In the wake of Purdue collecting its league-leading 25th Big Ten Championship, as well as Zach Edey collecting Big Ten and National Player of the Year honors, the annual migration of the social media boo-birds is in peak season.
Among many other complaints (don’t even get me started on the “He’s just tall” crowd), one supposedly glaring criticism of Purdue’s runaway big ten title, as well as Zach Edey’s statistical domination, is the claim that Purdue was gifted an irredeemably easy path to success by the Big Ten’s schedule gods. After all, Purdue played the bottom six teams in the big ten a whopping TEN times, while Indiana, for example, only had the luxury of playing against them 7 times.
To the uninformed, potentially biased fan, this may seem like an inexplicably unfair setup, unjustified title for Purdue, and undeserved honor for Zach. After all, Indiana beat Purdue twice. They simply must be a be a better team.
But here are the facts:
If beating Purdue twice makes IU undoubtedly the better team, and just a victim of unlucky (or in some claims, conspiracy) scheduling, then let’s take a dive into the curious case of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa mounted a 21-point comeback at home against IU, and then FranCon came to Bloomington and thumped the Hoosiers to the tune of 22, outscoring the Hoosiers by 45 points in just over 73 minutes of consecutive basketball. Logically speaking then, Iowa must be MILES better than Indiana and, by proxy, Purdue. So surely the only logical explanation for their 11-9 record and unfortunate missing of the double-bye is an inexplicably brutal Big Ten schedule, right?
Using the logic presented by the swarms of Purdue haters online, that is the only feasible conclusion. Until you actually look and find out that Iowa faced off against the bottom six big ten teams an unfathomable ten times. “But how can this be?” you might ask.
The answer is right in front of you, and although some will still choose to not believe it, it’s simply the truth. Although you might have been led to believe that Purdue won the Big Ten because they beat up the bottom six teams so much, the truth is that those teams are in the bottom six BECAUSE they got beat by Purdue, and not the other way around.
Don’t believe me? Take, for example, Northwestern. If IU had managed to win over Northwestern twice instead of losing, as they reasonably could have, Northwestern would plummet all the way to tenth place in the big ten, Chris Collins wouldn’t rob Matt Painter of his Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, and the Wildcats wouldn’t have their best conference finish since 1933 when their neighbors, UChicago, were still in the Big Ten (and still had a basketball team for that matter).
Conversely, let’s look at Penn State. Penn State had the misfortune of running into the Boilermakers twice and having Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer combine for 32 at the Palestra, and then having Mason Gillis set the Mackey Arena single-game 3-point record. If the Nittany Lions could have squeaked out just one of those two wins, then due to tiebreakers, Penn State would be 6th in the Big Ten and likely not have to watch Selection Sunday with their eyes closed and fingers crossed.
But they didn’t. Why? Because Purdue is pretty darned good. Which, coincidentally, is why they won the Big Ten by three games. Not because they played a cupcake schedule, paid the refs, or any other reason some delusional fan would have you believe.
The fact of the matter is, in a season in the Big Ten where, in terms of seeds, playing 2 is hardly any different than playing 12 in the Big Ten, the Boilermakers managed to stand head and shoulders above the competition, both literally and figuratively.