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Two to go (with Power Rankings)

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Purdue took care of business Saturday afternoon, and it was great to be in attendance for another virtuoso second half performance. In many home games this year Purdue has fed off the crowd for a dominant second half performance. Illinois, Ohio State, Penn State, and Minnesota come to mind as games where we simply dominated the second half at home. Saturday afternoon was more of the same, as we appeared to have no offensive flow in the first half. In the second half we figured out their defense and everything began to click. Any time you outscore your opponent by 24 in the second half you are probably going to win. For two games in a row we have come out of the locker room with the mindset of simply putting our opponent away. Should we do that for two more games the 1996 Big Ten Championship banner won't be so lonely next season.

A special note that needs to mentioned before getting to the game. Not only are these Boilers playing very well ont he court, they are excelling in the classroom as well. In that article Coach painter states that if Juco transfers, freshmen, and walk-ons (basically most of our roster) were counted 10 of or 14 players would be academic all-Big Ten selections. Just one more thing to be proud of, guys!

Positives from the Northwestern game:

Nemanja Calasan – I am wondering if Nemanja reads this blog because he answered by challenge from last week about showing up after the first five minutes. After getting another early basket he appeared on his way to more of the same with a quiet first half. He seemed determined to get to the basket early in the second half and it paid off. Of all the guys on our roster Nemanja may be my favorite because of the emotion he plays with and what he has been through in his life. Sunday's Bob Kravitz article was very interesting in showing that Nemanja has been through a lot just to get to this country. I'm not blessed with being 6'9", but it would be nice to have never played basketball until I was 14 and then get a scholarship offer to Purdue. Shoot, I've been playing basketball since I was 5 and I didn't even come close. It's great to see his country's flag come out after every made basket and that he is welcomed with open arms. Nemanja, if you're out there reading this, thank you for choosing Purdue, and feel free to comment anytime!

Robbie Hummel – I really wish he would stop being such a role player, not averaging 10 points per game, and needing great players around him to be good. It's so disappointing that he cannot contribute in this his freshman season. Maybe by the time he is a junior he'll be ready. Saturday's performance by Robbie was incredibly efficient, and I love the way he cashed in at the free throw line by hitting all six shots after getting fouled on 3-point attempts. He was also very big early on the offensive boards. I would be most interested in hearing what Mr. Hutchens has to say about him now, as he would be up for freshman of the year if not for Eric Gordon.

Chris Kramer – I think I may start referring to him as Master Thief Chris Kramer from now on. Chris is quickly becoming the captain of doing all the Little Things, and we know that if we need him to score he can. It's not so much that he is great in any one category, but the fact that he affects the game in many ways by forcing turnovers, getting steals, blocking shots, rebounding, playing shut down defense, and dishing out assists pays dividends in each game.

The Bench Mafia – It was the best day of the season for the Bench Mafia of Reid, Mocas, Wohlford, Riddell, and Sutor. Bobby Buckets came in and gave us four points, including a very nice jumper that shows it is still there if we need it. Reid got his first basket of the season on a nice reverse layup. The real star though was Garrett Mocas as he was an absolute animal on the boards. He gathered three boards and an assist in just two minutes of play. My only regret is that Mark Wohlford did not jack up a three with less than five seconds left. Come on Mark, you've got to know the situation. We're at 68 points and if you can score there the entire Paint Crew gets free Wendy's! I blame the Paint Crew for not letting him know this.

Scott Martin – I really felt Scott was the key to the second half surge as he had some very big baskets during our run. He and Robbie were the only ones hitting free throws, but Scott did a good job of getting to the line and earning his points. He appears to be fully recovered from his ankle injury and ready to provide much needed depth the rest of the way. He's more of the role player that Hutchens mentioned, only that role a much bigger role.

3-point shooting – The long range game kept us alive in the first half, and it allowed us to bury Northwestern in the second half. I still think we have a tendency to settle on the 3-pointer a little too quickly and that was evident in the first half, but if they are falling at a 50% clip like they were on Saturday we might as well shoot them. The best part is that all 11 made threes were spread across six players. When six guys can knock the three down with regularity it becomes awfully tough to defend.

Negatives from the Northwestern game:

Matt Painter – Matt made one of his worst coaching decisions of the year on Saturday. I do not care about rotations, number of minutes that people play, or who scores what. There is one rule you do not violate. As long as there are less than five seniors every senior must start on Senior Day. There are no exceptions. I don't care if you have one and you take him out at the first dead ball to go with the regular starters. The rule is all seniors start on Senior Day. Tarrance got to play and play quite a bit, but he deserved the start.

Free Throw shooting – it wasn't a factor late, but it certainly was early on. This is the most up and down area of our game. We're not as bad as Illinois, but there have been games (most notably Indiana) where it has been a major issue. Robbie and Scott were the only ones that were really dialed in from the line Saturday. It's not like the crowd can get any quieter in Mackey either during free throws. It got so dead silent on some attempts you could have heard someone crack a fart from across the arena.

