March 11, 2008
When the Big Ten Tournament began in the late 90's, there didn't seem to be much excitement about it. In fact, most of the veteran coaches in the league weren't enamored with the decision. At least that's how I remembered it. Purdue and Indiana met on Friday night in Chicago at the United Center during that first year, and to me it was an important game as far as launching the tourney. Two rivals, and the sidebar of Keady against Knight made for some great entertainment, and I really felt took what could have been a dud and turned it into a legitimate feature of the conference.
As Purdue fans, I'm sure none of us saw what would transpire over the years, but that game quite frankly has been the Boilermakers greatest win since the event began. Purdue moved on to the finals before losing to Tractor Trailer and the upstart Michigan Wolverines. Two weeks later Purdue was eliminated by Stanford in the NCAA Tournament in a Sweet Sixteen game in St. Louis.
Since that time, the Boilers have never won more than a single game, and even that has been hard to come by. In 2000 Purdue lost to Wisconsin the 4-5 game, and ironically the two teams played two weeks later to play for the right to make it to the Final Four. Obviously, no one saw that coming, but it was a twist of fate that still burns in the hearts of all Boilermaker backers.
Originally, I wasn't overwhelmed by the thought of a conference tourney, but I've come to appreciate it. I'm also convinced that it has been very good for the conference, and not only financially. It has prepared league teams for post season play and the results have proven such. Since the advent of the tournament Michigan State has won a National Championship and Illinois and Ohio State have played in the finals.
Purdue made it to the Sweet 16 twice, the Elite Eight once, and helped the Boilermakers prepare for first round upsets of Texas, Miami of Florida, LSU, and Arizona . It also launched us into the NCAA Tournament last year with a first round win over Iowa.
I'm sold on it now, most people are and with time it's become special and this year should be no different.
With beautiful Conseco Fieldhouse as the backdrop, and Indianapolis as a great host city this year's tournament promises to be wide open, competitive, and drama filled.
Purdue will enter play Friday night with its highest seed ever at number two, but there will be no easy games on the card. Illinois or Penn State will be a strong adversary in game one regardless of which team wins.
I find it interesting that when 18 Big Ten games were played by each team the championship essentially was decided by one rather fortunate shot. Think about it? When Brian Butch banked in that three pointer in the closing seconds at Bloomington it turned out to be the difference maker. If that shot doesn't find its mark, Purdue, Indiana, and Wisconsin would've ended up as Tri-Champions.
I had a vote in the All-Big Ten selections and my first team mirrored what other voting members selected.
I favored Jamar Butler over Drew Neitzel primarily for Butler's efforts in the final two games of the regular season. He dropped in a total of 45 points against Purdue and Michigan State in must win games. I'm interested in seeing how that first round game between Ohio State and Michigan State turns out considering they are playing back to back games, but this time on a neutral floor.
Congrats to all the players and coach Matt Painter for their well deserved post season honors. Matt and I have discussed this before, but just think how far this program has come since that evening in Tallahassee,
Florida nearly two and half years ago. I think back to last years game at Indiana State, and to be truthful back to December with consecutive losses to Wofford and Iowa State and you just have to shake your head when considering how far this program has come. It's a credit to the players and their unselfish play and hard work, and to the coaches who never stop preparing and recruiting. It's a never ending process but one that requires an incredible commitment, one that this team makes everyday.
I can honestly say, regardless of transpires in the next few weeks, few teams in my tenure at Purdue have been more fun to be part of. These kids and coaching staff are a class act, approachable and likeable.
As the post season commences root hard, but also remember how far they have come and be respectful
of their journey. It has been one to totally embrace.