Dec. 8, 2010
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Boilermakers are probably a tired team after this recent stretch of games, which saw them play mostly on the road. The wins at Virginia Tech and Valparaiso were solid, and Alabama proved not much of a test at home between those contests.
I was impressed with the trip to Blacksburg for a number of reasons. On the surface, it may not seem like that big of a deal, but when a team is hindered by travel problems, it's interesting to observe its reaction. Prior to leaving on that trip, we were told the weather most likely would be difficult since we were crossing a storm system, but none of us factored in the fog problem. When a one hour plane ride turns into a five-hour trip, culminating with a three-hour bus ride, sometimes it can cause problems. I didn't hear one player complain.
Then, factor in not being able to practice the night before the game, and I thought the effort was outstanding. On the heels of the Richmond loss, it would be easy to not respond, but our team did. and in the process helped the Big Ten win the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Michigan win at Clemson was the other key win in the series.
On a personal note, I had the chance to visit with my high school basketball coach on that trip. Hal Burbach is a retired professor at the University of Virginia, and we visited for the first time in 45 years. It was really special, and I only wish we would have had more time, but the travel delay limited the meeting somewhat.
The trip to Valparaiso would have been so much better if Robbie Hummel was healthy, but he certainly received a warm welcome there. Although the first half of play made for some nervous moments, I thought the team played extremely well in the second 20 minutes. Point guards Lewis Jackson and Kelsey Barlow combined for 9-of-12 shooting, Ryne Smith drained 3-of-4 three balls and D.J. Byrd was able to contribute despite the sore shoulder he's been nursing. It was a nice homecoming of sorts for E'Twaun Moore, too, as he poured in 23 points and surpassed Glenn Robinson on the Boilermaker career scoring list.
John Hart is scheduled for surgery Wednesday afternoon. His foot has been bothering him for some time, and by fixing it now, he should be able to contribute fairly early in the conference schedule. He told me Tuesday night in Valpo that he has never had any previous operations in his life, so the nerves were churning a bit. We wish him a quick recovery.
With Hummel out, Hart down and Byrd still day-to-day, it appears that Barlow will continue to get more minutes at different positions. His versatility is one of his strengths, and the coaches feel that LewJack is coming off his best game since his foot injury last season. There was a time it appeared that playing both Barlow and Jackson at the same time would be a liability; it certainly wasn't the case against the Crusaders.
This team continues to be a work in progress, but to this point, I have to say I've been pleasantly surprised with the results. The schedule hasn't been that daunting, but for the most part, when the challenges have existed, they've responded. We all know things will get much more difficult in the near future, and the margin of error is pretty narrow, but nonetheless, we have an excellent chance to have another outstanding season.