Last night was another frustrating exercise where our Boilers competed, but were just a little short in another game. This team's youth continues to show itself at times and that has cost them a number of games so far. It is clear that when on, Purdue can at least compete with anyone in the country. Unfortunately, one small thing (like the BS 3rd foul on A.J. Hammons Saturday) can go wrong and still cause things to unravel.
The team has undoubtedly shown tremendous growth at times. With 15 games to go before the Big Ten Tournament there is still a lot of basketball to be played and Purdue will win its share as that growth continues. As I was driving home last night I couldn't help but think of the future and what this team will look like next year compared to the rest of the conference.
What makes this season so difficult is that unlike the last time Purdue was running a bunch of freshmen and sophomore out there, the Big Ten is LOADED this year. Michigan and Indiana are legitimate top 5 teams. Ohio State proved me wrong last night and they are a legit top 15 squad with Minnesota and Illinois. Michigan State is also very good. It isn't inconceivable that all six of those teams will be a top 5 seed in March and reach the Sweet 16.
That wasn't the case with the Baby Boilers, who really only battled a Wisconsin team that went 16-2 in the conference and an Indiana team that quit after Kelvin Sampson was fired for top honors in a much weaker conference. Only four teams (Purdue, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan State) got into the tournament that year with Wisconsin as the highest seed at No. 3. That won't be the case this season with at least six teams making the cut.
With that in mind, what will the league look like next year? Let's look at each team and see if they will be better, worse, or the same.
Michigan Wolverines - It is hard to say how good Michigan will be with so much young talent already playing at an extremely high level. The terrifying thing is that only Trey Burke has made the top 30 on the CBS draft ratings, so it remains to be seen if he would jump early. They have five seniors, but they barely play. They'll be replaced by three four-star players in another pretty good recruiting class. If everyone stays, Michigan will somehow be even better than right now, and they are a convincing 15-0 at the moment.
How will the draft affect them? Burke could be gone, but what about Tim Hardaway Jr., Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary? If everyone comes back they'll be terrifying. If 2-3 guys go pro they'll have to take a step back. It all depends on what they accomplish this season. 2013-14 Assessment: The same if not better if everyone returns.
Indiana Hoosiers - Even with a loss I stand by my original prediction: This season is a complete failure if Indiana does not win the National title. They are not going to get as good of a title shot as this team right now that is balanced and only needs to play a modicum of defense as long as the shots are falling. Next season all that balance can dissipate in a heartbeat. Cody Zeller is still the No. 1 Draft prospect in the country and is stupid if he does not turn pro. Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford will be gone. Victor Oladipo could join them.
Yes, there are talented recruits coming, but SOMEONE is possibly going to have a scholarship pulled, transfer, or something else to make the numbers work. That's a lot of turnover, and you rarely get better by losing the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, let alone the top four scorers with loads of talent AND experience. This current team is loaded, has depth everywhere, and they have an edge in experience that few teams, even Michigan, have.
All IU fans have talked about was the future and how Banner No. 6 was imminent. Well, the future is now. I don't see IU having this unique mix where their offense can be so versatile and unstoppable like it can be right now. They will still have good teams in the future, but for the moment I don't see one having the chemistry and every piece in the perfect spot like they do right now. You only get so many chances at that. Purdue had it going into 2010-11 before Hummel got hurt. This Indiana team is better than that. If you come up short of winning it all in those rare years where everything falls into place it is a failure somewhere. 2013-14 Assessment: A step back, but still a top 4 B1G threat.
Minnesota Golden Gophers - Where did these guys come from? Trevor Mbakwe isn't even playing like the automatic double-double he used to be and they have clawed their way into the top 10. They can show they are legitimate title contenders by beating Indiana and Michigan in their next two games as well.
Mbakwe is gone with three other seniors next year, but Rodney Williams is the only absolutely critical piece they lose. Both are possible draft picks this summer. The Gophers don't have anything special lined up with just two three-star recruits committed, but the bulk of the current still returns. If they are playing this well currently I don't see a huge drop off.
We'll know more about Minnesota after the next two games. 2013-14 Assessment: Roughly the same as now.
Wisconsin Badgers - All Bo Ryan does is take a team that on paper looks like it will struggle and somehow gets it to finish in the top four of the Big Ten. The Badgers already have four losses, but they're 2-0 (albeit against Nebraska and Penn State) in the league and one of the last four teams without a conference loss. I don't envy their upcoming schedule of nine games against ranked teams in the next 11. The only "breaks" are against Iowa, who may battle them for the No. 7 spot in the league when all is said and done.
The Badgers are about to go on a run and stay competitive or have their collective spirits broken. There is no way around it. They have the experience to do well with five seniors, but those seniors will leave Ben Brust and Sam Dekker alone next season. Wisconsin is getting a pretty good point guard, but it will still be a major test to stay as good as they are now. 2013-14 Assessment: Worse, but never count out Bo Ryan
Ohio State Buckeyes - Here is another team that will be affected by NBA decisions, but they always are. Deshaun Thomas could be gone early, but I saw their athleticism last night and that will pay off even if he does leave. If he stays for his senior season he could be a Player of the Year candidate nationally. He's that good.
There are two more four-star commits coming in including a 6'8" power forward names Marc Loving. Aaron Craft as a senior point guard will strike fear in everyone in the conference. Evan Ravenel is also the only senior.
I thought the Buckeyes were a little overrated at the beginning of the year, but they seem to be playing about right at the moment sitting at No. 15. If Thomas returns they will only be better, especially if Amir Williams becomes a dominant center. 2013-14 Assessment: The Bucks will be better, so win the Big Ten now, everyone else.
Illinois Fighting Illini - The same team that completely collapsed last season lost a first round draft pick and is immediately better. That likely wins John Groce a Coach of the Year Award in the Big Ten. At least that is how I would vote if I had one. I Thought Illinois would be near the bottom of the Big Ten but I'll admit I was wrong. They even answered their conference opening loss by thumping a good Ohio State team.
Unfortunately the three big pieces of their success in Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson, and Tyler Griffey will graduate. That leaves Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand to keep it afloat next year. Groce does have a talented five-man class with a good mix of height and ability. I think Illinois takes a step back next season, but they are bringing in a teamt hat can be very good after that slight step back. 2013-14 Assessment: Worse, but still very promising.
Part 2 Coming Tomorrow!