Much of the reason we knew that there was a difference between beating Eastern Kentucky and belonging on the same football field with Wisconsin, was because of the discrepancy of preparation and scheme between Purdue's sideline and their opponents was typically glaring. That's not the case for Purdue's basketball team...at least not in favor of Purdue's opponents.
Earlier in the week, J posted about the likability of B1G coaches...and we had a few questions raised about what our thoughts are about Matty. In case you didn't know, we like Matty...we think he's good at what he does...and we don't think he's forgotten how to get guys to play the game well and together (in spite of early indicators this season).
All of that said, let's not jump to conclusions about the importance or meaning of the last three wins; not yet anyway.
Don't get me wrong, these three games were imperative for Purdue's post-season hopes. And at this point, I have no delusions of grandeur- the NIT isn't even a lock...let alone the NCAA tournament. But, it's clear that things are changing for Painter's club.
It might seem like our Boilers have been mired in mediocrity for a long time...but this team...a team that has hovered at or below .500 is still relatively new. But what we saw today was kind of unchartered water for Painter's Pups.
Hammons had been hot...but was pretty frigid today...Ronnie Johnson had been improving with the ball, but was sloppy today...but it didn't matter. In spite of making a lot of mistakes, Purdue still beat the Mountaineers from WVU like rented Dodge Neons.
They're learning something that Painter teams must know: defense is the highest priority...and everyone needs to be ready to step up at any time. Today, it was Byrd, AJ and RayDay...last game it was Hammons and the game before that it was TJohn. Be ready gents, your opportunity imminent.
So what does beating the two worst teams in the conference and a .500 Big 12 squad say about this Purdue team? It probably says they just beat three teams that range from very bad to OK...and at this point, it might be too early to tell exactly what these games really mean. The next few games will probably tell us if these games had everything to do with the opponent or anything to do with our Boilers.
One thing we do know, is that it's about to get real up in here (as some might say). Purdue will play the fifth-best team in America (according to the RPI, KenPom and the AP poll) on the road before coming back home to face a solid Iowa team and then an extremely-talented/poorly-coached team. If Purdue can win 2 of the next three games, I think we can say with absolute confidence that this team has turned a corner...if they come away with one or zero wins in the same stanza, little to nothing has changed...and Purdue will once again be within one game of .500.
To me, it looks like the truly magic number for this squad is NINE. If they can win nine of the final 14 games, they'll get into the NCAA tournament at 19-13. That's a tall order- seven of 14 of their remaining games are against ranked opponents...three of those games are on the road.
To get into the Not Important Tournament, Matty's boys will have to go 7-7 in their final 14 games...that'll leave them with a 17-15 record.
There's a ton of basketball left to be played...that wasn't very good news for this team a few weeks ago. Now, I'm positive this team is looking forward to what's coming next...they've been having a much better time playing the game of late; funny how that works. Winning is fun.
But, as the Pups found out a few weeks ago v. Illinois winning versus ranked teams is really fun; they'll have plenty of opportunities to have a really good time in the coming weeks...and they should understand that, at this point, they shouldn't have any pressure on themselves as very few were expecting anything of them just over a month ago. They sat at 4-6, had no identity and were doing nothing well. We've said from the beginning of this season that this team would be a work in progress...thankfully, progress is beginning to become evident.