Yesterday was an interesting day. Obviously, most of the Purdue fan base is hurting because of yet another gut-wrenching defeat in a game we controlled throughout. It was the type of effort that even some decent, free-thinking IU fans I follow on Twitter were conciliatory. To these fans, I give you my respect. Then there are the people I'd like to simply label as "The Anonymous Dickhead Heroes", who chose to comment on last night's You Tube video as a chance to kick Purdue while we're down, including a lovely comment about Rob never making it past the Sweet 16 as out beloved player, and that being a reason we are terrible human beings as Purdue fans (as if it was Rob's fault his knee exploded twice). These are the same types of people that think it is cool to create a fake profile based on a dead cat and leave derogatory remarks here. To these people, you can kindly eat a bag of dicks.
It is losses like last night that make me glad I am a Purdue fan. Many other fans, especially our brave Anonymous Dickhead Heroes, would cry foul and try to assign blame anywhere else or whine about this, that, and the other. At Purdue, we respect that we were a major underdog and we gave everything we had. On this night, it wasn't enough, but you could play that exact game for 39 minutes again and Purdue could come out on top. It was that close. How can you not be proud of it?
When Robbie Hummel pulled down the critical defensive rebound while we led 60-57 we were in the optimal position to win the game. D.J. Byrd got a good look at a three with 1:12 left that probably would have sealed it. Given the situation, I would take that look again, because D.J. has proven he can hit that shot with regularity. He missed, and it led to a breakaway play where Tyshawn Taylor made a great play for a dunk.
Next, we worked the clock down (the right move) and tried to get Lewis Jackson going toward the basket. Countless times we have seen LewJack find a seam and score there. I'd take it again, but the Jayhawks played excellent defense in denying LewJack, and he made a rare wrong decision. This led to another break.
Finally, with 12 seconds left Robbie Hummel had an excellent look at a three-pointer. Kansas had no timeouts left, and if he hits it there is enormous pressure for them to create on the fly. It's a good look I would have Rob take again. It just missed. If he takes it again it very easily could be a make.
That's three plays, and really any one of them could have gone the other way and made this a Purdue victory. The bottom line is that we were dead even with a team that is going to have a damn good shot at reaching the Final Four, if not winning the whole damn thing. Kansas realizes it was very lucky to escape with a win. We held Thomas Robinson, only a National player of the Year candidate, to 2 of 12 shooting. Taylor, a player that averages nearly 18 per game, had only 10 and was 4 of 11.
This was a brilliant defensive game plan cooked up by Coach Painter, and it worked well enough for us to win. I accept that sometime the basketball just does not fall though. If this is a movie, Rob's three with 12 seconds left hits nothing but net and we go on to win the National title in a magical run. What makes March so special, however, is that those moments are unfortunately rare. They don't happen in every single instance, and in this I have to go to one of the good IU fans out there:
There's poetry in the Hummel story. It's called tragedy, and for every final four, there are a hundred other teams going home empty handed.
As for the rest of the tournament, it should be a great finish with some excellent teams left. I gained a ton of respect for Kansas last night because they really didn't get away with anything. Their fans showed nothing but respect in defeat and they are the kind of team that can be very fun to hate. I still like Draymond Green and Michigan State as my No. 2 Big Ten team. North Carolina is intriguing as a walking MASH unit, Ohio is the designated Cinderella, and as a strictly objective basketball fan, even Indiana would be a fun team to watch and get behind if not for the completely deplorable section of their fans I've had to deal with of late. I know a bunch of IU fans that waited patiently through the Sampson mess and aren't cold, heartless pricks. They deserve this. The rest can eat my taint and I will hand them the spoon.
So what does Purdue do going forward? We thank Ryne Smith, LewJack, and Rob (and by proxy E'Twaun, JJ, KG, and Kramer) for what they did, but as I have said a few times, they merely got us to a level of some national respect and being a threat to make it out of the first weekend of the tournament. It is up to the next group to exceed them, not match them, otherwise their accomplishments will be in vain.
