It flew under the radar this week, but the 2012-13 Men's Basketball schedule is now complete. The final two dates, which are the first two regular season games, were announced as our two home games in the 2K Sports Classic. Purdue will open the regular season on November 9 against Bucknell before hosting Hofstra two nights later.
As you no doubt know, this is an extremely young Purdue team, but one that is talented and I think should still make the NCAA Tournament and pull off a few upsets along the way. My modest goal for them is a top 6 Big Ten finish and a 15th straight first round NCAA Tournament win. Anything more than that is a reach, but I'll certainly take it. Our streak of 14 consecutive tournament appearances with at least one victory is the longest in the nation. the ultimate goal is, of course, six wins, but let's leave that out there for a year or two from now. The group we have coming in is The Next Step because Sweet 16s and Big Ten titles have already been done. It is up to them to move beyond that to Final Fours and National titles.
The final schedule is a tricky one, but not an impossible one. It offers plenty of chances for good non-conference victories that will help when March comes around. There are a lot of concerns, most notably three-point shooting and free throw shooting, that have to be addressed. Rebounding, at least, should be greatly improved.
Nov. 9 vs. Bucknell - We begin the year with a team that was 25-10 a year ago and upset Arizona on its home floor in the NIT. They would have been an NCAA team but they were upset at home 82-77 by Lehigh in the Patriot League final. Lehigh, as you know, went on to beat Duke in the NCAA first round. Arizona was an NIT No. 1 seed and Bucknell beat them by 11. the Bison are 2-3 in the NCAA tourney in the last 10 years, so they can be a legit dangerous team. I'm not sure what they have returning, but I expect this to be a challenging opener, especially since a win on the home floor of a major conference opponent would be very nice for their NCAA resume so they don't get left home again.
Nov. 11 vs. Hofstra - Hofstra was 10-22 a year ago and hasn't been to the NCAAs in 12 years. One of their 10 victories was over an Iona team we beat by a point in Puerto Rico.
Nov. 15 vs. Villanova at Madison Square Garden - This is consistently the most overrated team in the country, dating back to late in the 2010 season when they were essentially the same team as Purdue sans Robbie Hummel, only they never had him. they get a huge boost from the ZOMG TOTALLY AWESOME BIG EAST every year. They were 13-19 overall last season, which was their worst season in awhile. We have to win this game. No excuses.
Nov. 16 vs. Alabama or Oregon State at Madison Square Garden - If it is Alabama there will be a degree of familiarity there since it will be the fourth straight season we have played them. If it is Oregon State we get a team that was 21-15 a year ago, but played in the CBI tournament, reaching the final. Alabama was an NCAA team a year ago, so they would be the better opponent resume-wise.
Nov. 21 vs. UNC-Wilmington - This team was 10-21 and we're at home. That means there is no excuse for losing.
Nov. 28 at Clemson - This is the first true road game for The Next Step, much like a loss at Clemson in 2007 was the first true road game for the Baby Boilers. This Clemson team should be worse than that one after being 16-15 last year. True non-conference road wins are always gold on resumes and Purdue has won three in a row in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Dec. 1 vs. Xavier - Our first epic choke job last year came in Cincy against Xavier. The Musketeers lose a lot, but this is a perennial tournament team that regularly makes the Sweet 16. Picking up a win here would be very nice as this could be an NCAA team again.
Dec. 4 vs. Lamar - For the first time in almost 13 years a Knight will be on the sidelines at Mackey Arena. Will Pat Knight throw a chair for old time's sake? Lamar was an NCAA Tournament team a year ago but does not have a lot of size.They have a lot of seniors back from a 23-12 team, so this could be another quality win.
Dec. 8 at Eastern Michigan - I am always leery of going to a mid-major school's gym. As the bigger conference opponent you are the date they have circled on their calendar. Fortunately, Eastern Michigan sucks.
Dec. 15 vs. Notre Dame at Bankers Life Fieldhouse - All I am going to say is that this is the first regular season game against the Fighting Irish in almost 50 years and we must beat The Traitor. They join Alabama, Xavier, and Lamar as 2012 NCAA Tourney teams we face before the end of December.
Dec. 18 vs. Ball State - Purdue should always beat a .500 MAC team that defined MAC mediocrity.
Dec. 29 vs. William & Mary - The Tribe fell off to 6-26 last season after going 22-11 as recently as three years ago. They were also one of the worst offensive teams in the country, so this should be an easy win.
Jan. 2 vs. Illinois - If Purdue is going to make the NCAA Tournament it has to defend its home court against one of several teams that is also rebuilding after losing a lot. The Fighting Illini are definitely a team in transition.
