Dru Anthrop and D.J. Byrd. Purdue's two 2013 men's basketball seniors will have the ignominy of breaking a run of six straight NCAA Tournaments barring a miracle run next week in Chicago, but it may not be their fault. Anthrop was brought in as a walk-on who earned a scholarship his final two years because of open spots and played a little more than we all thought he would. Byrd was brought in with two other players and a third that redshirtted before his freshmen year.
The group that was supposed to lead with Byrd is gone now. Patrick Bade decided who would rather ride the bench at Ross-Ade Stadium and crash face-first through the front door at Harry's than contribute more on the basketball court. Kelsey Barlow had multiple suspensions and will finish his career next year at Illinois-Chicago after leaving his wallet at Where Else. John Hart gave us the memorable Illinois game as a freshman, but injuries curtailed his contributions before he transferred to IUPUI this year and got hurt yet again on January 10. He led the Jaguars in scoring at 14.2 and led them to a 1-0 start in the Summit League before they lost their last 16 games.
There is no doubt that Purdue is a much better basketball team had they stayed. Bade is likely still buried on the bench behind Sandi Marcius, Travis Carroll, Donnie Hale, and A.J. Hammons at forward barring something we did not see in his two years. Barlow would be a top-notch perimeter defender and reliable scorer, which is where he was going before his ouster. Hart, who shot 38.8% from three before his injury, gives Purdue the elusive second shooter it needed earlier in the year and likely helps them avert losses to Bucknell, Xavier, Villanova, and Eastern Michigan, which is likely enough to have Purdue on the NCAA Bubble right now. Bade's biggest contribution might have been that his departure freed up the scholarship to sign A.J. Hammons. Had all three stayed until now Purdue would be one scholarship over and Hammons was the last 2013 recruit to sign.
But they are gone, and tomorrow we say goodbye to D.J. and Dru (unless they play at home in the NIT or CBI). Opinions on D.J. were always relatively even until this year, when they fluctuated between "This guy can't miss right now" and "He's a terrible leader that doesn't deserve to be on the floor". Dru is loved like all walk-ons as a scrapper and a fighter. He's not the most talented player on the floor, but he has always given 100% effort in every second of playing time. They are far from the most heralded senior class in Purdue history, but they will leave as part of a Big Ten championship team as freshmen and having won in every Big Ten arena. That's not bad.
They also still have the opportunity to write a dramatic final chapter.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
2011-12 record: 23-15, 6-12 Big Ten
2012-13 Record: 20-10, 8-9 Big Ten
2012 Postseason: Lost to Stanford 75-51 in NIT Championship
Series With Purdue: Purdue Leads 97-80
Last Purdue win: 79-66 on 1/8/2012 at Minnesota
Last Michigan win: 70-67 on 1/13/2011 at Minnesota
TV: Big Ten Network
Odds: No Line Yet
A lot is at stake for both teams in this game. The Only Colors had a handy chart for this weekend's Big Ten action when it pertains to seedings in Chicago. It explains that Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State are locked into their spots, but Purdue is in the jumble of teams that can go anywhere from 9 to 6. Purdue will be locked into the No. 9 seed with a loss and will play Illinois in any scenario where Iowa wins or Iowa in any scenario where Illinois wins and Iowa loses.
A Purdue victory most likely since the Boilers into the 7/10 game, which is key because then we're on the other side of the bracket from the worst possible quarterfinal matchup: Indiana. I think Purdue can beat Michigan State, Michigan, or Ohio State and they have at least been competitive against all three, so an upset at least seems possible. Indiana easily handled Purdue and is an awful matchup for any potential miracle run. A win and losses by Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota (which obviously happens with a Purdue win) gives Purdue the best scenario as the No. 6 seed playing a Northwestern team that looks awful right now. That would also give the Boilers a quarterfinal matchup against Michigan or Michigan State as the chart shows.
So, with all that at stake, let's look at the stats and see what stands out.
Both teams are good rebounding teams, so Purdue's improved play on the boards will be critical. Minnesota is coming off of a wild ride where they upset Indiana one week and lost to Nebraska the next, so I have no idea how you can figure them. Trevor Mbawke has been playing incredibly well and is at 10.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, making him a near double-double machine.
This game will be won inside the three-point arc. Purdue's struggles are noted, but Maverick Ahanmisi is the only player shooting better than 40% from outside. He averages just 3.7 points per game. Most of the sxcoring is done by Mbakwe, Andre Hollins, Rodney Williams, and Austin Hollins. Joe Coleman also contributes 8.8 points per game.
For more on the Gophers, let's close with a Q&A with Chris Hachfeld of The Daily Gopher since he knows this team better than I:
T-Mill: How about Trevor Mbakwe? Has his return from injury been a Robbie Hummel-esque inspiration?
Chris: You would bring up Robbie. Which makes me wonder, are you guys planning something? Some retribution for Robbie's Barn issues?
You invented an ACL tearing ray gun didn't you?
Seriously though, Trevor coming back and being able to play at a high level has been been great to watch as a fan. You always hope a guy can make it back to playing at a high level, but there are no guarantees. Trev has continued to play like a beast and I'd argue he's the reason we beat Indiana, by setting the tone early and coming up with big boards, shots, and blocks all game. The team struggled to keep him involved during our big slide but hopefully those days are behind us.
T-Mill: With the win over Indiana, Minnesota likely moved itself off the Bubble. Given their non-conference performance do you see them having an easier time in the NCAAs away from the Big Ten?
Chris: That's the hope. To me, whether that happens depends on 2 things. First is of course the seeding and draws the Gophers get. Second is their ability to stay away from some of their bad habits, especially turning the ball over. As we all know, the Gophers are insane on the offensive glass and I'd expect that to continue when we face teams who haven't seen us in person before. Turning the ball over is double the sin when it prevents you from getting shots off (and o-boards from the ones you miss).
T-Mill: Purdue looked pretty punchless until the stunning win in Madison. How does that change your view of Saturday's game?
Chris: I always considered this game the most likely loss of our last three and the win over UW did nothing to dispel that notion. The fact that it's on the road only makes it more difficult. If the Gophers are playing tough on the boards and don't turn the ball over then I feel good about how things will go (even if they shoot poorly). But if they starting making stupid TO's we could be in trouble quickly.
T-Mill: Both teams rebound pretty well. Who has the advantage there, especially given how that was the difference for Minnesota vs. Indiana.
Chris: Until proven otherwise I will always side with the Gophers when it comes to rebounding. No matter what else is going on, the Gophers have almost always been able to outrebound their opponent, even in losses. If we're being out rebounded by Purdue then I'm pretty confident you'll be winning (unless we're shooting above average, something that happens rarely now).
T-Mill: What concerns you the most about coming to Purdue?
Chris: Being on the road. We haven't played well on the road since the win over Illinois in December. During the slide the Gophers showed that they are capable of wilting badly under road pressure and I'm not sure they're past that issue yet.
So there you have it. It seems like if the boys can get Mackey rocking again like it was Wednesday night when basketball was fun again for the first time in months the Boilers can cause Minnesota to wilt. Let's hope that happens. Purdue 67, Minnesota 60