Glass Half Full: Encouraging Signs for Purdue Basketball in Defeat?
Call me crazy.
(I prefer "misguided optimist", but I've heard worse.)
Look me in the eye and tell me the glass is half empty.
(Although I still won't believe you.)
Drop my favorite team in the rankings.
(Well, actually, please don't...but...you're going to anyway. I get it.)
I'm still not throwing in the towel.
It's true: I may the most naive, delusional fan in the history of college basketball, but I'm not writing off the 2009-10 Purdue Boilermakers just because their star forward has exchanged his pair of high-tops for a pair of crutches.
Yes, even after watching one of the ugliest, devoid-of-offense, miserable basketball performances Purdue's Mackey Arena has ever seen, I remain convinced that the Boilers still have a trick or two up their sleeves in March.
I understand that after Robbie Hummel's knee injury forever changed the Boilermakers' season outlook, Sunday's 53-44 home loss (which likely cost Purdue a chance at the outright Big Ten championship) may not seem like a place to find encouragement and renewed hope.
But I did anyway.
Maybe I was looking too hard, giving my favorite team way too much benefit of the doubt, and falling for the occasional mirage in an overwhelming desert of offensive futility.
I still refuse to give up on the 2009-10 Purdue Boilermakers.
I believe because of Chris Kramer. You know Kramer: the 6'3" guard-turned-power forward that drips defense, toughness, and leadership. He's the guy that played a team-high 36 minutes against the Spartans and spent most of that time guarding a player five inches taller than him. Kramer's the defender that took charges on back-to-back Michigan State possessions in the second half to try and rally his team to victory.
It's true that he's not big enough to play forward. (You can't coach size, right?) But the gritty senior is strong enough, tough enough, and determined enough to make an impact at any position on the floor, even Hummel's.
I believe in Purdue's half-court defense. The Boilers' calling card has always been their man-to-man defensive intensity, and it didn't disappoint Sunday. Purdue forced 24 Michigan State turnovers without Robbie Hummel. Let me type that again. The left-for-dead, Hummel-less Boilermakers forced last year's national runner-up into 24 turnovers. That's two dozen of the kind of miscommunications, mishaps, and stupid decisions usually reserved for Wile E. Coyote and whoever tried to hunt down Bugs Bunny.
How's the old saying go? "6'8" forwards from Valaparaiso with silky smooth jump shots win championships?" Or was it something like, "Defense wins championships"? Hummel may be in street clothes (which is all the media is focused on right now, and understandably so), but Purdue still has its defense.
I believe in the Boilermakers' jump shooters. This is the toughest one to justify right now, because they collectively took yesterday off. How else do you explain the nation's then-No. 3 team shooting 30% from the floor? Still, despite Purdue laying an egg at the offensive end of the floor against Michigan State, the Boilermakers have enough talent on the perimeter to put the ball in the basket.
That may mean Ryne Smith and Mark Wohlford need to play more minutes. It might force D.J. Byrd and Chris Kramer to take open shots. (Did you hear that, Chris? You can take open shots!) It could (and should) motivate Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow to take an extra thousand jumpers a day in practice. But the Boilermakers are one solid three-point shooter away from spacing the floor, giving E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson some room to operate, and making teams pay for doubling Purdue's inside-outside tandem of stars. I'm convinced that guy's on the roster somewhere.
And of course, I believe in Matt Painter. See, I remember five years ago when he took over for Gene Keady and the Boilermakers didn't have much talent. Actually, let me correct myself: they didn't have ANY talent. But even then, Painter found a way to scratch out a few victories by teaching his team how to adapt, how to scratch and claw for every loose ball, and how to out-tough the opponents.
Now that he has a talented roster to work with, whether that be promising freshmen (like Kelsey Barlow, Patrick Bade and D.J. Byrd), All-Big Ten performers (like Johnson and Moore), or experienced, battle-tested seniors (like Kramer and Keaton Grant), I have faith that Painter can figure out the right buttons to push, the right rotations to employ, and the right plays to call to help Purdue overcome the loss of their most valuable player.
Rebounding can be taught and improved. Shooting skills can be honed. Offensive execution can be sharpened. Personally, I like the fact that the Boilers nearly pulled off a win against one of the conference's elite despite being outrebounded 44-16 and failing to hit the broad side of a barn offensively. Those stats should add up to a blowout loss.
Oh, and don't forget: the Boilermakers have two games this week against the worst two teams in the Big Ten (3-13 Indiana and 3-13 Penn State) to continue working out the kinks of post-Hummel life. Judging Purdue on only its first outing without its star...after just a couple of practices...and against the Big Ten's reigning powerhouse...seems shortsighted to me.
But then again, maybe I'm crazy.
Without Hummel, maybe Purdue doesn't have enough talent left on its roster. Or enough playmakers on offense. Or enough frontcourt depth. Or enough rebounders. Or enough free throw shooters.
March will make it painfully obvious, one way or the other. After all, I can envision a scenario where Purdue doesn't win another game this year (although it hurts me to even think about). I can also picture a script that lets the Boilers use the next week to figure it all out, rally around their injured star, and begin a magical, legendary run.
I don't know for sure how it will play out...
...but don't rip up those Final Four tickets just yet.
(You can always give them to me instead.)
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