Missing: Has Anyone Seen the Purdue Boilermakers' Identity?

Tim CarySenior Analyst IJanuary 14, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - JANUARY 12:  Robbie Hummel #4 of the Purdue Boilermakers shoots the ball during the Big Ten game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Mackey Arena on January 12, 2010 in West Lafayette, Indiana. Ohio State won 70-66.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I was probably in the distinct minority, but I thought Purdue was in trouble against Ohio State during the FIRST half Tuesday night's game.

Yes, the same first half where Robbie Hummel scored 29 points...and the Buckeyes as a team scored 29 points.

The rest of the world caught on to the Boilermakers' plight sometime later, during the game's final five minutes when Evan Turner went All-World and left the sixth-ranked team in the nation wondering what had hit them.

Final score: Ohio State 70, Purdue 66.

So why was I concerned during Hummel's one-man "This Is What ON FIRE Looks Like" show?

It's simple; that's not how Purdue wins basketball games.

The Boilermakers' identity isn't flashy offense or NBA JAM "hot spot"-type shooting displays.

It's hard-nosed, man-to-man, in your grill, throw-an-elbow-but-I'm-not-moving-an-inch, Gene Keady-Matt Painter-Chris Kramer-type defense.

And that identity has gone AWOL in the past week.

I was frustrated with Purdue's performance even while Hummel was singlehandedly ripping apart everything Thad Matta has ever believed about zone defenses. That's because the Boilers weren't hustling, weren't finishing, weren't grabbing rebounds, and weren't playing the kind of defense that demoralizes, wears down, and grinds-to-a-standstill the opposition's offensive attack.

They weren't playing the kind of defense that Purdue is known for.

When the Boilers are on their game, teams are starting their halfcourt offense 42 feet from the basket because Kramer won't let them any closer.

When the Boilers are on their game, visitors are throwing ill-advised backdoor passes out of bounds because the wings are getting overplayed like nobody's business.

When the Boilers are on their game, the other team doesn't shoot anywhere NEAR 51 percent from the floor. Incredible players—even if they're Evan Turner and/or the best in the country—don't drop 32 points on the Big Ten's best team in Mackey.

When the Boilers are on their game, they're a Final Four team.

But in Madison on Saturday and West Lafayette three days later, the Boilers weren't on their game. 

Not to say Purdue can't play defense AND have Robbie Hummel post a 29-point half—the two aren't mutually exclusive—but the Boilers won't be winning any trophies because they out-shot Michigan State or Duke or Villanova in March.

Instead, Purdue has to win games at the defensive end by shutting down opponents, making their lives miserable, winning the turnover battle, and playing with Boilermaker grit.

Translation? Quit standing around and watching Robbie Hummel shoot and play defense like a title depends on it—because it does.

Make no mistake.  If Purdue wants to meet its goals—and our expectations—this season, they need to rediscover their identity.