It's amazing how things have changed in the last 36 hours. When I went to bed Thursday night I was marveling at how things were coming together and, with a solid performance on Sunday, visions of finishing the year with a 7-game winning streak were going through my head.
Then Kelsey Barlow and D.J. Byrd went to Where Else instead of going to the Cactus like most normal people at Purdue do on Thursdays. Nothing bad ever happens at the Cactus because Bruce Barker is the great peacemaker (SOCIAL!!!!).
So now Barlow and Byrd are gone: Byrd for this game and Barlow forever. I find myself feeling bad for Barlow as a person because I want the kid to land on his feet, but it is clear he continually gets in his own way. We now face the biggest home game of the year in terms of opponent without two of the players that have been critical in our important turnaround.
Strangely, I am not scared. I am feeling that we're going to pull the upset just to shut everyone up because I can see this team rallying around the adversity. They've done it before, and can do it again.
2010-11 Record: 19-15, 9-9 Big Ten
2011-12 Record: 21-5, 10-3 Big Ten
Postseason Result: Lost 78-76 to UCLA in NCAA First Round
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 65-47
Last Purdue win: 2/27/2011 at Michigan State 67-47
Last Michigan State win: 1/21/2012 at Michigan State 83-58 (MSU has won two in a row)
Time & TV 1pm, CBS
First off, if you think we have no chance of winning this game because Byrd and Barlow are out, leave now. You won't like what I have to say, and if you're giving up already there is very little point in watching the rest of the season.
This game has a ton of subplots. We have the Byrd/Barlow situation. We have Brendan Dawson acting like an ass in the last game and Matt Painter acting a little too self-righteous for my tastes right back at him. We have the Izzone/Robbie Hummel situation. I like what Tom Izzo said about it, but I think the whole situation was overblown and that Painter himself got a little too involved.
In terms of real game matchups, Purdue should greatly benefit from being rested and sleeping in their own beds tonight. Even with all the travel issues (subplot #4) we still were in the game for most of the first half before things really got out of control. It was 20-20 with just over five minutes left in the half when the Spartans pulled away, so it is not like we were blown out from the beginning.
Obviously, we're going to have to shoot better to have a chance. Robbie Hummel had probably the worst game of his career in East Lansing. He won't go 0 for 11 again. John Hart and Lewis Jackson were our leading scorers with 10 each, but most of Hart's points came after the game was decided. With Byrd and Barlow out, I expect Hart to see some more minutes unless some rumors about him re-injuring his foot are true.
Byrd and Barlow combined for 13 points in this game, but it was poor shooting and fatigue leading to a defensive collapse that led to the 25 point loss. I think we can expect a starting lineup of LewJack, Terone Johnson, Ryne Smith or Anthony Johnson, Travis Carroll, and Rob. Off the bench Jacob Lawson and Sandi Marcius will need to play to counter Draymond Green Adreian Payne, and Derrick Nix. Hart can play a bigger role out of necessity, while Dru Anthrop could see a few minutes out of necessity since our depth at guard is lacking.
Laugh if you will, but in 30 minutes of playing with his hair on fire Anthrop has been incredibly efficient with six points, five assists, nine rebounds, three steals, a block, and zero turnovers. He's a junior, he's on scholarship, and he's a smart player. He's ready to get minutes if we need him to.
If Hart is indeed hurt, we're down to nine scholarship players: Hummel, LewJack, Ryno, AJ, TJ, The Law, The Chooch, TC, and the Bastard Son of Bobby Buckets. We can look at it one of two ways. 1. We're hopelessly screwed, or 2. It is an opportunity for others to step up. You can only play with the hand you are dealt, s there is very little use in whining about who is not there.
Here is how I would do it: AJ, TJ, and LewJack need to attack the basket relentlessly and attempt to get to the line. No jump shots from them unless they are absolutely wide open and in rhythm. AJ has to play and play well, while TJ needs to continue his run of solid play. He had a very nice 12 point, six assist, no turnover game at Illinois. As the now backup point guard, it is his time now.
From three we're going to be limited, but given our struggles in the past this could be a blessing. We have relied on the three way too much at times, but with Rob and Ryno as our only viable options we may have to attack the rim out of necessity. Since I have been crying for this to happen for months, it could be good.
That brings me to TC, the Chooch, and the Law. We have to give them the ball and at least give them a chance. We've had some nice backdoor cut options in the past few games, especially from TC. With TJ and LewJack attacking the rim they have been able to find that backdoor option streaking in TC, Lawson, and The Chooch a few times. It may have been once or twice per game, but now it becomes more important. If it is there, take it!
Defensively we have to have a similar philosophy. We absolutely must play team-oriented basketball on both ends where the unit is more important than the individual. We have shown countless times in the past that when this group functions as a unit, moving, switching, setting screens, attacking, etc; it is light years better than the individual parts. Austin Thornton hit three triples last time, so we must guard the perimeter. Brendan Dawson feasted on getting into the paint, so we must deny him. If need be, we need to step up and take a charge or two. Green was active on the glass for 12 boards, so we have to go to work.
The group we have is entirely capable of pulling this upset, but only if all nine of them are on the same page and functioning as a team. That's where it comes down to Ryno, Rob, and LewJack. They are the seniors and the leaders. This is their time and their legacy. They do not want to finish their careers quietly. It is time for them to fight with the tenacity and lead with the ability we absolutely know they are capable of.
This group can absolutely win tomorrow, but only if it returns to its roots of playing Purdue Basketball. Fight like mad bastards and feed off the crowd. We are with you and we believe.