from the game.  Patrick Bade, while not very impressive on the box score, looked about as good as he had all season.  He looked like a basketball player today, albeit a young and confused one, and he’ll need to continue this in order to give Purdue a non-Johnson inside presence.  The defense as a whole played quite well, as evidenced by the low score.  Michigan State had more turnovers than made baskets, and that gives the offense a lot more breathing room.

Up next is the final home game of the year, against a comically bad Indiana team.  Anything less than a 20-point win on Wednesday should be disappointing to Purdue fans, especially given that it is Senior Night (maybe Mark Wohlford will even get to play).  After that, the season closes for Purdue at Penn State. The Nittany Lions have finally figured out how to win a few basketball games, and this one might not be as easy a win for the Boilers as some might expect.  Still, if Chris Kramer (and/or Lewis Jackson) can keep Talor Battle contained, there’s no reason Purdue shouldn’t end up 14-4.

This means that Purdue will likely end the season sharing the title with Ohio State and Michigan State.  Michigan State closes out the season with home games against Penn State and Michigan, and has no business losing either of those two contests.  Ohio State has only to host Illinois on Tuesday night.  Illinois has lost 3 of the last 4 games, but will be playing for an invitation to the NCAA tournament, so they should keep it close.

The fact remains that there’s still a lot of basketball to be played, and Purdue fans have a lot to be proud of.  In the tradition of “One Brick Higher“, expect to see 14,123 loud fans on Wednesday night.

Beonard’s Losers — 2009, Week 7

This week’s show (no recording this week, too busy with this)

I’m not even going to talk about Purdue football anymore.  As of this writing, we are just under 20 days from the start of basketball season.  I have to admit, though, it did warm my heart to see that IU lost so spectacularly.  I wasn’t as pleased with Michigan losing, although I’m normally not opposed to the idea.  I picked Iowa to be upset again this week, in the hopes that the Badgers will be a bit kinder to me.  I said earlier this season that Iowa isn’t as good as they seem to be, and I stand by that, although I’m quickly being made to look the fool.

On a happier note, I’ve discovered a Big Ten blog called “First and Big Ten“.  It’s been a great insight into the other teams around the conference, and a valuable reference when it comes time to write my Beonard’s Losers scripts.

Beonard’s Losers, Week 3

This weeks show (with unshakable cold goodness)

A few big wins last week have shaken up the college football scene.  Who would have seen Houston upending top-5 Oklahoma State?  For the Big Ten conference, this week had several opportunities to regain some of the respect it used to have.  It didn’t go as well perhaps as commissioner Jim Delaney would have liked, but there were some good games.  Purdue nearly upset Oregon in Eugene, Michigan defeated Notre Dame, Indiana managed to not lose to Western Michigan, Iowa dismantled Iowa State (I thought that game would be much closer).  On the other hand, Ohio State lost to USC (but in a quality game that bodes well for the rest of the season), Wisconsin took two overtimes to beat Fresno State, and Michigan State lost to an underrated Central Michigan squad.

So while the Big Ten at least managed to avoid any big embarrassments, there’s still plenty of football to be played, including this week’s games.

Technical notes: recorded with a headset this weekend, the audio quality is way better.  But the show doesn’t sound that great, due to my cold. Which is also why it is being posted less than an hour before the first games kickoff.  Sorries.

NCAA tournament — week 2

As awesome as March Madness is, it is even more fun when you have a horse in the race.  For all the crap the Big Ten has had to put up with this year, it did pretty well this weekend.  The only major upset was (5)Illinois, and given the history of the 5-12 matchup, that’s almost expected.  (8)Ohio State’s 2OT loss to Siena wasn’t their best effort, but 9 beating 8 is generally not too uncommon.  (I’d like to pause here to point out that even though my blog post from last week picked tOSU, my bracket actually has Sienna making it to the second round.)  Overall, the Big Ten went 3-3 against higher seeded teams and 3-2 against lower-seeded teams.  Let’s put this another way:  10.9% of the field of 64 hailed from the Big 10.  In the second round and Sweet 16, the Big Ten represents 12.5% of the field.  Not exactly dominant, but certainly respectable.  Those who have been drinking the haterade can be silent now.

