“Here lies a toppled god. His fall was not a small one. We did but build his pedestal, A narrow and a tall one.” ? Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah.
It’s no secret that I root for the other college in Indiana. That was already my team of choice and now my boy plays for their pep band which cranks it up a notch. Rooting against Purdue is in my blood, and – truth be told – there was a bit of schadenfreude when I learned of top seeded Purdue’s historic loss against #16 seed Farleigh Dickinson the other night. I didn’t see it because we were in Berlin at the time, five hours ahead, trying to catch a few hours of sleep before leaving for the airport at 3:45 a.m. local time. I woke up to a text from my mom sharing the shocking news.
This was a horrible loss for the Boilermakers. There’s no other way to spin it. But what tends to get lost in the discussion is the level of success necessary to make this loss even possible. If Purdue had performed to pre-season expectations, they are probably somewhere in that Big Ten logjam, placing somewhere between 2 and 9th in the league; maybe a 5 or 6 seed in the tournament. If they do that, they exit in the first game or two, folks are disappointed for a week or so, but then fans look forward to next year with more experience on the court. Instead, Purdue set itself ahead of the Big Ten pack. They get swept by Indiana but otherwise stand above the Big Ten winning the regular season and the tournament. It’s only that success that makes the historic loss possible. Instead of remembering the Big Ten championship, fans and detractors alike will remember the face plant against FDU. That’s inevitable, but I’m not entirely sure it’s fair.
Expectations are an insidious thing. I saw that in my rec soccer coaching – being up a couple of goals and then coming away with a tie felt like a loss whereas being down a couple of goals and then getting a tie felt like a win. It’s not just athletics either – it’s most things in life. Things that are objectively neutral or even good can feel bad if they don’t live up to expectations. Compared to basically every other era in history, most humans on the planet now have things better than in any other era in history; but their existence can, nevertheless, feel fraught and miserable simply because we know better is possible.
Likewise, Purdue fans feel miserable because so much more was possible. But it was only possible because of the work and success of Painter, Edey, et al, through the rest of the season. Don’t expect much empathy for Boilermaker basketball in these pages in the future, but I hope after the pain of this loss fades, there will be some ability among fans to appreciate the real accomplishments even if they are alloyed with the sting of disappointment.
Ben Cotton says
I have thoughts floating around in my mind that I haven’t been able to get to congeal, but they kind of tie in to what you’re saying. Purdue had a very successful season by any measure except the NCAA Tournament. Sure, that’s what everyone pays attention to, but I don’t know if that’s….good. Any single-elimination tournament involves a lot of luck. One bad night and you’re done. How often is the tournament champion truly the “best” team?
For whatever reason, Matt Painter is really good at building a program that can do well November through February. Even in a year where the Big Ten was pretty meh, winning it by three games is no small feat. But there’s something about when you have to win a specific game versus a number of games that seems to not translate.
When I was 12, my Little League team went undefeated through the regular season. In the finals, we faced a team that had gone winless in the regular season but got hot at the end. They ended up beating us. Were they better? Probably not. We went on to win the district tournament — clobbering the team that was the consensus favorite — and finished with a 19-1 record. But we lost the league tournament.
Maybe this is all me trying to justify it because my alma mater hasn’t made it to the men’s Final Four in my lifetime. But in life (even if not in sports), I’d much rather have the long-term success. Of course, I’d like to have both.
Doug Masson says
I hear what you’re saying. I’m not a baseball guy, in particular, but one thing they probably get right is those multiple game series for the playoffs and World Series. The sheer randomness of “March Madness” is part of its appeal, so I don’t think I’d recommend a change; but de-emphasizing its significance wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Even those multi-game series in MLB are a crapshoot. The baseball analogue for Painter is Moneyball GM Billy Beane, who could build regular season juggernauts (without top tier resources) that would lose in October (Beane famously said, “My s*** doesn’t work in the playoffs”). The only healthy approach is to treat playoff series as entirely different from regular seasons and value and celebrate both, but in a culture that places The Championship as the only goal that can be tough.
Paul K Ogden says
I’m an IU grad but I remain baffled by the hatred for Purdue. It’s not like Purdue is a serious rival to IU when it comes to post-season success. I, for one, am happy Purdue had a successful season and I was disappointed in their first round exit.
I am a Purdue grad but I remain baffled by the IU retort referring to their success multiple decades ago.
I get it. IU was a national power for a couple decades and making the Sweet 16 was assumed. Those days are gone and aren’t coming back. You could say the same about Georgetown or St. John’s.
It feels like the best talent is spread far more evenly than going to a few top schools. Even Kentucky with a coach known for recruiting 1-2 year players is struggling to produce the demanded yearly NCAA success.
Feels like Purdue is always one piece of the puzzle short when it comes to competing in the NCAA tournament, be that due to recruiting flaws or poorly timed injuries (Hummel and Haas) or just bad luck (Virginia). Purdue’s flaws this season had been laid bare in getting whipped by IU twice and the flame out in the NCAA’s felt inevitable. Like Ben alludes to, it may well be that Painter’s system just won’t work in March.
Two freshman guards are not a recipe for success in the big dance. Not getting the ball to Edey the last eight minutes of the game was unforgivable
Those that live by the three pointer win or lose by the three pointer. I wonder when a coach will use the Oscar Robinson philosophy “If I have a 25 footer I will try to shoot a 20 footer, if I have a 20 footer I will shoot a 15 footer and on to a layup”. Would things have turned out different if Painter would have said, “Boys were not hitting 3 pointers lets shoot some 2 pointers.”. Then we wouldn’t have to here Painter after every loss say, “We had open (3’s) shots they just didn’t go down.
If Edey leaves it will be a gigantic hole in the middle but they might become a better balanced team. Painter will be fine and will put another competitive team on the floor next season with or without Edey. The Purdue faithful love him!
As for the Big Ten Michigan State is the last team standing.
While I’m here I would like to say the most worthless drill in basketball is running the lines. Give every kid a basketball in 3rd grade and they should all be dribbling with both hands by 7th grade. Running without the ball develops no basketball skills.
Dribble The Lines. — Ok that is better