BTP continues our countdown of the best Big Ten programs of the past decade. Prior articles in this series can be found here:
- Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- Penn State Nittany Lions
- Northwestern Wildcats
- Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Minnesota Golden Gophers
- Illinois Fighting Illini
- Iowa Hawkeyes
- Indiana Hoosiers
- Maryland Terrapins
- Michigan Wolverines
As a reminder, we’ll be looking at eight categories for each program. The first four are the only ones that had any bearing on the ranking:
- Big Ten regular-season winning percentage
- Number of teams finishing ahead in the Big Ten standings
- Big Ten regular season titles
- Big Ten Tournament titles
- Team of the Decade
- Player of the Decade
- Regular Season Win of the Decade
- Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
Some of you in the Michigan article were asking why NCAA Tournament success isn’t a factor used in these rankings. There are a few reasons:
- There’s too much emphasis placed on the NCAA Tournament by the college basketball community already. The best atmospheres in college basketball are in places like Ames and West Lafayette and Albuquerque in January, not in sterile, half-empty NBA arenas in March.
- March creates big moments mainly because of its lose-and-you’re-done nature. That’s a little bit artificial, and it’s why my Win of the Decade and Crushing Loss of the Decade are from the regular season—those are the losses that sting on their own merits, not just because they ended or advanced your season.
- How much should a Final Four count relative to an Elite Eight? Does anybody really care about making the Round of 32 if you don’t make it to the second weekend? Should a National Title Game count 150% as much as a mere Final Four? Twice as much? The same? There’s no objective way to answer these questions. To score based on the NCAA Tournament, I’d have to make up some kind of arbitrary scoring criteria, and that’s exactly what it’d be—arbitrary. So rather than try to defend why I think a S16 is worth 5 points while an Elite Eight is worth 7, I just decided to report on how each school did relative to its in-conference peers. The four criteria I’m using are 100% objective.
And now that I’ve spent some time arguing why March success is overrated, it’s only appropriate that I turn my attention to our No. 4 program, the Purdue Boilermakers.
Big Ten Winning Percentage
The Boilermakers tallied a .659 conference record over the past ten years. That’s .044 below the conference-best percentage of .703 (you’ll have to keep reading this series to learn who that belongs to, but I’ll give you a hint—they’re green). That gap of .044 is the same gap that separates Purdue from our No. 5 team, Michigan.
Teams Finishing Ahead of Purdue
Twenty-eight teams finished ahead of Purdue in the Big Ten standings. As I pointed out in my Indiana article, Purdue and Indiana were the only two schools who finished both alone in first and alone in last over the past ten years. As such, they have been better than everybody else, and worse than everybody else. (Except Rutgers, of course.)
Big Ten Regular Season Titles
An outright title in 2017, and a shared title in 2010 and 2019.
Big Ten Tournament Titles
None this decade. The Boilermakers made it to the finals twice, only to lose to one of the Michigan schools.
Team of the Decade
The 2017 team won the Big Ten outright. The 2019 team made Purdue’s first Elite Eight since 2000. But KenPom tells us that the 2018 team was actually the best team of the past decade, clocking in at No. 5 in the country. (No. 19 in 2017 and No. 9 last year.) The 2018 team also earned the only top-2 NCAA Tournament seed of the Matt Painter era.
That 2018 team had seniors Isaac Haas, Dakota Mathias, and Vince Edwards, all of whom will go down in history as some of the most memorable Boilermakers of all time. It also had Ryan Cline and Carsen Edwards, both of whom will be remembered more for what they accomplished last year, but both of whom were still really, really good in 2018. And there was also Nojel Eastern and Matt Haarms, both of whom are likely to make names for themselves this coming season.
The 2018 Boilermakers bowed out to Texas Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. That game was played without Haas, who fractured his elbow in the first round. This is an unpopular opinion among Purdue fans, many of whom insist that with a healthy Haas the 2018 team could have gone all the way, but—no, they couldn’t have. Texas Tech scorched Purdue with perimeter quickness, and Haas wasn’t helping with that.
Player of the Decade
Hummel, Johnson, and Moore did play their final seasons in West Lafayette in this decade, and Biggie Swanigan was a 5-star recruit and the most dominant rebounder in America, but it’s got to be this guy:
Carsen Edwards got buckets. Period. He had the memory of a goldfish. Whether he’d hit his last five or missed his last five, he didn’t care—he was looking to score. With a quick release, anywhere-in-the-gym range, and absolutely no conscience, Edwards was the kind of guy who would be item 1, 1A, and 1B on opponents’ scouting reports and still torch them for thirty.
Regular Season Win of the Decade
January 1, 2010. (As early in the decade as you can get.)
This game, unfortunately, is not available on YouTube. It may be because the footage would blow out people’s speakers. Mackey Arena has a reputation for being the loudest arena in the country, and according to Purdue lore, when Robbie Hummel forced a five-second call against the West Virginia Mountaineers on New Year’s Day 2010, that was the loudest that Mackey has ever gotten.
