David McGee - Corn Nation
The Purdue Women's Basketball team continue conference play with a lot to aim for.
Fifteen games into the schedule, the Purdue women are exactly where they hoped to be at the start of the season. Despite losing badly to ND and UCONN (currently both ranked #2/3), there were no slip-ups against inferior competition, and they put a game on the field by winning at Nebraska in their second conference game.
The Non-Con Rundown
The pre-conference schedule was heavy on quality good-but-not-great teams, but light on anything else save elite matchups. On the good side, the team won most of their games comfortably, including a nice chunk of road games, which is always good to see. On the other hand, they got blown out badly by the two elite teams they faced. While that isn't necessarily damning considering the quality of WBB elites, it is part of a concerning trend. Out of the last handful of elite opponents, only once (last year vs UCONN in the tournament) have they really competed. Still, there are really no bluebloods in the Big Ten, and a conference title is still well within their grasp.
Two BCS-conference wins - Beating Wake and GT by double digits is an excellent base for a season. Ostarello put up 15, 15 and 4 assists against Wake as all 5 starters reached double figures. Against Tech, Houser, Moses, and Mingo put up 15 or better, and Houser dished out 10 assists. Freshman April Wilson also had a fine game, with 12 points, 6 assists, and 6 steals.
Defense - Once again, Purdue is hanging its hat on defense. Opponents are shooting just 36.5% and 27.4% from three. They are averaging only 60 points per game against Purdue's 69.9. Purdue also sports a +5.7 rebounding margin on the year. More concerning, however is the team's -2.1 TO margin, although it's somewhat mitigated by a far better Ast-TO ratio than than their opponents'.
Key Cogs Producing - The four keys to the season have all played well so far. Mingo has been solid if not spectacular at 11.8 PPG and 6.5 RPG along with a just under a block a game. Moses is leading the team in scoring once again at 13.4 and almost 2 APG and 2 SPG. Houser has made a huge leap this year. 11.9 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.7 RPG, and 2 SPG shows just how much her floor game has improved. She's been stuffing the stat sheet all year. The true star performer of this season, though, has been Ostarello. She is nearly averaging a double-double, putting up 9.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, and .9 BPG. She's also improved her FT shooting by over 30 percentage points.
Promising Freshmen - Manuel and Wilson have also been highly productive as freshmen. Manuel has been a reliable post threat and defender to the tune of 7.9 points a game in 15 minutes. Wilson has also been great in 20.9 minutes per. She's shooting 44% from 3 and contributing a couple assists and 5.5 points. She's also been a proficient thief, coming away with 1.5 steals a game.
Purdue is out of the gate well early on. Any road win is a good win, and they escaped Illinois in OT on a Moses game-winner (again). Despite a disturbing 33 TO's, it still counts as a win. Next up was a road trip to Nebraska. I should pause for a moment to pay tribute to this budding rivalry. Last year the teams played to a triple overtime one-point Nebby win in Mackey, then followed it up with a 2-OT Purdue win in the final of the Big Ten Tournament. This year's game was no disappointment. Purdue triumphed 69-66 in overtime, for the sixth overtime in the 3-game series.
Sam Ostarello was simply transcendent in this game. 17 points is quality enough, but 19 rebounds? Even Kevin Love is jealous. Throw in 3 steals, 2 blocks and a made three, and it's clear she was just out of her mind in this game.
It's hard to understate how key this game was to the Big Ten race. There are 4 real threats for the title this year: Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, and Nebraska, pretty much in that order. Purdue only faces the other three once each this year, so getting one of the road games from that set is huge. NU has 2 losses already and is in deep trouble title-wise, while Michigan is playing above their talent level so far. Penn State and Purdue, on the other hand, are both low-end top 10 teams. Their Feb 4 meeting in Happy Valley is likely to be the game of the year, and a tough one for Purdue to pull out. That's what makes winning away to Nebraska so huge.
Tonight, Purdue faces a talented OSU squad that has cratered to an 0-3 Big Ten start. Desperate teams scare me, but being at home always helps. The game will be broadcast on BTN at 7:30, so if you can't make it to Mackey, feel free to treat this as an open thread for the game. I'll be at the game, so behave or TMill won't let me do this anymore!