Jan. 5 at Michigan State - Hopefully we can get there on time. I again draw a parallel to the Baby Boilers. They played an unexpectedly close game at MSU before reeling off 11 straight conference wins in 2007-08. I would be extremely pleased is The Next Step did the same. MSU is always going to be good, but they do lose a lot like many others.
Jan. 8 vs. Ohio State - I am probably going to be wrong, but I don't think very highly about this Ohio State team except for Aaron Craft and DeShaun Thomas. They are not going to be the juggernaut they have been in recent seasons. since we only play them at Mackey I would love to steal this one.
Jan. 13 vs. Penn State - You have got to beat the possible worst team in the league at home. No excuses.
Jan. 16 at Nebraska - Possibly the easiest road game in the conference, but it is still not easy. Purdue beat the Cornhuskers handily twice last season.
Jan. 19 vs. West Virginia - It won't have the same hype as the New Year's Day 2010 game, but this was another NCAA team a year ago even at 19-14 and our final chance for a solid non-conference win.
Jan. 24 at Michigan - The Wolverines have recruited really well, but Purdue played its best game last year in pulling off the upset in Ann Arbor. Mitch McGary vs. A.J. Hammons will be very fascinating.
Jan. 27 vs. Iowa - This game could decide a bid in the league. Iowa is a team that will fight for an NCAA bid from the Big Ten along with Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue, and maybe Wisconsin. You have to get the advantage at home.
Jan. 30 vs. Indiana - Regardless of record this is always the biggest game of the season. This time it could feature the No. 1 team in the nation vs. a team trying to make a statement with a young nucleus. I cannot wait. I expect an Indiana win, but a Purdue win would be really, really nice.
Feb. 2 at Northwestern - I think I can predict an agonizing 2-point Purdue win that Northwestern wishes later it had to make the NCAA Tournament. That seems to be the M.O. for every NW home game over the last few years.
Feb. 5 at Penn State - I hope we bring a mop and bucket to clean up the mess we made from absolutely crapping ourselves at the Bryce Jordan Center last year.
Feb. 9 vs. Michigan State - I see a top four in the Big Ten of Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and either Ohio State or Wisconsin. That makes this one of the better home games as well.
Feb. 13 at Illinois - This could be for placement in the Big Ten, and like most years, a sweep of the Illini would go a very long way towards making the NCAAs.
Feb. 16 at Indiana - As much as I would love to go to Bloomington and get a gigantic win, this Indiana team should be too good for Purdue to beat in Assembly Hall. I think most Purdue fans would be more than happy with a split with a win in Mackey.
Feb. 24 vs. Northwestern - NCAA Tournament teams beat Northwestern at home. Period.
Feb. 27 at Iowa - Depending on how the season goes for both teams this could be huge for NCAA positioning. Except for that awful game to finish 2011 we have had Iowa's number of late.
Mar. 3 at Wisconsin - It's always hard to win in Madison, but we're one of the few teams that seems to play well there.
Mar. 6 vs. Michigan - Round two of McGary vs. Hammons. It may have Big Ten title implications for the Wolverines and NCAA implications for Purdue.
Mar. 9 vs. Minnesota - This is our only game against Minnesota and it is not on the Demon Wood of Xibalba. You have to win it at home.
Games against 2012 NCAA Tournament teams 12 or 13: Alabama (maybe), Xavier, Lamar, Notre Dame, Michigan State (2), Ohio State, West Virginia, Michigan (2), Indiana (2), Wisconsin.
Games against 2012 NIT Teams 6: Bucknell, Northwestern (2), Iowa (2), Minnesota
Games against 2012 CBI teams 0 or 1: Oregon State (maybe)
T-Mill's off the cuff predicted wins 23: Bucknell, Hofstra, Villanova, UNC-Wilmington, at Clemson, Xavier, Lamar, at Eastern Michigan, Notre Dame, Ball State, William & Mary, Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, at Nebraska, West Virginia, Iowa, at Northwestern, at Penn State, at Illinois, Northwestern, at Iowa, Minnesota.
T-Mill's Upset Specials (Games Purdue could earn a shocking win in): Indiana, Michigan State, at Wisconsin, Michigan.
Teams that could stun Purdue: Bucknell, Xavier, Iowa (home), Northwestern (Home or away).
Toss-up games: Alabama or Oregon State, Notre Dame, West Virginia, at Illinois, at Iowa.
Almost sure losses: at Michigan State, at Indiana, at Michigan.