It wasn't easy. It is never easy, but Purdue can call itself a Big Ten regular season champion again for the first time in 14 years. This was goal number one when the season started, and it has been achieved. It was achieved despite Lewis Jackson not playing until late January. It was achieved with Sandi Marcius, a freshman expected to contribute before the year started, not playing a single second. It was achieved with Robbie Hummel, the glue and one of the best players in the country, missing most of the last four games.
Let us bask in that for a moment.
There. Doesn't that feel good?
What a relief we all feel today. We get six days to relax, rest, and enjoy this season-long accomplishment before we play again. That is six days to continue adjusting things on both ends of the floor and figure out how to keep this momentum going. For a team that has no chance to win without Hummel it is amazing we have won three of the four games since he was hurt.
We saw more seeds of how we'll get it done today too. We were playing a good team and found a way to get it done. Yes, Penn State does not have a great record, but if you look at their losses they have played a ton of close games. They make you earn the win, and today was no different. Even without Talor Battle they fought hard. In the end, we did enough to win. That's the best way to describe it. We did enough to win. I am perfectly fine with doing enough to win nine more times this year.
Positives from the second Penn State game:
Keaton Grant - Both he and Chris Kramer deserve this championship. They were part of the driving force that revived Purdue basketball. They played big minutes as freshmen on our first NCAA team in four years. Now, they have earned the right to call themselves champions for all time. To continue having success this season we need days like today from KG. Congratulations are also due as he passed 1,000 points for his career, giving us four 1,000 point scorers on the current roster (JJ, Robbie, and E'Twaun are the other three). If we can make the Big Ten Tournament final and the National title game with Kramer averaging 22 per game he will join the club as well.
It is probably safe to say that is we somehow have Kramer average 22 per game the rest of the way we're winning the whole damn thing anyway.
JaJuan Johnson - JJ played like a man today. It was the opposite of his game against MSU, and it was much needed. He also helped us win the rebounding battle for the first time since Robbie got hurt. That is a huge factor that needs to continue. We were very patient against the zone and hit JJ when we could. Once he got the ball, Penn State didn't have an answer. I think a fast start is key to JJ. If he starts well, he plays with confidence the rest of the night. This means we obviously need a staff hypnotist to convince him before every game that he has already hit 3 jumpers and has two dunks.
Kelsey Barlow - Coach Painter, if you're reading the blog, you're welcome. I talked all week about how Barlow would be great at the four as an offensive rebounder with his athleticism. My colleague and fellow Purdue alum Bryan Gaskins agreed with me last night that Barlow would be interesting down low. Both baskets he had were at key times and he gave us four offensive rebounds. We need more of that than him bringing the ball up. Just please start hitting free throws. I beg you.
Offensive flow - It wasn't a great shooting day, but we had good looks that I would take in any game. Those looks were created by improved flow and movement. We also weren't afraid to shoot like we were against Michigan State. Kramer even hit a few in that 15-18 foot range where he is so deadly. Things are starting to come together on this end, and we still have one more game against Northwestern, Indiana, or Michigan in which we can work on things.
Chris Kramer - He didn't have one huge category, but he filled the stat sheet as usual. He had four nice steals that lead to breaks. He still needs to shoot more so he shows he is an offensive threat, but he is getting there. I am perfectly fine with him and KG trading the scoring burden for Robbie.
John Hart - Excellent job in just 18 minutes. He only had five, but he is a threat to score.
Negatives from the second Penn State game:
Giving up a big game to someone not known as a big game guy - Chris Babb, you are the latest recipient of this award that has gone to Jordan Taylor, Tom Pritchard, Ralph Sampson III, and many others. I will now bang my head against the desk.
E'Twaun Moore - He had an off game, but at least it wasn't a costly off game. He'll get it back. Thank you for the Red Button Moment of all Red Button Moments with the banked-in three.
Turnovers - We had 12 and we're still making some dumb passes at key moments. At least Kramer has figured out how to dribble inside the three point arc. JJ's four turnovers were big as he made some uncharacteristic bad passes. This is a minor tweak though.
Free Throws - We have to get to the line more than our opponent, which we did today. Anything less than 70%, however, is flirting with disaster. We're having too many empty trips to the line though, as it seems we miss them in bunches. This seems to go in a trend though, so as long as it trends up the rest of the year we will be fine.
Call a seamstress because we're finally going to need another regular season Big Ten banner in Mackey Arena. It was expected coming into the year, but now that we have it there is a great sense of accomplishment. I think this feels so much better because of all the injuries and everything. We just need to keep playing defense, keep working on small things, and stay focused. There is a whole lot more to play for.
Game one in Indianapolis needs to be a tune up game. Whether we face Indiana or Northwestern (Michigan drops if they lose to Michigan State tomorrow) we will be favored against a pair of teams that have looked awful of late. Beating Northwestern reverses a loss we had at full strength. Beating Indiana would just feel good. We're at a slight disadvantage if it is not Indiana because Michigan and Northwestern are two teams we only faced once, and both a long time ago. We still need to have this be a win though.
In my mind, at least one win in Indianapolis clinches a #2 seed. If we get a semi-final against Wisconsin or Michigan State it will be a very big test to see how we will respond in the NCAA's without Hummel. We flunked the first one against MSU, but I think or rebounding effort and offensive flow will be better in a third game against them. If we get one of those (and some help around the country) a number one seed overall may not be out of the realm of possibility.
We still have a way to go before that though. Let's just enjoy the following phrase:
Your 2010 Men's Big Ten basketball champion is the Purdue Boilermakers.