Maybe you feel like me right now...maybe not. I'm torn.
Even in the closing seasons of Keady's time as head coach and Painter's first year, I loved the NCAA tournament...looked forward to it. But this year, I'm looking past the tourney and am stoked for Spring football. It's easy to love the potential of Coach Hazell's Boilermakers...it's tough right now for me to love basketball.
I'm not just talking about Purdue basketball...but that's the lynchpin that holds the whole thing together for me.
When Purdue's playing well, I have a voracious appetite for college basketball. It's fun to watch ACC, SEC, Pac12 and other conferences because in a way, I feel like I'm scouting for March. Who will Purdue be paired with in the tournament, what do match-ups look like...who's peaking? Who's floundering?
Right now, it's not that way. The immediate future for Purdue is filled with growing pains. Purdue gets beaten up by cerebral teams (Northwestern) and they get lambasted by thoroughbreds. If you find this season fun, you're a sadist.
I had lunch with one of my oldest friends yesterday and we talked a bit about basketball...he's of course a fellow Boiler. We were both brainwashed by our parents to be Purdue fans...in fact, our Dads went to Purdue together before graduating in 1970 (they actually went to grade school and high school together too). And years later, we attended Purdue at the same time. We got to see very good basketball while we sat in the student section...And although we didn't say it yesterday, I think we both would love to see a team like the Glenn Robinson-led squad in the current B1G. Instead, while the league is flourishing and the good ole days seem to have returned for the best basketball conference, Purdue is a mere shell of itself this season, and it's easy to see why.
The things that have defined Purdue for most of my life are nowhere to be found. No tough defense, no fundamentals, no fight. Youth does not equal not trying...youth does not equal shooting freethrows poorly...youth does not equal players not liking each other very much.
And there it is...there it all is. It seems to me that this Purdue team's problems are simple...but extremely difficult to solve.
Let me be clear- I don't have ANY insider information, but this is my theory. This is just based on what I've observed from the cheap seats and at home. Body language of the leaders varies between apathetic and flat-out pissed off. These guys know what it's like to play on a team that has chemistry. They know what it's like to have fun playing this game. They know what it's like to be a part of something greater than just a bunch of individuals with the same shirts on...and they know that this team isn't really a team at all, at this point.
And while I'll continue to go to games and cheer for good things to happen, the hours after many of the remaining games might have me asking, "Why do I keep doing this to myself?" The players aren't enjoying themselves...how can the fans?
If you feel motivated, you're welcome to offer me perspective.
The other day on the Knucklehead Board, a fan said this season reminded him of the 1989 team. There's a bit of an interesting parallel with that team- It was in the wake of the Stephens, Lewis, Mitchell teams...Those three led Purdue to two-straight Big Ten titles and were highly ranked in both their Junior and Senior seasons. Sure, Hummel's redshirt year kinda blows the comparison up, but I can see the point.
That '89 team finished sub-.500 for the year. That's only one of three times that's happened in the past 35 years...and I think we're watching the fourth. But, that '89 team had some of the same problems. They had a few guys who later played in the NBA on that roster...but they also had some guys who thought they were above the system and above the team.
Based on some of Painter's comments and substitution patterns, it seems there are a few of those guys on the roster right now as well.
By the way, in 1990, Matt Painter was a Freshman on the team...that team had a Senior (Sheffler) who helped lead the team to part of a Big Ten title and 22 wins.
Every team is different...personalities, talent, coaching...all very fluid. But what we know is this Purdue team needs to change the way it does things. And while changes this season probably won't lead to a difference in March, they will set a precedent for next season.
Purdue has another chance to do things differently tonight at Illinois. The Illini are suddenly hot as they've beaten IU and Minnesota in consecutive games. This Illinois team seems to rise to the occasion of ranked foes, and tends to let down their guard versus sub-par teams. That said, I have a feeling they'll be ready and are hungry to stop the 8-game losing streak versus Purdue. I don't believe any player on Illinois' roster has ever beaten Purdue. I'm sure those guys want to change that.
Tip-off is at 9:00 eastern on BTN.