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.

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.

Big Ten Tournament predictions

The Big Ten men’s basketball tournament begins in less than 15 hours.  This has been a very unpredictable season, but that’s what makes predicting the tournament so much fun.  Here are my predictions, with less commentary than is necessary.  I’ve tried to be neutral, and I’m probably completely wrong.  But if I’m right, I could win $250 from the local newspaper!

First round

Minnesota vs Northwestern — The last time these two teams faced off, Northwestern got spanked.  So despite the fact that the Wildcats won the first meeting, they’ll be angry when they face the Gophers.  Not to mention the fact that Northwestern has a chance to make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.  Winner: Northwestern

Michigan vs Iowa — Despite a surprise defeat of Penn State last weekend, Iowa is still legitimately the 10th best team in the conference.  Michigan has beaten #2 and #3, and they’re in a much happier place.  Winner: Michigan

Penn State vs Indiana — Indiana has shown considerable improvement and I thought they’d win their first round game.  Then the brackets came out.  If Indiana wins, I’ll post a picture of myself wearing an IU sweatshirt.  Right side out, even.  Winner: Penn State


Michigan State vs Northwestern — Of all the lower seeds, Northwestern has the best chance of making a deep run.  Wins at Michigan State and at Purdue should give the Spartans a cause for concern too.  But can they handle playing two days in a row?  Michigan State will be rested, and one would expect ready to play. Hopefully a quarterfinal appearance will be enough to get Northwestern into the NCAA tourney.  Winner: Michigan State

Wisconsin vs Ohio State — It took a little while, but Wisconsin finally figured out what winning is.  The only time these teams met, it was a 5-point victory for the Badgers in Madison.  tOSU travels well, so Indianapolis may be like a home game for them.  This will be a close call, but I think Wisconsin will have a slight edge.  Winner: Wisconsin

Illinois vs Michigan — Illinois and Michigan split the series, each team winning at home.  Michigan may have beaten Duke and Purdue, but they’ll not be able to get a second win over Illinois this year.  Winner: Illinois

Purdue vs Penn State — Purdue has been very erratic this year, even with a healthy Robbie Hummel.  They’ll either win the tournament or lose their first game.  Penn State has been hot lately, but Indiana will wear them down more than they expect.  If the Boilers can shut down Taylor Battle again, it will be a relatively easy win.  Winner: Purdue


Michigan State vs Wisconsin — This is where Michigan State gets cocky.  Wisconsin will be tired, but determined.  It’s no fun to have the #1 seed win out, anyway. Winner: Wisconsin

Illinois vs Purdue — It’s hard to beat a team three times in one year.  The way Purdue sees it, they owe Illinois a drubbing.  On a home-ish court, and with all players healthy, the Boilermakers will get their revenge.  Winner: Purdue


Wisconsin vs Purdue — Remember what I said about it being hard to beat a team three times in a year?  That’s not always true.  This will be Wisconsin’s fourth game in as many days, and they’re simply not as good as Purdue.  If Purdue makes it this far (and that’s a big “if”), they’ll be able to put this one away by halftime.  Winner: Purdue