Last week's incident with Syracuse was an interesting exercise in inflammatory comments. I could have chosen any number of teams to call overrated. Indeed, I called several out and only one group of fans, Syracuse, came over in droves to prove me wrong. As a result, I learned quite a bit about the Orange. This could prove to be handy in the long run since Syracuse is one of the schools being mentioned in Big Ten expansion rumors.
Since last week's discussion both teams have played several times. Syracuse survived a home contest against UConn before falling on Sunday to Louisville. That pulled the ‘Cuse closer to the Boilers, and indeed put them behind Purdue in both polls. To make matters even more fun, Joe Lunardi continues to pair the Orange and Boilermakers together as #1 and #2 seeds in the same region. After everything I said, it almost seems pre-ordained that we're meeting them somewhere in March.
Since both teams have high expectations and hopes of a meeting in Indianapolis, I decided to reach out to SBNation's excellent Syracuse blog, Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician. Sean was gone for the day of the infamous article. His response the next day was excellent: "What did you guys do? I'm gone for one day and we're at war with Purdue!" In an effort to get to know Syracuse a little more, here is part one of a back and forth series e-mail on the topics of Syracuse, Purdue, The Big East, the Big Ten, and the infamous LeMoyne game. He will post part two shortly.
Timing note: Most of these e-mails were made before this weekend's games.
Sean Keeley: So now that you've heard from Cuse Nation about the issue of the Orange being overrated, where do you stand on SU compared to the other top squads? And were you surprised to get such a spirited reaction?
T-Mill: Well, after my site practically caught fire I certainly view Syracuse in a different light. In all honesty, I made the mistake of not applying the same argument that I have made for Purdue: You can only take care of what is in front of you. When Purdue was one of the last four unbeatens I made this argument when people said we were not worthy of a #1 seed. Syracuse has only beaten who has been put in front of them, and that overall profile, while not as strong as projected when the season started because of UNC and Cal struggling, is still pretty damn good.
Syracuse has one loss, and it is far from a bad one. It is a conference loss against (as Syracuse fans suggested) a team that traditionally gives them trouble. They have to be up there with Kansas and Kentucky as the other one loss teams.
The one thing I don't understand is people saying Purdue couldn't even compete in the Big East, then accusing me of not watching outside our conference. Really? Then why did we spank West Virginia and beat Tennessee at full strength when Kansas couldn't do it while the Vols were shorthanded?
Yes, we have some losses we are paying for. There is no shame in losing at Wisconsin. Everyone does it. The Ohio State loss stings because, in my opinion, we choked. There is the Northwestern loss though. It is not as bad as usual because the Wildcats have a chance to make the tournament, but if Purdue plays like it can they have no business losing to the Wildcats. They were a horrible matchup for us last year (season split with the road team winning both) and it was this year too. Plus, we decided we didn't want to rebound because that is the only valid excuse for getting outrebounded by Northwestern that badly.
I think it got such a reaction because Syracuse.com picked it up, fans saw overrated, and went into full defense mode. It was great though because it spurred on some interesting debates. It honestly changed my opinion of the ‘Cuse, and I love that their fans are so passionate about their team. I welcome the people that make serious thought out arguments because that is how you change minds. when you start hurling insults and saying Purdon't it only makes you (and to some extent, your team) look bad.
So my question to you: Is Purdue over, under, or exactly rated? How would they fare in the Big East given what you have seen this season?
Sean: Certainly after Tuesday night's win over Michigan State, Purdue has cemented their place as the team to beat in the Big Ten. And given the kind of season we've had in college basketball, I would say they as much deserving of their top ten ranking as any other team out there right now.
That three-game losing streak seems like a forever ago already. The good news is that they avenged the loss to Wisconsin, and losses to Ohio State and Northwestern aren't terrible by any stretch. And they have a chance to avenge the Ohio State loss coming up. If those losses were spread out over the course of the entire season, no one would even sneeze at them.
