I'm an optimistic guy by nature. I believe in die-hard fanboyism, and rarely see the faults in anything my team does, especially with regards to this Purdue team. The past few weeks have really intensified this fervent stance, for a whole host of reasons. I try to temper my expectations to a realistic point, but with as well as this team has played in the past few weeks, it's becoming more and more difficult. This is a team that could have all but given up, but stuck to their guns and didn't let down, and now they're probably in a better place than they'd have been without the event that shall not be named.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want to say that I'm glad that it happened... far from it. However, because I'm such a positive person with regards to this program, I can only find the benefits. After the jump, you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.
I'm not a statistician. I actually hate numbers, unless they're scores. What I am concerned with is the intangibles; things like presence, confidence, momentum, control, flow, tempo, and overall effectiveness on either side of the ball. Granted, stats have a lot to do with these things, but this is my disclaimer: I accept that what I talk about is very theoretical and that the numbers don't always support me.
That being said, let's look at what has happened over the past few weeks.
- "Third Scorer" - I find this topic to be a bit funny. Sportscasters and fans alike are all heavily concerned that once The Red Button and JJ get shut down by a radically tough defense, we won't have a third scoring option to put us over the top and give us the win. I have dismissed this need. We have four extremely capable players that provide scoring options, and it seems like at least one of them steps up every game. Between Ryne, DJ, Terone, and John Hart (when healthy), we will not have any issues finding at least one hot hand.
- Defense - I am a Big10 basketball fan, and expect low-scoring games with a lot of lock-down defense. However, the way that I've seen this Purdue team step up in crucial moments is phenomenal. During the second half against Michigan, there were a number of times when the Wolverines had four guys outside the arc, completely locked down and away from the basket and any semblance of a scoring opportunity. I was giddy. There have been times more recently when not only stifling defense is being played, but great individual plays are being made to force momentum-shifting turnovers. To quote a tweet from @bozemblem, "Our defense IS our third scorer."
- Momentum vs. Poise - Some may disagree with me here, but I think we have exceptionally good control of momentum. Our game at UM is a perfect example. Purdue went up 19-3, then Morris came in and changed the face of the game. It would've been easy to let them run away with it after they clawed back and took a one point lead. However, senior leadership and poise took over, and we shut them down in the second half. This is nothing new for us, though we have gotten very, very good at it this year. It's like I'm replaying visions of the ice-cold dagger that E'Twaun hit in the back stretch of the game in Bloomington to kill the Hoosiers' momentum.
- Player Development - After a class like the one that walked in for the 2007 season, comparisons just don't seem fair. We have extremely high expectations of the new guys that step on that court and want only the best to wear our colors, because let's face it, that's what we've gotten used to. E'Twaun, Robbie, and JJ came in ready to start. We haven't had anyone like that since then. Things are starting to get interesting, though. Guys like Ryne and DJ and John Hart are starting to get very meaningful minutes and are being productive on both sides of the floor. Ryne has become one of the most annoying outside defenders in the Big10, and is probably the best shooter on the team, maybe second only to Smooge. I see flashes of Chris Kramer out of DJ. John Hart is some kind of hybrid version of LewJack and E'Twaun, and when he's healthy, I'm interested to see where he fits into the rotation. Regardless, some of our younger and less experienced players are growing up, and the system is working beautifully.