We have been humbled a bit. With the 14-0 start we were getting respect, but many people (myself included), got a little greedy. When there was the smallest slight against us, such as Gary Parrish's article, we collectively went apeshit. Worst of all, the team backed it up by crapping the bed in the final four minutes Tuesday night. It feels like we have had to serve a two game punishment almost for trying to become one of the worshipped teams in college basketball. Now we find ourselves squarely back under the radar, like everyone else.
I am fine with that. We play better under those conditions. I think we all need to collectively calm down. People that were giving up already on winning the conference title (again, myself included), need to relax. We're two back in the loss column with 14 to play. More importantly, we have two games each against the teams we trail. In that regard, we still control our own destiny to win this whole thing. If we reel off another five or six in a row, as we are fully capable of doing, this will be forgotten. If we win in East Lansing it erases the loss to Ohio State. We've had our one WTF loss at home (which seems to be required under Matt Painter), so it won't happen again.
I think we are going to see an angry team tomorrow. Northwestern is a desperate team playing at home. They need another name win to keep their NCAA chances alive even though they have had one of the roughest schedules to start conference play. I was scared about this game before the season started. I was so scared that I actually predicted this is where our undefeated run would end. A different run will end tomorrow, and that is our two game losing streak.
2008-09 record: 17-14, 8-10 Big Ten (Lost to Tulsa 68-69 in NIT First Round)
2009-10 record: 12-4, 1-3 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 118-42
Last Purdue win: 1/15/09 at Northwestern 63-61
Last Northwestern win: 3/4/09 at Purdue 64-61
It is somewhat ironic that Northwestern is next. They were the last team to beat us in Mackey Arena. That loss was also in similar fashion. Purdue was in control throughout until they completely fell apart in the final eight minutes. That was last year's Senior Night loss, which was one of the worst stretches I have ever seen us play. We simply refused to rebound. We let Northwestern, one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the country, get second chance after second chance against us. That broke a five game winning streak against the Wildcats. Before that streak, Northwestern had actually won six of the previous seven games. That means despite the historical series being heavily in our favor, Northwestern holds a slight 7-6 edge in the last 13 games.
Even our win in Evanston wasn't comfortable. In that game it was Northwestern that fell apart at home. It was one of many close losses at home that cost the Wildcats their first NCAA Tournament berth last year. The Wildcats had six conference losses that very easily could have been wins. Four of them should have with losses to Penn State and Iowa and blown leads against Purdue and Illinois.
This Northwestern team on paper may be slightly better even with the season ending injury to Kevin Coble. They have quality wins over Notre Dame, Stanford, North Carolina State (on the road) and Iowa State. They have enough remaining conference games in which they will favored to get to 20 wins, but Sippin' On Purple still thinks they need at least one more upset win.
The loss of Coble hurts, but this is still a good team. They have balanced scoring led by John Shurna (17.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Michael Thompson (14 ppg, 4.4 apg) has been very impressive at running the point and being a go-to scorer. Freshman Drew Crawford (10.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) has had an excellent debut season. He had 35 against North Carolina A&T and 25 in Northwestern's lone Big Ten win at Michigan.
Northwestern is not a deep team, which makes their record with the loss of Coble even more impressive. They only have a seven man rotation of players that average 10 minutes per game. Their offensive and defensive style lends itself to a smaller bench though. They extend every possession and rarely let teams run up and down the floor on them. That leads to an efficient 1.29 points per possession for a team that only shoots 43% from the field.
Jeremy Nash (8.6 ppg), Luka Mirkovic (7.2 ppg), Alex Marcotullio (6.5 ppg), and Kyle Rowley (2.2 ppg) round out the rotation. We could also see Ivan Peljusic who has played in 13 games, but only averages seven minutes. All seven players are capable of scoring though because the offense is heavily geared towards passing, finding the open man, and backdoor cuts. The 6'11" Mirkovic could cause us trouble to as he is active all over the floor like our own JaJuan Johnson.
Northwestern is a better rebounding team than last year. They were solidly the worst in the conference a year ago, but they are now seventh overall and eighth in offensive rebounds. By comparison, we average only 0.6 more rebounds per game. They are third in the conference in 3-point shooting at 36%, so we must guard the perimeter well. Thompson is the best shooter from long range at better than 40%.
Thompson is probably the closest player to an Evan Turner or Jordan Taylor when it comes to guys that can break us down off the dribble and create his own shot. That said, he isn't that close to being as good as Turner and Taylor, which is a welcome relief because those two guys destroyed us in our last two games. He thrives on taking care of the basketball and getting good looks. Northwestern as a team is among the best in the conference at taking care of the basketball, averaging 11 turnovers per game.
What scares me about facing the Wildcats is facing their defense. In both games last year we acted like we had no idea whatsoever in how to attack their 1-3-1 zone. The same is true from Tuesday's Ohio State game. Let's be honest, if Robbie Hummel had not been hot enough to melt steel in the first half we would have lost by 15. We still have not proved we know how to attack that defense. We would rather settle for threes and even stop and dribble rather than keep moving toward the basket.
JJ needs to have a big game tomorrow. He can dominate this team in all aspects like he did against West Virginia. We should be worried if we start settling for jump shots even if they are falling. We have to get everyone involved in the scoring because that is what Northwestern makes you do. They make you value every possession because it is going to be a low scoring affair. That is why efficiency is the key. Our most efficient shot is getting the ball to JJ on the low block and letting him thunderdunk. If we consistently look to get the ball inside we will win going away. That is what Illinois did with Mike Tisdale two weeks ago and he dropped 31 on them.
I do think we're going to have an angry team tomorrow. I don't know what exactly happen, but I would be willing to bet that the last few days of practice have been among the most intense under Painter. We have been soft defensively for two straight games. You won't see that tomorrow.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Hit Free throws (this more than anything cost us two games)
- Look to JJ first on offense
- Don't stand around against their zone
- Cringe in fear when Kelsey Barlow s handling the ball against the zone
- Be awake for backdoor cuts to the basket
Purdue 68, Northwestern 58