(2)Michigan State faces (3)Kansas.  I’m not quite sure what to make of this game, since I picked (14)NDSU to get the upset in the first round.  My bracket has (6)West Virginia getting the upset here, but (11)Dayton killed that for me.  (3)Kansas has done much better than expected, considering how much talent they lost last year.  The real question is will they be able to sustain their run?  On the other hand, I’ve never quite bought in to Michigan State.  They’re good, but I don’t think they’re Elite 8 good.  Kansas will carry on, my wayward son.

(5)Purdue has made a habit of getting out to an early lead only to let off the gas (offensively, at least) in the second half.  This game will come down to Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson vs (1)Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet.  Thabeet has a 5-inch advantage on Johnson, and will keep the Boilermakers from getting too many rebounds, but Johnson’s 15-foot jump shot will prove tough to defend (it will also open up Robbie Hummel to get a few offensive boards).  If Purdue can avoid the second-half slumpsies, I say there are even odds.  Past performance dictates there’s a 70% chance UConn will be 1337.

Into the NCAA tournament

Boy, what fun the Big Ten Tournament turned out to be!  Of course, there are several teams who probably wished it had gone differently.  Beating Purdue on Friday night instead of getting pummeled (Hummeled?) might have been enough to get Penn State into the Big Dance.  Winning the tournament might have given Michigan State a #1 seed, since everyone else in the country insisted on losing.  Purdue even perhaps regret that their first tournament championship is rewarded by a trip to Portland, Oregon while the runner-up Buckeyes get to travel all the way to…..Dayton.

I don’t really care to go through the entire bracket and talk about my picks in each place.  Instead, let’s look at the Big Ten teams in the first and second round.

(2) Michigan State heads to Minneapolis to face Robert Morris.  While the second seed has lost the opener in the past, it’s a pretty rare occurence, and the Spartans will survive to face the winner of USC/BC.  I’ve picked both teams in different brackets, but I don’t think either of them will be able to stop Michigan State from making it to the Sweet 16.

(5) Purdue finally seems to have gotten in rhythm, but the question is how consistent will they be?  With Robbie Hummel healthy and back in shape, Northern Iowa will be one-and-done.  On Saturday, the Boilermakers will get the winner of Washington/Mississippi State.  Mississippi State is riding high after their improbable win in the SEC tourney, but Washington is playing much closer to home.  Having not seein either team, I’ll have to say that Washington will be the team that gets to lose to Purdue.

(5) Illinois fans are complaining that they got seeded too low.  What they should be complaining about is the fact that Chester Frazier appears to be out for at least the first round, which could be a problem.  The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have a descent basketball heritage, and I like them to get the upset.  Even if they don’t, President Obama says the Illini don’t survive this weekend.

(8) The Ohio State University won’t even need to bring luggage as they travel the 70 miles to Dayton.  They’ll get to face Siena, at team I like for an upset.  However, when you consider the fact that Evan Turner and BJ Mullens are likely auditioning for the NBA draft, it seems reasonable that tOSU will win.  Even so, they won’t be able to overcome Big East powerhouse Louisville.

(10) Michigan has the potential to upset Clemson, especially if Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are having a good night.  However, after Harris broke Chris Kramer’s nose, I swore myself to not endorse the Wolverines for the rest of the season.  I might end up being wrong, but I’ll knock Michigan out in the first round.

(10) Minnesota should have been left out in favor of Penn State.  I know the Gophers look better from an objective standpoint, but the simple fact is that they’ve looked like crap lately.  That’s why I think they won’t be able to beat the Longhorns.

(12) Wisconsin is lucky to be here after the start they had to the conference season.  Florida State is lucky to draw the Badgers, since that gets them into the second round.

So where does that leave us?  Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Illinois are one-and-done.  tOSU is gone after the second round.  Purdue and Michigan we’ll see next week.  That doesn’t do much for a conference trying to silence critics.