This was an undefeated West Virginia team, one that would go on to beat Kentucky to make the Final Four. Purdue ran them out of the gym. This game wasn’t only the high-water mark of the Hummel-Johnson-Moore era, it was the game that solidified Purdue’s defensive culture. Written on the wall at Mackey Arena is the slogan “Defense Lives Here”. This game, and that five-second call in particular, showed that those words aren’t just an empty phrase.
Purdue 77, West Virginia 62.
Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
I’m a Purdue fan. I went to Purdue. I’ve sat through crushing losses in Mackey. I could probably rattle off twenty games that have taken years off my life. I could make a case for any one of those twenty.
But this past weekend I saw my former college roommate, and in preparation for this article I asked him which regular season Purdue loss stuck in his craw more than any other. I had one in mind, but I thought it might be too obscure a loss for most people to remember.
Nope. He picked the same game.
February 7, 2015.
Now, I’m a college basketball traditionalist. I was born and raised in Indiana. My dad was a basketball coach. I love old gyms. I want to crawl inside the movie Hoosiers (no relation to that team in Bloomington) and live there. I’ll watch a game at Hinkle Fieldhouse any day of the week, any time of day. The list of places I want to visit before I die doesn’t include the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramids or Stonehenge; it does include the Palestra. I repeat: I love old gyms.
I f***ing hate The Barn. It’s got history and character and charm. I don’t care. Set it on fire.
Robbie Hummel tore his ACL there. Last season’s loss there cost us a seed line and an outright Big Ten title. Purdue can win in Assembly Hall. We’ve struggled to win in the Breslin Center, but hey, who hasn’t? You don’t expect to go into Michigan State’s arena and come out with the dub. But Minnesota? Minnesota? Richard looks-like-a-cross-between-a-balding-version-of-his-dad-and-a-drowned-rat Pitino? Yeah, he has our number.
The season before, 2014, we lost by three at The Barn. Whatever; that Purdue team was bad. Later that season, we played Minnesota at Mackey. We won that game, but it took triple overtime, and we blew late leads in regulation and the first overtime. What’s worse, we couldn’t defend a simple ball screen. What was worse still, we couldn’t stop Joey King from getting a critical bucket anytime Minnesota needed one. Joey freaking King. Those non-Minnesota fans among you will ask, “Who?” Exactly.
So here comes 2015. Purdue still isn’t good, but we’re at least on the bubble, and we’re riding a four-game win streak that includes a blowout of IU and a squeaker over D’Angelo-Russel-led Ohio State. We’re 7-3 in the Big Ten. One of those wins was a come-from-behind home game against, you guessed it, Minnesota. Joey King went 3-4 from behind the arc and scored double-digits. Can we not guard, him? Doesn’t Defense Live Here?
The point is, over one-and-a-half seasons, we had been unable to spit the rancid taste of Gopher out of our mouths. Minnesota had the recipe for picking us apart—high ball screens where the ball handler turned the corner and got into the lane, and then Joey freaking King. Only Minnesota had this particular recipe for beating us. Only Minnesota gave us a dogfight every single time. Would we win; would we lose? We didn’t know, but we knew we would suffer either way.
Indiana blew us out when they had better players, and we blew them out when we had better players. That’s the natural way of things. I hated Indiana fans, but I didn’t mind playing Indiana.
I never wanted to see Minnesota on the schedule ever again.
But there it was: Saturday, February 7, @Minn. God, I wanted to win that game. Or at least lose it in some way that didn’t involve Joey King hitting more than 50% of his threes. Can’t we change the scouting report, Painter? Don’t we know what they’re going to try to do?
The game unfolded exactly like the previous three. High ball screens and Joey King. The 21-2 second-half Gopher run isn’t necessarily the most disgusted I’ve ever been with Purdue (that would be the second overtime of this game, which was the runner-up in this category and which I could also write 1000 words about); it was more like a fever dream that you couldn’t wake up from. Can you imagine dreaming about Richard Pitino’s bald spot, sweating, seeing Matt Painter sweat, and knowing that a 6’9” white dude is about to bury another key three against you?
This game was not the lowest point in my Purdue fandom. It was not the biggest or most consequential loss. It didn’t cost us a Big Ten title. It wasn’t to that team in Bloomington. It wasn’t the closest Matt Painter came to being fired. But after we lost this one, if I could have snapped my fingers and nuked the entire city of Minneapolis, I would have done it. And then I would have snapped them again and nuked St. Paul just to make sure.
The next season, Purdue won at The Barn. Only by four, but more importantly, we held Joey King to just two points and no threes. The nightmare was over. Or was it?
Last season, Minnesota came the closest of anyone to beating Purdue at Mackey, they beat us in Minneapolis, and they knocked us out of the Big Ten Tournament. I don’t hate Minnesota. I hate playing Minnesota. And I hated watching this particular game more than any other.
Minnesota 62, Purdue 58.
Fake Internet Quote That Puts It All In Perspective
Purdue has had more alumni go to outer space than to the Final Four.