And so here we are. Tom Crean has acted like a jackass for the final time in the regular season, the standings are set and Purdue has finished better than any of us would have predicted a mere 2-3 weeks ago. At that time, it looked like the Boilers were circling the drain, heading towards one of those early Thursday conference tourney games where you're on the team bus heading home before most of the fans have even found their seats. Not a great situation from a program visibility perspective.
However, the Boilermakers -- in true Matt Painter fashion -- just kept swimming and never quit (like so many of us fans did) on the season. Their reward? Well, only a 15-16 finish, but a hard-earned 7-seed in the BTT and a hell of a final week, in which they upended Wisconsin in the Kohl, had a double-digit second half lead on #7 Michigan and walloped 20-win Minnesota on Senior Day.
After losing 5 of 6 in a two-and-a-half week span (all by double digits) from Jan 30-Feb 16 that included two hammerings from the Hoosiers and a truly listless performance at Northwestern on Feb 2, the season looked bleak to say the least. Amid the downward spiral, Matty lost his composure at Illinois and got tossed for the first time in his coaching career. The Boilers then lost by 28 on Feb 16 at Ass Hall, stood at 12-14 and looked like they were ready for the season to be over.
Then a funny thing happened -- we're not privy to the details of what goes on at practice or behind closed doors, but the Boilermakers regrouped and appeared to refocus. To our eyes, it looked like Matt Painter finally had enough and told the young, talented guys who were getting lots of playing time that it would now work like this: those who work hard and listen to the coaching staff will get to play -- those who don't do those things will see their minutes reduced.
The Boilers then went out and destroyed Northwestern by 31 (a game that included Sandi starting over Hammons and Dru Anthrop logging a career-high 17 minutes), kicking off a 3-2 finish to the Big Ten season that included a 13 point road win at Wisky and the fun Senior Day from Saturday.
What does it say about a team that can get bludgeoned by double-digits on a regular basis, but then when they do win, they win by double digits? You can't simply explain it all away with youth, I don't think. Young, bad teams get battered in this manner, but their wins are usually squeakers or final minute nail-biters. The Boilers -- for as lousy as a season as this has been at times -- have won games by 29, 26, 12 (at Clemson), 33, 10, 18, 27 (vs WVU), 31, 13 and 14. And I only left out five games, you'll note. So the Boilers won 2/3 of their victories by double-digits, including 50% of their conference wins. My rambling point? There is still a lot to be excited about here, in case you were wavering. When these Boilers win, it's because they shoot well, rebound well and play committed defense. Their FT shooting is still suspect and will likely be their downfall, in this year and beyond. But some of the fundamentals of being a good basketball team are in place -- and the thing that has been a thorn this year (youth and inexperience) will begin to pay dividends as early as next fall.
The BTT tournament bracket is out and it will take a win the Boilers should get (Neb) followed by one that would be a challenge (OSU) to get them into NIT talk. While stretching for the NIT is often something we might mock, a couple extra weeks of competitive basketball might be great for this group that seems to have finally figured a few things out.
If nothing else, this should be one more example of how Matt Painter never stops working, and doesn't allow his charges to stop working, either.