Practice has started. The real games are only 23 days away. Top 25 lists are coming out and Purdue is not in most of them. That's fine. We know the rhetoric that will be said about this team. It will be more about what we lost (two all-time players in E`Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson) than what we have returning.
But we Purdue fans know better. I still hold out hope of finishing the season with Drew Brees giving a pre-game pep talk in his new home town as we prepare to play in the Final Four. Farfetched, you say? Well, a year ago at this time the idea of Butler playing Virginia Commonwealth in a Final Four was laughable. Two years ago Butler playing in consecutive National title games was laughable. George Mason making a Final Four in 2006 was laughable, as was Davidson coming within a possession of making it in 2008.
Anything can happen in college basketball. We're not the favorites to make it, and I am fine with that. I know and you know we still have an awfully good team and that's all that matters. We may not win the same way that we won with JJ and E'Twaun, but we still have the talent to win an awful lot of games.
With that in mind, here are my completely irrational picks for each game this season:
November 11 - Northern Illinois - We're not losing the Mackey rededication game. Win
November 14 - High Point - This is a paycheck game, and we haven't lost won of those since Wofford. Win
November 17 - Iona (Puerto Rico Tipoff) - The Gaels should be a pretty strong challenge and our first test of the season, but we're still better. Some circles have this as an upset pick. Win
November 18 - Western Michigan/Temple (Puerto Rico Tipoff) - It will probably be Temple, which should be a good challenge. I think we take the Owls in a close one. Win
November 20 - (Puerto Rico Tipoff) - Wichita State and Alabama are expected to be tournament teams and one will likely reach the final. We have an advantage in that we've played Alabama the last two years, so I am more concerned about Wichita State. Win
November 23 - Western Michigan - This was a late addition as a bonus game of the Puerto Rico Tip-off, but it will be played at Mackey. We also rarely lose to MAC teams at home, so unless Danny Hope is coaching, we win. Win
November 26 - Coppin State - Another paycheck game, another win. Win
November 29 - Miami (FL) - The Hurricanes should be a pretty good team. Durand Scott is a solid scorer and they have a big lineup, so don't be surprised if this one is closer than expected. We're playing for Big Ten pride, however, and this is our first major home test. Win
December 3 - at Xavier - Our first true road contest of the season and it comes against a team that is going to be pretty solid. In fact, this may be the best team on our non-conference schedule. I think Xavier wins, but a Purdue victory will turn a lot of heads. Loss
December 7 - Western Carolina - We nearly became a national embarrassment when the Catamounts came within a missed three-pointer as time expired of beating us in the first ever 16 over 1 upset. That won't happen this time. Win.
December 10 - Eastern Michigan - Different direction, same result as Western Michigan. Win
December 17 - Butler (at Conseco Fieldhouse) - After the past two years I am never counting out the Bulldogs. This is going to be a fun day as part of the renewed Crossroads Classic. This will be another close game, but I think we win. There is certainly no shame in losing to Butler anymore. Win
December 20 - IPFW - The Hoosiermakers come to town for another paycheck game. Win
December 28 - at Iowa - This game just screams trap game to me. Starting the conference on the road at a place we crapped the bed at last year. It is my hope Painter has them ready and reminds me that this is where the season went south last year. Win
December 31 - Illinois - This will be a talented, but young Illinois team. It's time to introduce them to road play in the Big Ten. Win
January 5 - at Penn State - It's never good when your coach flees for Navy after a successful season. Will the Paint Crew take over State College again? Win
January 8 - at Minnesota - They have a size advantage in Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III, but Robbie Hummel is looking for revenge. I think he goes Keyser Soze and drops 40, hitting a three every time ESPN even mentions That Game. Win
January 12 - Wisconsin - There is one immutable truth: the Badgers never win in Mackey Arena. Win
January 17 - Iowa - The Hawkeyes are my pick for Most Improved in the Big Ten this year and it wouldn't surprise me if they beat us in Iowa City. We get them at home for sure, however. Win
January 21- at Michigan State - The ride has to come to an end at some point, and very few teams win three in a row at the Breslin Center. We have fond memories of this being the place where we last looked like ourselves last season. Loss
January 24 - Michigan - The Wolverines will likely be battling us for a top 3 finish, so we need to hold serve at home. Win
January 28 - at Northwestern - There is always one road game we inexplicably drop. Once again, I think it comes at Northwestern and they use it as an NCAA resume boost. Loss
February 4 - Indiana - Hummel is the only player on the roster to ever lose to Indiana, and no one on the roster has lost to them at home. I like this tradition. Win
February 7 - at Ohio State - Am I the only one that considers the fact Ohio State lost quite a bit before handing them the Big Ten and a Final Four berth? That said, it is still going to be awfully tough to take this one. I am calling it our least likely game to win. Loss
February 12 - Northwestern - Revenge from the Evanston loss. Plain and simple. Win
February 15 - at Illinois - This is a toss-up game, but one we get if we're hitting our usual February stride. Look for this to be a game where we play to improve our seed. Win
February 19 - Michigan State - We should have quite a healthy home winning streak on the line by this game, and you know the crowd will bring it. Judging by the way we have responded in big home games since Duke, I think we take it. Win
February 22 - Nebraska - Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska. This is what Mackey Arena is like. Good luck. Win
February 25/26 - at Michigan - I don't have a good feeling about this, but at least we have a split secured by then. Loss
February 29 - Penn State - There is no freaking way we're losing to an awful Penn State team on Robbie's senior night. This is a stone cold lock. Win
March 4 - at Indiana - If the Hoosiers are playing for an NCAA berth this game scares me a little. It scares me even more if we have a chance at a piece of the Big Ten. It is probably the most hostile environment we will face, and the undefeated-against-Indiana careers of Ryne Smith and Lewis Jackson need to be closed out. Win
So there you have it. 26-5 and 14-4 in the Big Ten is my expectation, with a few games (Butler, Puerto Rico Final, at Iowa, at Indiana, at Minnesota, Michigan State) as games I see that can go either way. That should be enough for another top four seed in the NCAA's and at least a chance. Even dropping five of those swing games and finishing 21-10 should be enough to put us securely in the field. Once there, who knows what can happen.