It isn't quite the same as losing Robbie Hummel last year before the tournament, but the announcement that Kelsey Barlow would be suspended for the NCAA Tournament is both frustrating and highly disappointing. Yes, he doesn't average much (five points, three rebounds, and an assist), but he is still a key cog in our defensive philosophy. We have no one else that matches his size and athleticism on the defensive end. I still say he can be a heck of a rebounder if he chooses to crash the boards, and Purdue is generally a much better team when Barlow busting his hump.
In fact, the last two games should be a sign of what his absence can bring. Barlow has done very little over the past two games and we have lacked a spark on both ends of the floor. We're not the type of team that can shrug off even a role player and expect not to miss him. Since we play such team-oriented basketball everything only works well when all the parts are present and functioning. If just one small thing is missing everything can seize up. Here is what we lose:
1. Defense - When he is on, Barlow is a shut down defensive guard with great size on the perimeter. He has the athleticism to defend both guard spots as well as small forwards with his frame. Now we will be at a major disadvantage when we play quicker, more athletic guards such as Chris Wright in round two against Georgetown. The potential of seeing Notre Dame in the Sweet 16 just became a much worse matchup too.
2. Offensive spark - Barlow doesn't score a lot, but it tends to be electric when he does. He can score off of a steal and break or throw down a vicious dunk in traffic that gets the crowd and the team going.
3. Rebounding - At 6'6" with the ability to leap out of the gym Barlow can be a great rebounder. Unfortunately, he has rarely chosen to do so. Every time I see him crash the boards with reckless abandon and pull down an offensive board I wonder why he hasn't done it more.
So how do we replace him? Like replacing Robbie, I think it is going to come from multiple sources. I think you will now see John Hart get a lot more minutes, as well as Terone Johnson. They are the most similar players we have to GDB. They offer more scoring, but not as much quickness on defense. They are better shooters from the field and, in general, don't tend to make some of the dumb mistakes that have earned Barlow hiss infamous GDB moniker. Both are 6'2", with TJ having 15 more pounds on Hart. That's giving up four inches of length (Barlow's best asset) but if these two players see this as an opportunity they can seize it and make a positive impact.
I am not going to say this is a crippling blow that eliminates any chance of making it to Houston, but (at least from what we have seen) it does limit our defensive options. The trade-off could be that it opens up the offense a little more with better jump shooters. TJ has been streaky at times, while Hart has proven earlier this season he can be a scorer if we need him. It sucks, but like everything else we have had to endure with this team we have two choices: feel sorry for ourselves or deal with it and move on. Credit to coach Painter for enforcing the rules regardless of the circumstances.