Obviously, any of us can point to the fact that there is no more JJ and no more E'Twaun and thus that's the key. And sure, that's a valid point. But it's not like this team is devoid of talent and it's not like they haven't won some tight games and had their impressive nights.
Any season in any sport can be sliced up and dissected in a multitude of ways, so obviously this is just one fellow's opinion, but I think the following statistics are very impactful.
There are a couple of measures that the NCAA selection committee takes into account and that computer rankings also take into account and one of the big ones is how you fare against quality competition. Sure, the top 25 rankings aren't the same as the RPI, but if you want a simple look at how your team is doing against some of the best in the country, either top 25 list is a good measuring stick. Below is how Big Ten teams have fared against those top 25 opponents.
That's right....winless. And the worst record versus top 25 competition in the entire Big Ten. If you wish to compare our boys against some of the teams I think a lot of us feel are similarly talented, the side-by-side is not good. Illinois, for example, who perpetually feels like a team in freefall, is 3-3 against top 25 competition. IU is 3-4. Michigan is .500. All of which are a hell of a lot better than 0-6, yet would .500 be that much to ask for?
The second big factor that has been different this year is the ability to protect home court. Purdue hadn't lost at home in two years, yet has three home losses this season. If you hold serve against Wisconsin and Michigan at home this year -- neither of which are a stretch to imagine having happened -- suddenly you have two wins versus the top 25 and you're just one game out of first in the conference. How incredibly different would this season feel right now if Purdue had simply pulled out those two? Remember, this is leaving the Xavier and Butler debacles exactly as they happened.
Protecting home court leads to good things. You win games against ranked teams when you do that in the toughest conference in the land and you challenge for the conference title. You also lock up a tourney bid and are able to go into the Big Ten Tournament only looking to not hurt yourself, rather than desperately wanting additional Ws for the ledger.
How does this compare, you might ask? I'm glad you might have asked.
Last season, the Boilers went 16-0 at home and 4-2 vs the AP Top 25. The year before they were 15-2 at Mackey and 4-2 against Top 25 competition. Those two seasons resulted in first and second place finishes.
Clearly, losing all-conference talents like JJ and Smooge is a big hurdle to overcome, and I'm not suggesting the Boilers should not have been impacted. However, I think these data points illustrate just how different things could be if only the Boilers could hold serve at home and close out a few conference games against their ranked foes. The opportunities still exist -- albeit road versions -- so the summary on this team and this senior class has not yet been written.
It's time to get the pen on the paper. Choo-choo.