TOM DAVIS: Tom Izzo beats Purdue on – and off of – the court in latest win
Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo understood what he was doing to Purdue Saturday, as his No. 4-ranked Spartans survived against the nation’s third-ranked Boilermakers 68-65 in East Lansing.
However, I’m not sure if Izzo did actually grasp what he was doing to his Big Ten counterpart in the postgame media session.
Izzo heaped more adulation upon the Purdue program after the game than there was snow outside the Breslin Center, and he meant the compliments sincerely.
These two programs have a ton of respect for each other.
However, mixed in with the praise was a pinch of toxicity here and a dose of it more there, and maybe Izzo didn’t see it that way, but make no mistake about it, it was there.
“That is a Final Four team,” Izzo said of the Boilermakers. I don’t want to put any pressure on them..”
Izzo telling the “Paint Crew” that its favorite team has the ability to advance to San Antonio in two months is the last thing that this fan base needed to hear, and all the Spartan coach did was address the massive white elephant standing in the corner of Mackey Arena (yes, I know it’s round, don’t email, text or tweet that fact to me, just go along with this column), which has been permanently entrenched there since 1980.
It’s not that Izzo is incorrect, because he’s not.
Purdue absolutely has the potential to not just get to the Final Four this year, but it could win the whole thing. However, with the history of this program, any talk of great success in March doesn’t need to be brought up until after the fact. It only adds to the angst that envelopes West Lafayette like a grey February sky.
“They’ve got a really good team,” Izzo continued. “I think we played pretty good, but that team is, they’re destined for something great.”
The Purdue fan base has been kicked in the shins more times than is fair or necessary.
“We would’ve made the Final Four in 2010 if Robbie Hummel hadn’t gotten injured,” is a statement that has been moaned, ad nauseum, by every Purdue fan since Feb. 24, 2010 when the Purdue star suffered a season-ending injury and derailed a Big 10 championship squad from enjoying a marvelous March.
And just like Izzo, the Boiler Nation perhaps isn’t wrong in their anguish, but the fact is that squad only advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual national champion Duke, which had to survive a last-second, thisclose heave by Butler’s Gordon Hayward in the national championship game, as the Bulldogs actually DID advance to the Final Four (for the first of consecutive seasons, not to digress).
Purdue (23-4, 12-2 Big 10) demonstrated, not just on Saturday, but also in a 64-63 loss to now-Big 10 leader Ohio State last Wednesday, that it is capable of playing with the nation’s best teams. That isn’t even debatable. However, the Boilermakers also showed enough cracks in their armor for the Purdue fan base to realize nothing – absolutely nothing – is for certain moving forward.
Purdue has a number of issues facing it that could douse any flaming hopes.
The Boilermakers aren’t a great rebounding team, as they have now been outrebounded in eight consecutive games.
Purdue star Vince Edwards is capable of being taken out of games (he is 6 of 23 in the Boilers’ two biggest games this season).
The Purdue 3-point arsenal was shut down against the Spartans, which perhaps gave a strategy for upcoming opposition to try and implement.
And the Boilers have no bench play of much significance when it comes to performing against really, really good teams.
In the loss to the Buckeyes, the foursome of Ryan Cline, Nojel Eastern, Grady Eifert and Matt Haarms played 31 total minutes and had as many points as “Purdue Pete.”
The group was slightly better Saturday, as they combined for seven points in 39 minutes. However, Michigan State (24-3, 12-2) outscored Purdue 24-7 from the bench.
“What won us the game was our depth,” Izzo said.
Izzo called Saturday’s contest an “NCAA deep tournament game,” as well as a “fist fight” and “a war.”
Purdue has taken the best shots from the Big Ten’s top two teams and almost prevailed over both. This is indeed a special squad that Boilermaker coach Matt Painter has assembled. However, the former Purdue player understands history – Hell, he’s lived it – and Painter did his best Saturday to rein in the anxiety that is surely permeating throughout the Purdue fan base.
“California’s not going off into the ocean here,” Painter said after the loss Saturday. “You know what I mean? We’ve got to take a couple days off and get ready for Wisconsin (Thursday) and keep your focus.
“I don’t sit around and talk about (losses) all the time. When you’ve played 125 college games, they’ve heard every speech I have. I’ve got four guys and they’re tired of my speeches. They want to win. I like our team. I really like our team (and) I think we can compete with a lot of people in the country.”
“Competing” isn’t the issue with this program and rarely has been. Beating the best – in March – is what the Boiler Nation longs to see.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.