Osipoff: Expect Boilers to make this one count
March 14, 2012 11:30PM
Purdue head coach Matt Painter argues with an official in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State in the second round of the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis, Friday, March 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: April 16, 2012 8:27AM
The NCAA Tournament fits Purdue as comfortably as a favorite pair of jeans.
The Boilermakers, after all, will be making their sixth straight appearance.
But their journey to this tournament hasn’t been as comfortable as in seasons past.
Not since 2007 — the first season of this run, when the Carl Landry- and David Teague-led team arguably didn’t clinch a bid until its Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal win against Iowa — had they secured their postseason fate this late.
The notion of this team winding up in the NIT seemed unlikely, but perhaps it was a possibility, if things had broken a bit differently.
After starting February with a home loss to Indiana, the Boilermakers during the course of that month completed a season sweep of Northwestern, won at Illinois and won at Michigan, likely the victory that put them over the top.
And, stylistically, they’ve made their way in atypical fashion. They’ve turned to a more offensive approach — often employing a smaller lineup capable of putting up points, particularly via 3-point shooting — with their defense not as tenacious as previous editions.
And they’ve moved (far) beyond the Kelsey Barlow dismissal/D.J. Byrd suspension.
So here they are, back in the NCAA Tournament, getting set to play Saint Mary’s on Friday in Omaha.
Purdue will carry that streak of 13 consecutive wins in tournament openers.
And that string is no fluke. Not to say the Boilermakers are going to have an easy time with the Gaels — far from it. But there’s also a reason they haven’t gone one-and-done since 1993, including maintaining the streak as a No. 10 seed, a No. 8, and twice as a No. 9, most recently in ’07.
“Sometimes when you lose more, doubt seeps in there a little with each guy,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “You have to try to keep them on edge and fighting, but you also have to be positive and stay together. They’ve done a good job of staying together, and I think some good things are happening when I’m not around.”
That’s a direct reflection on this senior class. You know Robbie Hummel, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith are going to do everything in their power to extend this season and their college careers as long as possible. That trio, with its will and determination — and on-court performance, of course — already deserves so much credit for getting Purdue’s season to this point, when it could’ve veered in another direction.
Hummel, in particular, should get more than one game in his return to the NCAA Tournament stage (though what’s “fair” can’t really be applied to him at this juncture ...).
And this team in general figures to especially appreciate this tournament opportunity, because of the rocky path it took.
“This group has done a good job — they’ve done a good job understanding what’s important,” Painter said. “When we lose, our guys care. They want to see Purdue win. When we go back to the drawing board, you see some guys really trying to pull the rope in the same direction. That says a lot about our players and our program.”
The winner of the Purdue-Saint Mary’s game will draw No. 2 seed Kansas — which likely was going to be a No. 1 until losing in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals to Baylor — if the Jayhawks can beat No. 15 Detroit.
If the Boilermakers can get past the Gaels, they certainly would have problems with Kansas and its size, with 6-foot-10 Thomas Robinson — Robinson and Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis are the two contenders for national player of the year — and 7-footer Jeff Withey.
Still, if Hummel and Jackson and Smith play possessed, and Byrd makes a slew of 3-pointers, and Terone Johnson gets to the rim with regularity, and Travis Carroll holds his own on the interior, who knows?
As a No. 10 seed in 1999, the Boilermakers made the Sweet 16, beating No. 7 seed Texas and No. 2 Miami in Boston, before losing to No. 6 Temple in East Rutherford.
Though anything is possible — part of the allure of the NCAA Tournament — another trip to the Sweet 16, or beyond, for this No. 10 seed Purdue team might not be in the cards.
But given the makeup of these Boilermakers, and the track record of the program, anticipate a strong showing that includes playing into the weekend.