We're more or less half way through the non-conference schedule and the month of November is now behind us, with one more month before conference play is fully under way. Now that the teams have more games on their resumes, we're starting to get a better read on each teams individual strengths and weaknesses and pick up on teams that need to improve if they want to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Two teams that started off quickly but have stumbled out of the gate this week were the Minnesota Gophers and Purdue Boilermakers, with both teams going a combined 1-4 so far this week. Of course each of their seasons started more or less the same, with both teams opening with five wins over questionable competition and then facing their first major tests earlier this week.
Minnesota started off the week facing #8 ranked Syracuse out in Hawaii in a game where they were expected to be overmatched and ran out of the building. That wasn't the case, though, as Minnesota kept pace with Syracuse the entire game before falling 67-75 in a tough matchup that showed plenty of potential for the Gophers. Running a thin seven man rotation, Minnesota might have won the game if it weren't for committing 19 turnovers against the Orange. Minnesota looked to build off of their first loss and was off to a good start against Arkansas heading into the half with a five point lead. That's when everything fell apart for Richard Pitino and the Gophers.
Up until that halftime break Minnesota had a very strong start to the season, but the Razorbacks absolutely exploded out of the gate in the second half with a 34-12 run to open up a 69-52 lead. By then that was all she wrote as Arkansas cruised to a double digit victory and Minnesota lost back to back games. Falling all the way down, Minnesota ended their trip to Hawaii against punching bag Chaminade, who opened up a lead in the first half and maintained the lead well into the second half. Finally realizing that losing to Chaminade might be detrimental to any shot of improving this season, Minnesota turned it up down the stretch and held the Silverswords to one field goal the last 8:18 on their way to a double digit come from behind victory.
The win did help the Gophers save face, but there's definitely a bitter taste in the teams mouth. After winning their first five games out, almost upsetting a top ten team and beating Arkansas at the half, the team has looked relatively lifeless and out of sync since. Now all momentum and progress is at a standstill as the program has started to play like many people anticipated they would before the season began. Now Minnesota faces an important game next week against Florida State, especially when you realize the rest of their non-conference slate will do little to pad their resume. And of course Minnesota's schedule does them no favors, with their Big Ten season opening with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin in five of their first seven games.
Similar to Minnesota was Purdue, another team in the middle of the Big Ten and trying to start off the season with a quick start. Painter's Boilermakers won their first five games before heading down to Florida to take on #5 ranked Oklahoma State in their first test of the season. The game was about as frustrating of a game as you could watch early on, with the officials calling every ticky tacky foul and the Cowboys getting into the bonus around six minutes into the game. Seriously. What ended up happening wasn't much of a surprise, with Oklahoma State exploding out of the gate and opening up a massive lead against the Boilermakers, led by Marcus Smart's first half dismantling of Purdue.
Of course Purdue showed one thing they failed to do all of last season and that was overcome adversity. This was a Purdue team that last year would have packed it in after the first punch. On Thanksgiving, however, Purdue fell behind by 23 points and were still down 61-79 with less than 9 minutes remaining. Purdue valiantly fought back and ended up cutting the lead down to four points in the closing minutes before Oklahoma State pulled away to win by ten. Of course the game could have fared differently if Purdue could have converted on free throws (63.3%) or cut back on the first half fouls, but it was still a major improvement over what Purdue fans saw pretty much all of last season.
So like Minnesota, Purdue lost their first game in what was a promising defeat with plenty of optimism amidst the program. And just like Minnesota, Purdue followed up with a halftime lead and impressive start in their next game. And just like Minnesota once again, it all came crashing down in the second half. Purdue started off impressively on defense, holding Washington State to 17 points in the first half, but then gave up 52 points in the second half to lose by 15. A.J. Hammons widely disappeared, essentially not being used the entire second half, and Purdue's offense went cold. Even worse for the Purdue faithful? The offense fell back to the same routine they had last season, with the Johnson brothers and Bryson Scott repeatedly running the court and taking horrible shots. Bad shots led to easy points for the Cougars and killed any chance of the offense clicking, keeping Purdue at a season low of 54 points.
Now Purdue will look to save face in their last game down in Florida, facing off against Siena. This of course is the same Siena team that they recently beat by 8 earlier in the month. It'll be interesting to see if Painter can get this team fired up and compete because if they come out flat they could easily lose based on how they've been playing this week. It'd be highly remenciscent of Purdue's team last season and would likely be a harbinger of another disappointing season. Look for Purdue to try to bounce back and get the ball rolling, as the team needs to bounce back as soon as possible when you realize the rest of their non-conference slate is light on the cupcakes. While Purdue still has Eastern Michigan and Maryland-Eastern Shore on the schedule, they also face tough tests from Boston College, Butler and West Virginia.
On the top of the conference the Big Ten looked impressive once again. The Big Ten's top team, Michigan State, took care of business in their game this week, beating Mount St. Mary's by 33 points (even with three of their key starters coming off of the bench because of off the court issues). Ohio State kept rolling along as well with a 15 point win over Wyoming and 35 point victory over North Florida, while the Wolverines had a successful week dismantling Coppin State by 42 points. Also only playing one game this week, Indiana blew out Evansville under a well rounded attack with 13 different players scoring for the Hoosiers. The first game today saw the Cornhuskers holding on to beat Northern Illinois by five in a surprisingly close game, helping Nebraska improve to 5-2.
Check back tomorrow when we'll take a look at the rest of the conference, including Penn State's impressive week, the drama involving Illinois and if Iowa can get to 8-0.
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- Five Key Takeaways from Michigan State so far this season
- Purdue vs Oklahoma State Game Preview
- Could defense carry Illinois in the post-Paul/Richardson era?