The mark of success in the Big Ten is how well you defend your home court. Look at the three teams atop the Big Ten right now. One of the things they have in common is that they have defended their home courts. Purdue, Wisconsin, and Ohio State have yet to lose at home this season. When they have played each other, the home team has won all four meetings. You cannot win a conference championship unless you defend your home turf and steal a few on the road. If Purdue wins on Sunday Mackey Arena, it is likely that the title will be decided by what team stole the most on the road. Our 14-0 mark is now our best start to a season ever at home, so we have the defending home court part down cold.
Purdue absolutely needed this win. Now that we have established as #2 in the race with five games left, my preseason prediction is coming true. The "Holy crap, Matt Painter is a hell of a coach for recovering from the Robbie Hummel injury" talk is beginning. In fact, they just mentioned it when showing the conference standings during the Illinois-Michigan game. I knew we would still be in the race. Two All-America caliber players will do that for you, but the media is acting like Painter has pulled off some sort of miracle because we're not in seventh place.
There is no miracle. This is a damn fine basketball team that is coming together at the right time:
We couldn't win without Robbie Hummel: We're winning
We needed a third scorer: Lewis Jackson
We won't finish in the top five in a tough conference: We're in second
We can't beat good teams: We just took down a team coming off a win over the last undefeated team in the country.
How else would you like to challenge us?
Positives from the second Wisconsin game:
E`Twaun Moore - For the second straight game he was The Assassin. I love the distinct differences in the reaction of the crowd. At Illinois it was a demoralizing shot with just over a minute left that sent people for the exits. At home: bedlam. I am, of course, referring to his absolute dagger of a three after the Badgers cut it to four. We were struggling to get a good look, but Smooge got open and buried it. In my seat I was screaming "RED MOTHERF$%^&*# BUTTON" at the top of my lungs and I couldn't even hear myself. That's how loud it was in Mackey Arena at that moment. If Smooge wants to turn into Mariano Rivera in the playoffs circa 1996-2001 in terms of closing games out I am fine with it. I also have to mention his dunk, which was thrown down with more prejudice than a 1960's Southern Sherriff.
Defense - What a team effort on the defensive end of the ball tonight. After Jordan Taylor burned us a few times late in the shot clock we really closed things down. I have to site Travis Carroll here for notching a pair of shot clock violations. We also closed down Taylor for the most part. I looked up with five minute left and he only had six points at that time, so his 15 was misleading. We took away Keaton Nankivil, and basically Jon Leuer was their only consistent threat because he is virtually unstoppable. We forced them into bad shots and returned to our absolutely smothering perimeter defense. If we carry this over to Sunday I absolutely love our chances.
Lewis Jackson - Holy hell is LewJack on a tear of late! He freaking killed Taylor tonight, which was stunning. That jumper that we have wanted him to find has been working, and he is becoming a calm presence on the free throw line when it matters. I love this LewJack we're getting right now. He's fearless. He took a guy with 13 inches in size on him to the cup tonight! Don't forget his "Oh, you forgot about me" offensive putback too. Those kinds of baskets demoralize a team, and you could see it in their body language.
JaJuan Johnson - JJ had some trouble holding on to the ball at times, tonight, but against a big team he dominated. Mike Bruesewitz needs to describe to the local authorities exactly how bad JJ abused him, because it has to be a crime. The same for Tim Jarmusz and Nankivil. In the "well duh" category, we're difficult to defend when JJ gives us 20 and 10. Don't forget his defense, either. Four blocks means he continues to lead the league in blocks per game. As someone said: Guys who lead a major offensive (in this case scoring) and defensive (blocks) categories should be a Player of the Year.
Kelsey Barlow - Have you noticed that we haven't seen a lot of the bad GDB of late? Let's keep it that way.
D.J. Byrd - How about D.J. fighting through the pain to give us five nice boards and a couple of big shots early? That's Purdue toughness.
Negatives from the second Wisconsin game:
Officials - I will say this: They were equally incompetent on both sides as we got away with several charges ourselves, but these guys flat our refused to call an offensive foul. At least they refused to call it both ways.
Slow Starts - Personally, I blame the Big Ten Network for the 6:30 tipoff. It took about 6-7 minutes to really get going tonight.
Okay, now I am greedy. I am still afraid of Ohio State because they whipped us pretty good not that long ago, but if you want to be the best you have to beat the best. I forget which reader equated this four game stretch against Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State to the four games it would take to get to make it to the Final Four, but they were right. Indiana was the overmatched lower seed in round one. Illinois was the feisty round two-type game. Tonight was the tough Sweet 16-type game, while Ohio State represents the type of team we're going to have to beat in order to make it to Houston.
Let's Do This.