Here are some thoughts for each returning player next year, with the goal of that team being another NCAA Tournament team that wins a game or two in March as we continue to grow:
D.J. Byrd - You're the senior leader now, D.J. The form you showed in the middle of the Big Ten season as a cold-blooded shooter needs to continue. Your goal needs to be the tough-nosed player we know you can be, and I think you can be one of the top small forwards in the conference.
John Hart - As another senior, you need to find a role. We've seen some flashes in the past and you have a propensity to hit a critical shot when we need it. Now is the time to find a role and be a regular contributor. With Ryno gone, we could use a three-point sniper.
Sandi Marcius - The Chooch very quietly had a damn good NCAA Tournament, and if he puts in the work this summer, he can be a solid piece going forward. Sandi was more than effective as a defender and rebounder yesterday. Let's be honest, his five points against St. Mary's is five more points than we expected from him, and quite frankly we lose if he doesn't have them. His final line in two NCAA games: five points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and a steal in 32 minutes. We need a bruiser and Sandi keeps improving from when he first came to Purdue. I can see him starting at the beginning of next season. It will be all about his work ethic, however. learn to be aggressive and use your size to go up strong. If they foul you, just hit your free throws.
Travis Carroll - While Sandi is a bruiser, I want to see Carroll practicing that nifty 15-18 footer he has. The incoming A.J. Hammons paired with Sandi can allow Tacos to shift to his more natural position of the four. When you think of lineups, DJ/Hale at the three, Carroll/Lawson/Simpson at the four, and Marcius/Hammons at the five is a pretty nice combo of forwards, and we actually have the post depth for people to play their more natural positions. Tacos just needs to keep hustling and work on that mid-range game. It can be deadly.
Terone Johnson - TJ grew immensely in the final weeks of the season. Now he needs to put it all together. Work on the jumper, become a more legitimate three-point shooter to go with the slashing game, work on getting to the line and hitting them once you're there.
Dru Anthrop - In all likelihood you're going to be on scholarship again. Go earn it. Find a Bobby Buckets-type role. Be a leader.
Jacob Lawson - You're one of our most athletic forwards, but quite frankly, you have hands of stone right now. Work on it. Put in the work, get bigger, and develop a mean streak and tenacity on the glass. You can be our best rebounder, and that is something we need. Remember how fun those dunks were when we'd run the screen and roll for you? Work on it. be the guy that gets int here and gets the garbage buckets on offensive rebounds. This is the role I play when I play basketball, and I am only a 5'11" old white guy with bad feet. you're light years more talented than I.
Anthony Johnson - AJ has a really nice shooting stroke. He needs to hit the three with regularity, like TJ, and add it to his penetration game. Both he and TJ are our only proven penetrators at the college level. They have to be able to drive as well as shoot. He also needs to work on drawing contact, getting to the line, and hitting them once he is there.
Donnie Hale - Finally, he gets a freshman season when he really could be a junior. At this point we don't know exactly what we're getting, but Hale allows us to give five fresh looks next year. I've been told he has a Hummel-esque game, so let's see it. He's certainly had time to prepare.
Neal Beshears - Practice players are vitally important. Keep pushing everyone else and go get yours in the minutes given. He did finish 2 for 3 from the field, 2 for 2 at the line, with three rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes.
A.J. Hammons, Rapheal Davis, Jay Simpson, Ronnie Johnson - You've seen what has come before you. You know what the "Baby Boilers" did, but their time is lamentably over. It is not your job to equal them. It is your job to exceed them, or everything they did was for nothing. Davis is a pure scorer who can have an immediate impact. AJ is a true center we need to be a bruiser, like the Chooch. RJ will compete for point guard minutes, while Simpson needs to be a rebounder/low post threat. JJ never really had that protection on the other side of the rim. I think of Jared Sullinger being light years better with Dallas Lauderdale protecting the other side. The Lawson/Simpson/Carroll trio has to work in concert with the Marcius?Hammons duo, and each group can make the other better.
The future is indeed bright even though we're all hurting this morning. I remain optimistic because I have to be. If I don't believe that one day we will breakthrough and not only reach a Final Four, but win a title, there is little point in being a fan. I use moments like last night to remind me that when our time does come, it will be sweeter than we can possibly imagine.