Do you want to know what every teams biggest weakness is?
It seems obvious, but I’m gonna be obvious because it’s important, good teams can beat you. That’s why the Ohio State game is so dangerous. It’s why the MSU game looks so imposing in East Lansing. It’s why the B10 slate is always so daunting.
It’s hard to beat good teams. That’s why any win on the road in the B10 is a good win because home crowds make decent teams good and bad teams tough.
That’s why the recent stretch or Purdue play is not overly concerning. When you’re on a 19 game win streak you start to diagnose yourself with problems at the slightest ache. It’s not enough to win in your mind, especially if you don’t win in dominate fashion after a stretch where Purdue won 3 straight B10 games, including games at Minnesota and Iowa, by a combined 85 points. There haven’t been many Boilermakers team with a ceiling as high as this one, that’s why it seems so frightening when they play down to their opponents. It’s a scary drop.
And that’s kind of what happened in a sold out Rutgers arena, when the Boilers had to hold tight to a victory they nearly squandered. In a lot of ways Purdue fans are used to this, too. It was just last year Purdue was up 9 at half against Iowa just to completely unravel and lose. It was just last year that Purdue went into Nebraska to take on an inferior Cornhuskers team and lose. Playing close games against bad or not good teams is not ideal, but unlike teams of Purdue past, this team is still winning the games where they don’t play well.
That is important. And different.
This team hasn’t unraveled. They have still not lost a game on US soil. Not in 19 games that span all the way back to last year, on Thanksgiving, in a ballroom. They didn’t lose against a Louisville team that beat us last year. A Louisville team that has more quality bigs than almost anyone in the country and that beat Purdue with conviction the year before. They didn’t lose to Butler in a Crossroads Classic game that hadn’t been kind to Purdue. They didn’t lose in Anne Arbor in a back and forth game, or in Mackey when neither team could miss.
The Boilers didn’t lose when they went into Assembly Hall and the hostile Hoosier crowd was hungry for blood. Purdue didn’t lose early in the B10 conference when they hosted a not yet crumbling Northwestern team and Purdue brought it’s D- game in front of a student-less Mackey Arena.
Winning matters. Winning is a skill. It’s clear right now the type of teams that will bother Purdue. Athletic teams, teams that are merciless on the glass, with length and speed. Purdue needs hit in the mouth every now and again to reach for that fifth year, but so far they haven’t needed an L to get there.
Tennessee was the first team to take advantage of Purdue’s undersized guards with their impressive collection of length and athleticism everywhere. They grabbed 20 offensive rebounds to Purdue’s 10 and outrebounded Purdue by 9 while forcing 18 turnovers and they still needed a last second 3-pointer and overtime to beat the Boilermakers.
The recent Rutgers game saw a similar approach. Rutgers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to Purdue’s 7 and outrebounded the Boilers by 12. But Purdue only turned the ball over 8 times and though the game was close throughout and Sanders might be the best crazy shot maker in the B10, Purdue still had an answer for the Scarlet Knights super bowl intensity.
Winning matters. Teams will continue to attack the offensive glass for no other reason than they know they’re not going to be as efficient on offense as Purdue will. They need the extra possessions. In the end, it probably still won’t make a different.
This senior class has learned from heartbreak. They now know where the cracks start and how to hold them together.
They know how to win.