It is funny. I turned on Sportscenter this morning and one of the headlines on the left side of the screen was, "Purdue Pushed". I think that is fairly accurate. We struggled with shooting. Minnesota played tough defense. The Gophers outworked us for rebounds and claimed most of the loose balls. As coach Painter said, he felt we got outplayed.
We still won by 19 points.
Honestly, what is it going to take for us to lose in Mackey Arena this year? There was barely a Paint Crew section last night, and we still had tons of energy. It got so loud at some points that my surround sound system made it feel like I was at the game. We will have a full Paint Crew contingent for the rest of the season, making things even worse for visiting teams.
I think we only have three serious challenges left at home. Next week against Ohio State (if Evan Turner is indeed fully healthy), January 28th against Wisconsin, and February 28th against Michigan State appear to be the only games where we should have a tough home game. Even then, with the way we close teams out in the second half I find it hard to believe we're losing a home game. I don't know if it is the crowd, the students, or if we simply like shooting at the north basket. If we're playing in Mackey Arena, we can overcome even this:
I don't know what is worse: This, or Digger in drag
Positives from the Minnesota game:
Chris Kramer - I give you the argument yesterday from my colleague over at From the Barn:
"Chris Kramer fouls every play, but gets the calls often enough to be considered a "great" defender, even though he has not made a three pointer this year." - From the Barn
Kramer fouling on every play, that's debatable. I will agree that he does get away with some thing, but I noticed something about our defense against West Virginia. We tend to get right up on guys and we have almost a sixth sense about how close we can get without touching when we swipe at the ball. Is this because all of our players were experts as kids with the, "I'm not touching you!" game? I think the real answer to this questions lies with the respective brothers and sisters of our players. Will someone please get Matt Kramer, Jonathan and Michael Wohlford, James Grant, Ezell Moore, and Dan Hummel on the phone? I need an answer to this question.
Ironically, it was Kramer's offense that made more of a difference in this game. I laugh every time someone says that Kramer is a one-dimensional player and not an offensive threat. First of all, he gets to the line for his offense either by driving or because we trust him with the ball in late game situations. He is shooting 80% once he gets there. Second, last night was his fourth game this season in which he reached double figures. It was also his season high, topping 14 at Alabama and against Buffalo. And yes, he finally made a 3-pointer (and a big one) but he was a 29% shooter from long range in his career before this season. To me, Kramer is even more of a threat because he can have these random 15 point games when people least expect it. As a freshman he averaged 7.2 per game with a high of 19 at Iowa, so this isn't anything new.
Offensive balance - It was the Big Three plus one last night with Kramer's contributions. Still, our scoring was more than JJ, Robbie, and E'Twaun throwing in 16 or more apiece. Ryne Smith hit a pair of big threes at critical junctures. D.J. Byrd had a big basket. Kelsey Barlow and Keaton Grant only had two points each, but their baskets came at big times. Sometimes it isn't how much you score, but where you score that matters more.
E`Twaun Moore - 18 points is nice, but his five assists are even better. I don't know if anyone has noticed, but E'Twaun has emerged as quite a shot-blocker in the past two games. I think I have noticed E'Twaun's athleticism a little bit more in the last few games. It is kind of under-rated, really. He may not be making plays that show up in the stat line, but he is influencing the game more on both ends of the floor. We also saw a dagger basket when he elevated to drill a 16-foot jumper in the closing minutes. My only caveat: 5 for 10 from the line is not going to get it done.
Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson - It is very hard for us to lose when Robbie and JJ each get double-doubles. I think JJ was even more aggressive in going after blocked shots last night too. He had more help side defense, which allows him to hang back and play volleyball. If he knows he can do this without fouling the first row is going to need helmets with the number of blocks he racks up. As for Robbie, I have run out of adjectives to describe his play.
The Fun factor - A few of you readers have been ribbing me about the "pep talk" I gave this team after the Wake Forest game when I asked about them being a second half team. I wish I could take credit for it. Look at some of these games though. At Alabama. At Iowa. West Virginia. Minnesota. Wake Forest. These are all games in which this team has been simply fun to watch in the second half. I couldn't even comment on the open thread at times last night. I wanted to just sit back and marvel at how good this team is.
Mackey Arena - Last night was win #500 at Mackey since it opened in 1967. Great job, fellas!
Negatives from the Minnesota game:
Turnovers - This probably needs to be credited to Minnesota, which is a really good team in its own right. I'm just not used to 17 turnovers in a game. It has the potential to get worse on Saturday too against Wisconsin.
Offensive rebounding - Again, credit to Minnesota for this negative. They outworked us on the offensive glass and stayed alive (so to speak) with second chance points. I honestly think we wore them out like we have with so many other opponents.
In 1993-94 we started 14-0. On January 15th we took that record north, to Wisconsin, and came back with a 75-69 loss to the #12 Badgers. We would only lose three other times that season: at Penn State, against Michigan at home, and at Indiana. Will history repeat itself?
The game at Wisconsin figures to be the toughest we have played this year. Unlike West Virginia, Wisconsin knows us. They have played four hard fought games against us the past two seasons. We have won all four too. Their players and their fans will remember this. Since the Kohl Center opened, it has been hard for any team to win there. We have done it twice in a row. Getting three will be very difficult.
We can do it though. This is a matchup of the two best defensive teams in the league. If the Badgers win in East Lansing tonight the stakes will get even higher. Saturday's game would then give the winner the early edge in the Big Ten race. Fortunately, we are in a position where we are winning games, but can still get better. I mean come on, we just won by 19 over a very good team in which we didn't play that well. That is not a bad position to be in. What happens when we do start playing better? What happens when we start shooting better? What happens when (if?) LewJack returns?
Even if we lose, that does not ruin our hopes for a #1 seed. It would be far from a "bad loss", which I feel this team is incapable of doing. A win, however, gives us yet another victory in a tough road venue and would leave just seven road games remaining. Since we're not losing at home this year, that is a big step towards that #1 seed.