After cooling off after yesterday's loss in East Lansing, I did some thinking and only had one question:
Why does Purdue suck in March?
Though I have not been a Purdue fan for long, compared to most of our readers, it was enough for me to notice something particularly strange about the 3rd month of the year. Purdue seems to always play well throughout the months of January and February, including this current season.
But under Matt Painter throughout his tenure at Purdue, he is 8-13 (0.380) in March to close out the regular season. That record expands to 14-21 (0.400) when you include the Big Ten Tournament.* This certainly seems like an outlier when you consider the fact that Painter is 100-73 (0.578) in Big Ten play throughout his Purdue tenure.
Granted, the month of March could just be considered a bit of noise and I may be overfitting the data. After all, there are some seasons where Purdue only plays one regular season game in March (2006-07 and 2011-12 seasons). When you count Purdue's performance in the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue has played a minimum of 3 games in March under Painter (the most games in March occurred in the 2008-09 season with 5 games).
However, despite the limited amount of games in March to observe, it does seem like, overall, Painter's teams perform poorly in the month of March, and there are some notable examples. After Hummel tore his ACL, Purdue was able to bounce back from a loss to Michigan State and won its March games against IU and Penn State. However, in the B1G Tournament, Purdue struggled to beat Northwestern on Friday night, and was extremely embarrassed against Minnesota in the semifinals, only scoring 11 points in the 1st half. The next year, after dominating throughout the year with JJ and E'Twaun, Purdue struggled to beat Illinois on senior night, lost at then bottom feeder Iowa, and was immediately kicked out of the conference tournament by Michigan State. 2012 featured a beat down at Indiana (that at least gave us this gem), 2013 saw us fall immediately to lowly Nebraska in Chicago, and Purdue failed to win a game in March 2014.
Now, there are obviously exceptions to this rule. Most notably in 2009, when Purdue went 3-0 in Indy to win the B1G Tournament (Of course, this was preceded by finishing the season with a home loss to Northwestern and a road loss at Michigan State). Purdue has also had a winning records in March 2007, 2009, and 2010. And of course, Purdue has played decently well in NCAA and CBI appearances, having at least won a game in each appearance and advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2009 and 2010.
However, it just seems to stick out for me that Purdue does not play well in the month of March. March 2006 and 2014 simply go along with bad seasons, but the rest are attached to seasons where Purdue finishes in the Top 4 (Purdue finished 6th and 7th in the 2012 & 2013 seasons respectively). Had Purdue won some of their final games in March, it may not make a large impact in their conference seeding, but it could have a large impact in the tournament seeing in the Big Dance (imagine if Purdue didn't lose to Iowa and MSU in 2011).
Ultimately, I have no idea why Purdue seems to play poorly in March. Perhaps it's the idea of the season coming to a close and added pressure to finish the season strong? Perhaps it's the team giving up on the season? I am far from a basketball expert, just a fan with an opinion and a platform to stand on, but I think something has to change under Painter throughout the month of March.
A March collapse for Purdue has yet to impact their chances of making the tournament under Painter. Most of the time, these occurred when Purdue was secured in the tournament or already blew their chances. However, it could impact their chances this year. Purdue has lost it's big road win at Indiana thanks to their collapse, and they have blown additional chances at Ohio State and Michigan State throughout March so far. Purdue needs to avoid the Curse of March this Saturday and in Chicago if it wants to dance. Just because Purdue has a trend for losing in March doesn't mean it's too late to be broken.
*I have not included other post-season tournaments (NCAA & CBI) as Purdue does not appear in them consistently every year and could skew the data.