It is time for the most dreaded opponent of the college basketball season: The bye. For the final time in Big Ten play we are the odd team out with no opponent to play as everyone around us plays. It is the weekend where we look to others (specifically Minnesota) for help since we cannot help ourselves. If you were into NCAA Basketball betting this may be one of the best weekends for Ohio state to pickup a loss since the Golden Gophers played them tough in Columbus, they have the size to deal with Jared Sullinger, and they play tough in the Barn.
This bye comes at a good time for Purdue. I think we need a break with the home stretch coming up. These next eight games are critical for us to get a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament. Our goal should still be a top 3 seed to avoid a #1 for as long as possible. That goal is doable with a 7-1 finish. We now have some time off to rest and work on fine tuning a few things, which is really allt hat needs to be done in order to turn close losses into wins. Let's break down each game from easiest to hardest.
vs. Indiana - The Hoosiers are playing some good basketball at the moment, but it would still take a special effort for them to beat us in Mackey Arena. I thought the win over Illinois was a fluke because the Fighting Illini played so poorly, but the win over Minnesota was legit. That said, it would be embarrassing to lose to them in Mackey. This current team has never lost to them in West Lafayette.
At Iowa - I'm not sure what got into the Hawkeyes last night against Michigan State, but they shot the lights out. Of course, everyone seems to be doing that against Michigan State. If the Hawkeyes keep playing like that this game won't be easy, but it should be easier than the others.
At Michigan State - Amazingly, this road game looks a lot less daunting after Michigan State barely went 1-2 against the weakest three teams in the league. I would have never believed that if you told me before the season. Unless they turn things around in a hurry they may not even make the NCAA Tournament.
Vs. Illinois - I almost moved this higher, but you never know what Illinois team will show up: The one that handled Penn state easily or the one that crapped itself at Indiana. That said, it will be Senior Day. I don't think we send JaJuan Johnson and E`Twaun Moore, two of the best to ever wear Gold and Black, out with a loss in their final game at Mackey Arena.
At Indiana - I used to have this in the lock win category, but after they have wont here straight I am not so sure. We should win in Bloomington, but even last year's team took it to the final possession. That's why it is a rivalry game. We're going to get everything they have.
At Illinois - This one could be tough, but it is our best chance left at a road win. Personally, I am not going to get too uptight about the road situation yet. We've been in three of our four road losses in the last minute. All NCAA Tournament games are on a neutral floor anyway. Also, the common denominator in two of the three close losses: Jim Burr, the official who is most swayed by a home crowd in the country. this is the most daunting road game left.
Vs. Wisconsin - The Badgers are a solid team, but I think we earn the split when they come to Mackey Arena. For some reason we're a much different team at home. The X-factor is Keaton Nankivil, who loves to shoot at Mackey Arena. He is approximately 4,702 of 4,710 from long range at Mackey in his career. This is a must win game (as are the ones above) if we're going to get that top 3 seed, especially since the committee loves to look at how you finish.
Vs. Ohio State - This is where I see the loss coming of our 7-1 finish. I just don't think we can beat them after the way they smacked us around in Columbus. We were completely undisciplined on defense (a shock for us) and they made us pay. Our only chance of getting a piece of the Big Ten title is if we win this one and two other teams do us a favor.
Os there you have it. Maybe I am too optimistic for thinking a 7-1 finish is possible, but I know in my heart it is and that would set us up as best as possible for the Tournament. This season has always been about March anyway, and I see no reason to give up on Project Houston.