I'm an optimist by nature. I always look for the best in people, in life, and in basically every situation that I find myself in. Perhaps that's because I have a pretty darn good life. I have a great family that raised me well and gave me the ability to chase my dreams. I've got a loving wife and an adorable dog who keep me company and who I love spending time with. Things like that make it easy for me to look at the world with a glass half full perspective. There's one area though where my optimism falters. Watching Purdue athletics truly tests my optimism. Let's take a look shall we?
On the macro side of my Purdue opinions I'm definitely an optimist. I believe that Purdue can and WILL win a national title in basketball. It's just a matter of when. When the season starts I take a look at the schedule and see great things ahead for our beloved Boilermakers. During the non-conference when the team is clicking, like against Vermont, I see national titles dancing in my head. I imagine that this is the year it all comes together. Painter just got his first McDonald's All-American, recruiting has been strong, and the team has been gradually getting better these last couple years. This is the year. This is it! You can see the optimism filling me up and perhaps clouding my mind. That's when the first act comes to a close and the reality begins to set in. This year reality began to set in during the Butler game.
As the games get harder and the opponents tougher my negative side starts to come out. Going into the Butler game I just KNEW Purdue was going to lose. I mean, it was the Crossroads Classic where Purdue has never won. It was a game that Purdue really needed to show the national media that they are for real. So, of course Purdue laid an egg. It was almost expected. I'm not sure why this negativity comes out or when the switch gets flipped but I felt this way before the game even started. Perhaps it's the years of Purdue fandom, and subsequent disappointment, that prevents me from ever truly being happy and maintaining my optimism. Whatever it is, it rears its ugly head each and every season in each and every sport. Setting aside football, you're welcome, each basketball season I tend to imagine and see ahead the forthcoming downfall of the basketball team. I wasn't always like this though. Years ago I maintained the optimism throughout the year.
My only guess is that this started during the 2010 season when everything was going as well as possible for Purdue basketball. Then, that Minnesota game happened. We all know how the season ended and the downward spiral that occurred. Maybe I could put that aside were it not for the ensuing re-injury before the next season even started. Maybe it was that injury that finally broke my spirit. I don't think I was ever quite as optimistic after that. But why? The current Purdue team has absolutely nothing to do with those 2010 or 2011 teams. Yet still, the pessimism remains.
I've been trying to fight that pessimistic vibe this season so with all of that in mind I thought taking a look at what both sides of my brain think about the rest of this Purdue basketball season would be good. Let's start with the depressing pessimistic side shall we? Always hate to end on a downer (see there's the optimistic me coming out).
Pessimistic Jumbo Heroes Says:
Man this team has so much potential that they are just wasting don't they? So many shooters that can't seem to hit the wide open shot when it matters. So many players who COULD take over a game who just don't. I mean, how do you lose to this Illinois team? Sure the game was at Illinois and it's hard to win on the road in the B1G but come on it's a horrid Illinois team with one of the worst offenses in the country! This Purdue team is just so inconsistent it's driving me crazy. I know that a defense has a large impact on shots that guys like Cline, Stephens, and Mathias take but their shooting percentages vary so much from game to game that you never truly know what you are going to get from them. Most worrisome is the lack of consistent defense. Yes, Hammons is going to block a ton of shots but if a team has athletic, quick guards I'm not sure who on this Purdue team is going to stop them. We saw that against Illinois. The stats on defense look great but when you watch this team you can tell something is off.
The B1G has some rock solid teams this year. Michigan State is always tough and this year will be no exception. The continued rise of Maryland is troublesome to Purdue fans and to me in particular since I now live in Maryland and have tickets to that particular ballgame. To add to those two teams Iowa has looked better than they have in years and IU is improving as well. What I'm trying to say is it's looking like Purdue might go 9-9 in conference play. That would be devastating for NCAA tournament seeding. That could again place Purdue around the 6-9 range, possibly lower, that you always hate to be in. At this point I just hope that Purdue can win a game in the tournament.
Optimist Jumbo Heroes Says:
Man that guy was depressing wasn't he? The fact of the matter is this season is far from over. Remember how much the defense improved on last year's team from beginning to end? It was like a completely different team. If this Purdue team improves even half as much last year's squad did it will be hard to score on this team. When you think about the B1G reigning defensive player of the year pairing with A.J. Hammons doesn't it just excite you? If Purdue can find a third solid defender to throw on the team's number two scorer teams are going to struggle mightily.
On the offensive end Purdue always find a way to put it together. While Stephens, Cline, and Mathias may not be as consistent as we would like with the three of them on the same team you can nearly guarantee that one of the three will be able to come in and make a shot when it matters. With those three it also makes things easier for guys like Hammons and Haas. When you've got two seven footers you've gotta find ways to let the big dogs eat and Purdue has done a good job of making that a priority. Remember, the addition of Swanigan makes everything different for everyone and once he solidifies his role this team will only get better.
While it's true that the conference has some good teams there's no reason that Purdue can't be at or near the top of the conference at the end of the season. Sure, there have been struggles but those are just individual games and not a trend. There's no reason Purdue couldn't go on a hot streak and finish 15-3 in conference play. There are lots of tough games on the schedule to be sure but it's not as if Purdue is a pushover. Other teams aren't exactly marking Purdue as a sure win when they see them on the schedule. Purdue will be in every game the rest of the season and I think they'll win a bunch of them.
Come NCAA Tournament time Purdue could and should find themselves in the top four seed range. With that seed you get the more favorable matchups that Purdue has been lacking these last few years of tournament matchups. If the ball bounces the right way there's no reason this can't be a Final Four team. All the pieces are in place, Painter just needs to assemble them.