Up next:

Since Michigan State did us the honor of annihilating Indiana yesterday we now face a very simple proposition: win two games and we will have the number one seed in the Big Ten Tournament. We fully control our own destiny, and that is what you want at this time of year. Ohio State is a wounded animal that will either fight hard to save its season tomorrow night or be finished off with yet another loss. After that is Michigan, a team that is up and down depending on how well it is shooting that day. The Wolverines are more than capable of getting hot and throwing a scare into us, but I still feel very good about our chances if we can get past Ohio State. Right now we can do no worse than a three seed in Indianapolis, but I feel we match up better with a team like Michigan State than we do with Indiana, so I'd rather play them as the 1 seed than get Indiana in the semifinal 2-3 game. It certainly looks like we will share the conference crown with Wisconsin if we win out, but considering many doubted we would even make the NCAA tournament this season I will take a share and run with it.

Power Rankings:

I was going to do another theme this week based on the films of Kevin Smith, but I believe I will save that for the final set of rankings next week before the Big Ten Tournament. I was way too wordy above and I really need to outline what I want to do with that. I'll save that treat for later, but here are this week's rankings with comments.

1. (1) Purdue (23-6, 14-2) – Last week Purdue's position at the top was quite precarious, but after two dominant home wins and Indiana's embarrassment the Boilers stay here. I only give them a very slight edge of Wisconsin right now based on the season sweep. In a third round I still might pick Wisconsin, but we'll have to wait until March 16th in Indy to find out.

2. (2) Wisconsin (24-4, 16-2) – I have to consider Wisconsin "in the clubhouse" with the title right now as barring a major upset they will finish 16-2 in the conference. The fact that Wisconsin easily handled the same Michigan State team that blew out Indiana a few days later is quite scary.

3. (3) Indiana (24-5, 13-3) – When playing Indiana it comes down to matchups and coaching. Against Purdue Indiana knew we had no answer for D.J. White inside and they exploited it for a win. Wisconsin did not do this either time with Brian Butch, and Purdue won. Yesterday Indiana got flat out beaten in every aspect of the game, but they are still a very, very good team. Still, Indiana fans have to be embarrassed with that defensive effort against a team that only scored 36 points at Iowa. This team was not prepared defensively in any way.

4. (4) Michigan State (23-6, 11-5) – The Spartans are now locked into the four seed most likely and announced yesterday that whoever has the #1 seed is in for a dogfight in the Big Ten semis. Yesterday's game is easily the best performance by any team in the conference all season, and there is now little question that Michigan State will be a tough out.

5. (5) Minnesota (18-10, 8-8) – Nationally no one is stepping up and making a statement bubble-wise, so if Minnesota can win at Indiana and Illinois this week, then take a game or two in Indianapolis they might be able to steal a bid. A six seed is still possible, meaning an opening game against Northwestern. Next would be a quarterfinal possibly against an Indiana team that the Gophers (if they win this week) will have just beaten. That would put them at 22 wins, in the Big Ten semi-finals with two wins over IU, and squarely on the edge. Step one was Saturday's win over Ohio State. The big loss to Illinois hurts a lot right now.

6. (6) Ohio State (17-12, 8-8) – Ohio State's NCAA chances are now on life support and are really only alive at all because of all the good work done in the non-conference season. Even then some of the good wins like Syracuse and Florida are fading as those teams struggle. Purdue can finish them off tomorrow night, as one more loss would mean a Big Ten tourney title is needed.

7. (9) Penn State (14-14, 6-10) – The Nittany Lions just won't go away! Two wins last week put them at .500 and one upset this week will keep them alive for the NIT. Penn State, please win both this week. The Nittany Lions close at Wisconsin and home against Indiana. A split and a Big Ten Tourney win in the 7-10 game (most likely against Illinois) will mean a .500 record and possible NIT bid.

8. (11) Illinois (12-17, 4-12) – They are still terrible, but they got a nice win over Iowa. I want no part of them in the tournament because I still think they can turn it on and get hot for a few days.

9. (10) Northwestern (8-19, 1-15) – At least the Wildcats are putting up a fight lately, which is more than I can say for Iowa. Kudos for not quitting and finally breaking through in Ann Arbor.

10. (8) Iowa (12-18, 5-12) – The Hawkeyes absolutely gave one away at Penn State, then rolled over and died against Illinois. Now the Wildcats are hoping for a home win this week over Iowa to avoid an 0-fer on the home Big Ten schedule.

11. (7) Michigan (9-20, 5-12) – Just a terrible week for the Wolverines in losing to Penn State and Northwestern. You lose to those two and you go to the back of the line. Now they have a week to prepare for Purdue. Will it matter with just two seniors on Senior Day when this team is obviously building for the future?