March 24, 2011
If I was to rank the top five college basketball programs since the year 2000, I would rank them this way:
2. North Carolina
It's hard not including Michigan State in that list, but the Spartans have failed on their last four trips to the finals in pursuing a championship.
So, as you look at the remaining field for this year's tournament, all of the top five are still playing.
Most of us enjoy Cinderella, and when everything is over, normally that is a mirage. There is a good group of glass slippers involved in the Sweet 16, including two from the city of Richmond. Butler is back, San Diego State appears legitimate, and Wisconsin and Florida State could be tough outs.
Purdue isn't the only team that fell short last weekend. Powers Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Louisville and Texas all joined the Boilermakers on the sidelines.
If I was a betting man, and I'm not, I'd take Duke to beat Ohio State in the championship game. If that happens, Mike Krzyzewski would capture his fifth title.
I was as baffled as any Purdue fan after Sunday night's loss to VCU. It was the same feeling I experienced after losses to Michigan State and Iowa the preceding two weekends. It just appeared as though someone stole our mojo while staying in Iowa City.
You may blame poor defense for our demise in the postseason. That's not entirely true, although we didn't defend nearly as well as we normally do. Our offense also was very much out of sync in the final three losses. In those games, we shot a combined 39 percent from the field, 24 percent from the arc, (16-of-66) and only 63 percent from the foul line. Meanwhile, the opposition burned us with these collective percentages: 51/41/77.
This was the first year in the Matt Painter Era that Purdue lost to a lower seeded team in the NCAA Tournament. Previously, we were eliminated by two eventual national champions and a Final Four team, along with a No. 3 seed in Xavier three years ago. In all those games, Purdue challenged in the second half. So, like Pitt or Louisville, or some other highly-seeded team, we just didn't get it done and have to move on. What was so disappointing, though, was to work all season long to get rewarded with a great draw and not take advantage of it.
However, let's be sure not to call this team an underachiever, because it wasn't. Considering what a cruel fate it faced at the start of practice, this turned out to be a remarkable season in many ways.
E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson leave as two of Purdue's all-time best players, and with the most wins as well.
The team became only the second in program history to go unbeaten at home, beat two top-10 teams in the same week, was ranked as high as sixth in the country and finished all alone in second place in one of the nation's toughest conferences.
Johnson became the school's first All-American since Glenn Robinson, and Painter was named Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time in the last four years.
Here's what I know: the coaches and players will get back to work, and we'll continue to be a national program. Sometimes you have to have some setbacks along the way when trying to accomplish something great.
Coaches like Bob Knight, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim and Bill Self have felt the sting of early-tournament losses. It happens to everybody.
I'm reminded of attending a press conference prior to our game against Duke last year in Houston. Some young ambitious reporter asked Krzyzewski if he felt his program had slipped since winning a title nearly a decade ago. His answer, "Not at all. It's hard to win a championship." He won his fourth title eleven days later.