We are starting a new weekly feature here at Hammer and Rails where I’ll be coming up with a question for each writer to answer. I hope these questions will give you all some fresh takes on the Purdue athletics we all love. So without further ado, here’s the question and the answers from the staff.
Purdue basketball has been ranked #1 in the country for 4 straight weeks. Then they lost to Rutgers, ugh Rutgers. This is the second season in a row this has happened. Regardless of the opponent, have your expectations for the season changed following the loss? And for that matter, what are your expectations?
Coming into the season, if you’re a listener of the Hammer and Rails Podcast you’ll know, I had very low expectations for this team. I thought making the tournament would happen and that the absolute best case scenario was the Sweet 16. Then they went and jumped out to a 13-0 start including wins over Marquette, West Virginia, Gonzaga, and Duke. That certainly changed my expectations. Now my floor is the Sweet 16. The ceiling is, as they say, the roof.
I was hoping for a top 4 finish in the conference but wasn’t too optimistic about that. Now suddenly I’ve got my eyes on Big Ten championship number 25. The loss to Rutgers didn’t really change my thinking that much. Purdue wasn’t going to go undefeated. They just weren’t. As much as I wanted it to be a possibility we all know that it wasn’t. Plus, the dirty little secret is that Rutgers is good. They play good defense and are well coached. That’s a tough combination to go up against and despite not shooting the ball well Purdue almost found a way to win and instead lost by just a point. It’s not the end of the world.
The victory over Ohio State, on the road, I think settled a lot of fans minds about what this team can do. Purdue went on the road to take down the 24th ranked team in conference play. The Big Ten is always a meat grinder and despite the slow start, Purdue found a way to win. They did it by tightening up the defense and by hitting shots in the last 4 minutes of the first half and most of the second half. This team has a lot of passion and intensity in them. I think it could serve them well come March.
No, the loss to Rutgers does not change my expectations for this season as a single loss generally does not alter the trajectory of a season. Purdue is largely ahead of schedule by a full calendar year for the basketball program when two true freshmen were going to be asked to play major minutes as starters. The expectations for this team continue to be the same as they always are for Purdue from me: place in the top 4 of the B1G, win your first game in the BTT, and get to the second week of the NCAAT. Everything after that is a huge plus every single year because that likely means you won 24 or more games in that season and spent a majority of it ranked. Purdue isn’t Kansas, UNC, or UCLA so they don’t have the expectations of Final Four or bust and we have seen how those expectations can leave fanbases jagged and living in the past. This is a team very similar to the one that had Haas, PJT, Mathias, and Vince Edwards in that they just didn’t have the athletes to make up for poor shooting nights which is what has stricken this team since the end of November.
Hopefully the second half of the Rutgers game is a bit of a return to level and just being average from behind the arc likely means Purdue wins 14 games in the B1G which puts them in contention for a conference title, an easier game in the BTT, and a good seed in the NCAAT.
Post Rutgers Game:
Purdue was going to lose a game at some point, I think we all realistically expected that. And they probably will again. Rutgers ranks third in adjusted defense efficiency according to Kenpom and while it was at home, I don’t really consider it a bad loss. My expectations were to reach the final four (isn’t that always the goal?) and that hasn’t changed. There are going to be bumps along the way, especially with a young team. I look forward to seeing how they respond now. I do have concerns about our 3 pt. shooting, we need to honestly start to look at the numbers and think did we just shoot well a couple weeks and now water has found it’s level? We need to get guys going on the outside, B1G teams haven’t been in successful in March as of late because they are traditionally big teams (no pun intended) and guard play wins in the tourney.
3 minutes Post Ohio State Game:
Ignore everything I just said, Purdue’s going to win it all.
I think my expectations for this team have been fairly stable throughout the season. Before the season, both Andrew and I expressed that we expected this team to make a Sweet 16. I think that for me, the floor started as a tournament appearance and the ceiling was an Elite 8 appearance . Then the historic rise came from this team which raised both the floor and ceiling. At its peak, Purdue looked to be a guaranteed Elite 8 team with a ceiling of that sweet elusive title. Since then, however, Purdue has dropped off a bit as they have struggled to shoot the ball. Purdue struggled to beat some decent teams, unlike when it dominated elite teams in Portland. Though I don’t think the ceiling for this Purdue team has fallen from winning the championship, as a good shooting night can allow the Boilermakers to beat anyone, I do think the floor has lowered to the Sweet 16.
To finally answer the question, my expectations for this Purdue team have not changed following the loss to Rutgers. Rutgers is still a good team and Purdue has continued its shooting slump against them. At the moment, I expect an Elite 8 appearance as well as this Purdue team to aggressively compete for its 25th Big Ten Championship.
This is tough. I’ve never had to ramp my expectations up, like I have for this team. I started expecting a struggle to make the tournament, then I thought we were a lock for the Final 4. Now I’m somewhere in-between. This is a good team that can be great with consistent shooting.
Right now, this team is good. If it gets shooting like it did in the second half against Ohio State, it can be great. Until I see proof they can do it consistently, I expect this team to finish somewhere in the top 3 of the Big10, and make it to the sweet 16.
That’s way up from my preseason prediction, but down from my post Duke/Gonzaga expectations. I reserve the right to revise this if the shooting stabilizes.
I’ll start by saying that, in looking at the Boilermakers’ returning talent from last season in conjunction with watching film from the newbies like Smith and Loyer, I was surprised this team was unranked to start the season. I don’t think a lot of us saw the meteoric rise to being top-ranked well before New Year’s Day, but the fact of the matter is that even before a single ball was bounced in the 2022-23 season, Purdue’s roster was balanced in size and complimentary in style with the new additions.
If you had asked me my expectations of what would be accomplished by season’s end, I’d have guessed Purdue would finish somewhere between tenth- and twentieth ranked in the Associated Press rankings, they’d secure one of the top three spots in the conference, and at worst they’d be dealt a four seed if and only if they made a poor showing in the conference championship tourney. Matt Painter’s team can’t get complacent, but they’ve already exceeded a lot of people’s expectations and still have only suffered one loss by only one point. Oh, Rutgers. Why always Rutgers?
I still think Purdue plays the type of team ball that gets a team deep into a tournament. Shouts out to Duke and Gonzaga. I’m not saying this team is a surefire conference champ, I just see this as a team which, even if it’s having its worst day, is always keeping games close against stiff competition.