Perhaps dear reader, if you have read my past articles or followed me on Twitter, you have realized that I am a fan and graduate of Purdue University. This season, I have been lucky enough to attend two Purdue basketball games as a fan and one as a member of the media. Those three games were against the Butler Bulldogs, the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the Illinois Fighting Illini. None of those match-ups went to plan for my Boilermakers. Leading to the question every fan asks themselves at least once: Could I be the problem?
Let's start with the Crossroads Classic and Butler. I received media credentials for the event for the second year in a row, probably the coolest thing I've gotten to do as an amateur sportswriter. The day started with an entertaining game between Indiana and Notre Dame. Then the game that I'd been waiting all season for was about to begin. The Boilers actually got off to a pretty good start, but they stumbled a bit, going into halftime down 31-27. I was still optimistic going into the second half. Then things got ugly. Purdue still made a valiant, yet unsuccessful comeback push at the end. Butler won 74-68.
I was bummed, but the outlook on the season was still bright and wins against Vanderbilt and Wisconsin had me excited at the chance to see a win on Rick Mount night against Iowa. Missing out on a Mount bobblehead despite waiting in the cold was a disappointing start, but I was still getting to watch a basketball game with my wife in one of the best environments in the country. Then things got awesome, the Boilers came out and put on a show in the first half. Hot shooting led to a 17-point lead, and then halftime was all about the return of a legend. Rick Mount came out and I don't think the crowd stopped cheering until the second half started. This ended up being problematic. The team came out flat and so did the crowd, neither fully recovered their first half intensity. Iowa was able to capture the momentum and use their press to steal a 70-63 victory.
Losing a game like that is a disgusting feeling as a fan, and I'm sure as a player too. Purdue was again able to bounce back with a strong victory against Michigan, and I was headed to Champaign for the next game. My trip to Illinois involved more snow and wind than I would have liked, but I was excited to get to meet a good friend and watch my first Purdue away game with him in some of the best seats I've ever had. As I traveled down Interstate-74 I listened to the Indiana-Ohio State game turn into a blowout so quickly even Don Fischer was surprised. This reminded me about how crazy the college basketball season had been so far and doubts started to creep into my head.
I thought "this should be an easy victory if Illinois plays like they had in the non-conference, but it is still a Big Ten away game..." Once we got to the arena things started off pretty well. I managed to win a Lou Henson bobblehead from a scratch-off (a better system than handing them out to first people to come to a small table, if Purdue is looking for suggestions) and grabbed an Illinois jersey for my Big Ten collection. The Illini fans very hospitable and quite eager to talk about the height of Purdue's team. My friend and I settled in to watch a game I hoped would be assuage my irrational fears of being a jinx and end in a dominant Boilermaker victory.
The game turned out to be one of the worst refereed ones I've seen in person, a ton of delayed whistles and inconsistent calls both ways. That, and the girl in the front row of the student section who kept yelling dumb things at Matt Painter and the refs every chance she got, made the game a bit hard to watch. The other thing that was hard to watch? Illinois' lights out shooting, they were hitting well-guarded threes and just about everything they put up as they forced me to watch another Purdue loss in person. The Fighting Illini won 84-70...ugh.
This season has a chance to be one of Purdue's best in recent memory, and yet every game I've been to they have lost. I'm not superstitious (just a little stitious), but at this point it has to be my fault, right? I have some opportunities to attend a few more games this season, including tickets to the crucial Maryland home game, and I am truly doubting whether I should go. After all, they way it has gone so far Purdue should win every game the rest of the way if I just stay home. I've witnessed some great Purdue wins in the past, but maybe this just isn't my year, even if it is theirs. This is the kind of dilemma no fan wants to have.