If you had told me that Robbie Hummel would be outscored by Travis Carroll on Saturday I would likely have asked if we had replaced Illinois on the schedule with Cascade High School, one of Carroll's old Hendricks County foes. We're not going to have many games this year in which Rob is an almost non-factor, especially in the deciding minutes of the games, yet we when in a blowout. What we got yesterday was basketball nirvana. After Illinois trailed by only two at the half, Purdue came out and delivered 10 minutes of basketball perfection.
The alumni Paint Crew brought the nose too. Before the game I literally had goosebumps from excitement. During that 10-minute stretch Mackey was simply rocking from floor to ceiling like it should be every game. It prompted me to tweet the following:
@ThePaintCrew. I never want to leave. Please don't send me back to the old alumni section.
I couldn't think of a better way to end 2011, especially since even IU winning gave us a silver lining by knocking Ohio State out of first place. The Buckeyes are not going to lose many this year, so if they choose to completely ignore Jared Sullinger on offense after Cody Zeller fouled out and opt for the, "have Aaron Craft dribble around like an idiot until he turns it over" offense to hand Indiana a victory that only helps everyone else. Iowa's stunning win in Madison is also a very nice bonus.
The bottom line is that we are in first place in the Big Ten as 2012 starts. Michigan State is there with us and Michigan could be by the end of the day. We've also got a favorable schedule to go on a bit of a run here and build a nice little lead before going to MSU on Jan. 21.
Positives From The Illinois Game:
Travis Carroll - TC has taken quite a beating in the comments before, especially with the way he fell apart in section in the Xavier game. It was good to see him have his most complete game of the season. Two of his buckets came off of solid screen rotations and deft passes delivered perfectly. He also stretched the defense with his 19-foot jumper he hit in the first half. That's why I don't have a problem with him taking the three-pointer he took. Technically, he was 40% from long range coming in (2 of 5), so if he is wide open like that (and he will be a lot) why not let him have one or two looks per game under the Nemanja Calasan rule? TC was also very active on defense with two key steals. He's not exactly JJ: White Chocolate version yet, but he is improving.
Kelsey Barlow - The biggest reason we lost to Xavier and Butler is that we forgot to attack the basket entirely in the last 6 minutes of each game. Barlow has been in attack mode of late, and played the second half like a man possessed yesterday. This is absolutely critical for us going forward. I never thought I would say this, but GDB has become one of our most consistent free throws shooters, so if he keeps attacking he's either going to score or get to the line.
Ryne Smith - Yes, the four triples for 12 points was big, but Ryno got the defense started in the second half and it spread like a virus. How do you make a 7'1" man disappear in Meyers Leonard? You have infectious in-your-jersey defense spread to everyone on the team so they can't even get him the ball. It was like a plague in the second half. Ryno started it, but soon Barlow, Terone Johnson, Anthony Johnson, and everyone was playing smothering D as we opened the second half on a 32-7 run. For several possessions there we were playing such tight D that I was afraid Brandon Paul wouldn't have been able to go to the bathroom without a Purdue defender standing there to hold it for him.
Lewis Jackson - 8 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and one, "I am a bad mother***er" hard foul to establish dominance. Not bad for the smallest man on the court.
D.J. Byrd - D.J. is quickly becoming an indispensible asset off the bench. John hart might be the guy with a knack for the right basket at the right time, but I could get very used to Byrd coming in and scoring 10 or so off the bench.
Teamwork - It cannot be overlooked that the 10 minute stretch to start the second half was Purdue playing absolutely in sync. Everyone on the floor was perfectly in tune with everyone else. When we reach those stretches it is a lot of fun to watch, and it can allow us to overcome any talent deficiency. Illinois is a very good team. They were just outside the top 25, have an excellent center, and pretty good guards. Instead, we made Leonard a complete non-factor and the rest of the Fighting Illini wilted from the Mackey Magic. Now we have a third top 50 RPI win, we're 3-2 against the top 50, and we moved into the top 50 ourselves.
It is time to go on a run in the Big Ten play. We go to Penn State next, which should be an easy win. A trip to the play on the Demon Wood of Xibalba at Minnesota will be tricky, but without Trevor Mbakwe we can win in Minneapolis. Wisconsin never wins at Mackey Arena (just a fact) and we follow that with a home game against Iowa. Suddenly, a 6-0 start to league play looks very possible with three road wins and a boatload of confidence before we go to Michigan State.
Nothing is easy in this conference though, as we saw yesterday with Iowa stunning Wisconsin and the Hoosiers honestly pulling off a bigger upset than the Kentucky win. I thought Ohio State would run away and hide, but it is clear they are a vulnerable team on the road, especially if they make ridiculous decisions in the final two minutes of a close game. To me, Indiana's win over them is much more impressive than yet another overrated Kentucky team crapping itself.
It is still very early, but we might be able to compete for a Big Ten title after all. With everyone having played two games after today we're one of only two or three teams without a loss. That's a good position to be in. As long as we defend home court and pick up wins at Penn State, Minnesota, and Northwestern we can be right there before we even talk about trips to Michigan State, Illinois, or Indiana.
Admittedly, it Is still only a dream, but a Big Ten title this year is only a dream for everyone right now. We happen to be one of the few schools closest to making it a reality.