14, 123 (and maybe more) were tightly packed into Mackey to catch their potential last ‘live’ glimpses of E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson’s collegiate careers. Illinois came out firing on all cylinders and put the Boilers in a huge 29-16 deficit. Coach Painter used 2 effectively called timeouts to discipline his team after their poor defensive pressure in the early stages. After the 2nd timeout, when trailing 31-18, the Boilermakers had three pointers by DJ Byrd, Terone Johnson, Lewis Jackson, and Moore. The wind was really taken out of the Illini sail when Smooge hit a 3-pointer with 9 seconds left to tie the game at 37 going into the break. In the 2nd half, Purdue was able to continue their strong play, and take a solid lead on the Illini, but Bruce Webber’s team never died out until the final minutes. Illinois knew they were in a game that they had to win or at least stay close, and they may not have been able to seal the deal after their 1st half lead, but they at least showed fight and desire against one of the best home teams in the land. Which brings me to my next point. The win versus Illinois brought our record at Mackey Arena this year to 16-0 and undefeated for the first time since 1969. The last team (and only other team) to go undefeated at Mackey had a former #1 pick on it (Rick Mount), went 23 and (dare I say it) 5 (the same number of losses we have now), and finished National Runner up. I’m not trying to jinx anything here, or make any bold predictions, all I’m saying is that the championship is definitely up for grabs this year, and I feel like we have a solid shot at winning it. But to do this, the team must perform at their peak level throughout the tournament, which brings me to my next 3-or-so points. DJ Byrd continued his solid streak of ball playing on Tuesday night. Deej netted 16 points, hauled in 7 boards, 3 assists, and a huge block of Illinois big man Mike Tisdale down the stretch. DJ played really well down the stretch of last season (11 against Minn and 11 against TAMU) and seems to be continuing that trend this season as well. He had 11 and 9 against IU last Tuesday, and had a let down game against Michigan St. (a terrible matchup game for him), but came back strong with the timely 16, a career high, against Illinois. Bottom line is DJ Byrd has begun to play his best basketball, giving us a potential 4th option, in case Lew-Jack has a bad day in the tourney. Second point: the role players on our team must continue to produce at this rate for a great run in March. Ryne Smith had 9 rebounds against Illinois. He also hit 2-4 threes (2 missed had hands in his face) and two clutch free throws down the stretch crucial to the team’s victory. Against Indiana Terone Johnson hit three 3-pointers in the first half to stop and Indiana run in the first half while JJ was on the bench. Kelsey Barlow continues to lock down opponents’ top players, force turnovers, and have spark plays. Lew-Jack continues to efficiently run the offense and is even gaining a better sense of appropriate tempo. He now realizes times to push the ball and times to slow it up. He isn’t just grabbing the ball and darting up court anymore. He’s really starting to become a true point guard the more and more he gains a feel for the perfect style. All these components are so important in our team putting together wins, but these role performers just continue to be doubted and overshadowed by the presence of JJ and Smooge. Third point, I’m really starting to worry about the future in the post. Recruits Jacob Lawson (6’8”) and Donnie Hale (Ditto) won’t be tall enough to guard the likes of Adrian Payne, Cody Zeller, and Jordan Morgan, and current centers Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius aren’t getting enough playing time to get solid experience. I know we are in the middle of a special season, so we can’t really waste any more time on gaining experience, we must play to win every game the entire time. That’s enough about the future. That concludes my points; so let’s move on to the good stuff, Bracketology!
Bubble teams in the Big 10, see your fate here. There really aren’t that many this year, 3 locks, and maybe 3-4 bubble teams. So here are my ‘Frantic Four’, four teams that probably deserve to be in the tournament, but haven’t performed up to their full potential all year, so now they are frantically trying to win games to push themselves off the bubble and into the tournament. Here we go!
Michigan State 17-12 (9-8 Big Ten): There’s no doubt the Spartans have been the biggest disappointment in the country this season. With pretty much the same unit from a Final Four team last year, Michigan State looked like a #1 seed lock. But dismissals and minor injuries, and a season long slump from Senior star Durrell Summers, have cost this team dearly. After a terrible midseason stretch, which at one point saw them lose by 20 to Iowa, the Spartan ship seemed to have been righted. However, after a blowout loss to Purdue, Tom Izzo’s crew found themselves right back on the bubble and in dire need of as many wins down the stretch as they can to make the tournament. They currently sit 4th in the conference (believe it or not) and have to play their regular season finale on the road (@Michigan). The Spartans could use a win here to improve their shot at getting in, but with a couple wins in the Big 10 tourney, and being that Izzo is their coach, I think they get in; maybe one of the First Four teams in the play-in rounds. Bottom line though, I say MSU is IN.
Illinois 19-12 (9-9): The Illini did exactly what they needed to do this weekend in their home finale against IU. They mauled them. Bruce Webber’s club played just how they should have been playing all season, and after a strong performance in a loss at Purdue on, followed it up with a 72-48 win just earlier today. This team is playing well at the right time (end of the year) to leave a good impression on the tournament committee. Illinois only need one more win to reach 20, and with a little help from Michigan, they could take the 4 seed in the Big 10 Tournament (I think the next tiebreaker after head-to-head is overall record), so after the blowout win today, barring an awful performance in the B10 Tourney, I see them IN.
Michigan 18-12 (8-9): I thought the Wolverines could potentially be a sleeper at the beginning of the year, and they have been every bit of that. They need to get more consistent play (rebounding) out of Jordan Morgan down low, and they must take good shots on the perimeter to continue this run that they have going. The Wolverines find themselves right in the thick of things with their regular season finale this afternoon versus Michigan St. State could really use another road win, but Michigan needs the win and I think they’ll get it. My Chesterton boy Zack Novak wants to dance this March, and with a win today, I think they get a spot in the first 64 teams in. In the end, I think Michigan is IN.
Minnesota 17-12 (6-11): Only 5 teams that have had under .500 records in their conference have ever gotten at large bids in the tournament. I don’t think Minnesota will be one of them, however I will include them because of the potential return of team leader and floor general Al Nolen. Nolen went down when Minnesota was at their best point in the season (they beat us remember) and it really hurt the Gophers. They’ve now lost 8 of 9 going into their Senior Night tonight, and if Nolen plays they definitely win, and if he doesn’t, I still think Minnesota finds a way to finally get a W. I picked them to win the conference at the beginning of the season, mainly because of the depth they had in the Bigs department, and also in large part because of Nolen, who was a proven leader who could effectively establish a tempo and run a solid paced offense. Unfortunately, Minnesota must win the Big 10 tournament to make the NCAA’s. But that’s the reason I have them here. I chose them to win the conference for a reason at the beginning of the year, and I think they are capable of doing so. I just hope they get a healthy Al Nolen. My prediction, OUT.
This concludes my Bracketology issue of “The Boilermaker”; I hope you all enjoyed my insight and analyzation. I will only be writing a couple more issues before the NCAA tournament begins, as selection Sunday is only seven and a half days away so make sure you come back for those. I hope you all enjoyed, and root the Boilers to victory against Iowa today.