Purdue coach Matt Painter didn't know what to expect with standouts Carl Landry and David Teague gone from a team that narrowly lost to eventual national champion Florida in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In their place, Painter would be relying on sophomore guards Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant, freshman forward Robbie Hummel and freshman guard E'Twaun Moore. "I liked our talent level. I liked our moxie, but I'd never seen a handful of these guys play college basketball before," he said. That's why you schedule a nonconference team such as Wofford. At home in mid December. You surely don't lose to that team if you're going to have a shot at another NCAA bid. Well ... the Boilermakers did just that, 69-66.
"I really feel that if that didn't happen, we wouldn't be the same team we are today," Painter said. "We had to realize we could get beat any place, any time by anybody. We're one of those teams that can compete with a lot of people and beat a lot of people, but we can get beat by anybody. That really hit home after that game with us."
Apparently so. Another three-point loss, to Iowa State, followed. But since then, the Boilermakers have won 13 of their past 14, including their past 10. In the past week, they've beaten a pair of Top 10 teams, Wisconsin in Madison and Michigan State at home.
The Boilermakers (20-5, 11-1 in the Big Ten entering today's game against Northwestern), have soared to No. 19 in the Associated Press poll and catapulted to the top of the conference standings.
Hummel leads a balanced scoring attack (11.4 points a game) but has shown more firepower of late. He had 21 and 24, respectively, against the Badgers and Spartans. Moore (11.2 points) and Grant (10.7 points) average double figures, and Kramer has been the defensive whiz and consummate floor leader.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, for one, isn't surprised.
Back in the fall, he tabbed Purdue as his "sleeper team" to win the league.
"There's no question that's the most physical team in the league," he said. "That's strange to say with freshmen. But it's not the old Purdue teams that (ex-Spartans coach Jud Heathcote) used to battle with when a lot of the players looked like the Boilermaker himself. This is a more athletic, skinnier version with the same competitiveness."
Who knew, huh?
Purdue is not the only team from the basketball-crazed state of Indiana enjoying big-time success this season. Take a look:
Team Record Ranking
Butler 23-2 (12-2 Horizon) 9
Indiana 20-4 (9-2 Big Ten) 13
Purdue 20-5 (11-1 Big Ten) 19
Notre Dame 18-5 (8-3 Big East) 20
IUPUI 20-5 (12-2 Summit) -
March Madness in February
Tom O'Connor, athletic director at George Mason, is the chair of the Division I men's basketball committee. That's right. He's the guy you'll see on Selection Sunday explaining the seeding, who got in the 65-team field and who didn't earn one of the 34 at-large bids. He recently was on a national teleconference. A few highlights:
What's the sentiment toward expanding the tournament by 10 or 12 teams?
You have to appreciate and respect everybody's opinion. But at this time, the committee and the NCAA board has determined that the current bracket is appropriate.
You and your committee will begin deliberations a day earlier than normal. What do you hope to gain?
One of the reasons why we decided to do that is so we can have more discussion on the selection. ... That's the most important part of the process. The seeding and bracketing are important, but you can't be seeded, you can't be bracketed if you're not selected. ...The second point is, quite frankly, we've been a little bit rushed in bracketing, and we really would like to spend a little bit more time on bracketing.
Why will the committee be looking at a team's last 12 games compared with the usual criterion of its last 10?
It's really a simple answer. With the number of exempt games that we took a look at last year - and this year there may be even more exempt games -we just felt that was a clearer picture of what was happening.
Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.