So I would think it's fair to say they're properly-rated right now. It's been the kind of year where anyone beats anyone else on any given night so to only have three-losses this season is a solid year. Not to mention the wins over West Virginia and Tennessee.
The whole idea of being underrated and overrated can be a touchy thing in general. Cuse was underrated early in the year only because every "expert" in the land didn't know the Orange were going to be so good, it had nothing to do with the team itself. Imagine all of the headaches we could avoid if we didn't do preseason polls and instead just waited until about a month into the season before the first poll. Then we wouldn't have most of these issues.
How would Purdue fare in the Big East? Well, I'm sure. I don't know if I would say they'd be at the very top, but I think it's fair to say they've be in the upper echelon. The Big East has a ton of good teams this year. Not amazing. Not horrible. Just really good. And that's not to put down my conference...it's hard to have a collection of really good teams that can beat each other up on a consistent basis. Even the lower level teams give the top ones trouble...there really are no easy games in the conference.
Not to say the Big Ten isn't a good conference, but look at some of the schedules certain Big East teams have to play. Providence is currently in a stretch where they play a team ranked in the top ten in 5 of 6 games. That's insane. And that's before they go play frisky South Florida and then Pitt. In another conference, Providence might be a bubble team. In the Big East, they don't stand a chance.
It's all moot if a Big East team doesn't play in the Championship game, we learned that last year. That's the only thing people remember...who played in the Final Four and which conferences had great tournaments.
So as someone who doesn't pay too much attention to Big Ten basketball, I'll ask cause I really don't know...how unexpected is this for Purdue? And what are you honest expectations of the squad heading into the tournament?
T-Mill: This is a surprise because I don't think anyone expected such a dominant first half last night. I feel like we finally played fully to our potential as a team. Against West Virginia, it was mostly JaJuan Johnson doing his thing. The Mountaineers could not stop him and we knew it. In the first half against Ohio State Robbie Hummel was on fire, but we got complacent and they took him away in the second half.
Last night everyone was involved. The Big Three all did major things, but they had help. John Hart (a kid who barely played before the Illinois game) had a big three. Keaton Grant was aggressive. Chris Kramer had a big basket on a backdoor cut. Lewis Jackson created chances by driving. It's like everything and everyone was humming along and nothing could stop us. I mean we shot 64% in the first half against a good defensive team. Just stunning.
I had tempered my expectations during the three game losing streak, but they are high again. I expect at least a #2 seed and a run at the Final Four here in Indy. Once there, anything can happen. Teams like Syracuse, Kansas, Kentucky, etc. would probably beat us in a seven game series, but I like our chances in a one shot scenario against anyone.
Unfortunately, the other side of the coin is true, and historically has been Purdue's largest weakness. In 1996 we came the closest a #1 seed has ever come to losing to a 16 seed. Western Carolina was down two with 10 seconds left and missed not one, but two good looks at a 3-pointer. If one of those falls we're the answer to a trivia question right now. We promptly lost our second round game badly to Georgia (whom I believe lost to Syracuse in the sweet 16). Purdue is a strange team in the NCAA's . Historically we have done very little with a high seed (making the Elite 8 just once in three appearances as a #1), but we almost always overachieve as a lower seed. In 2007 we pushed defending champ Florida as a nine seed in round 2. We made the Elite 8 as a 6 seed in 2000, the sweet 16 as a 10 in 1999 and a 5 in 2009.
I think this team has more poise though. For the first time in years we're not just a home court team. This core group is 4-0 in neutral court games this year, 5-2 on the road, won twice at Wisconsin as freshmen and sophomores, and as a program we have won 11 straight first round NCAA games since 1994. We've played good teams out of conference and won. Now we just need to put it all together in March.
So here is my next question: Obviously the LeMoyne game is a hot issue in this debate. Some argue it doesn't matter because it was an exhibition, but this team obviously learned from it. How much of a concern was it at the time it happened? Don't you think it is different from an NFL exhibition because those are at least played against other NFL teams, while this is like the Saints losing to a MAC team?
Stay Tuned for part 2 over at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician.