We adapted this story that was published just prior to Purdue’s visit to Indiana in 2018. Unfortunately, it is still all too relevant in 2019.
Whether it is the national rankings, KenPom, the NET or just common sense, all signs point in the same direction — Purdue is better than Indiana this year.
Although it didn’t look that way two months ago, sitting here today, there is just no way around it. And a Purdue win in West Lafayette in January erased all doubt.
But being better doesn’t always mean that you are more talented. And being more talented doesn’t always translate into victories.
The bottom line? There are certain intangibles that can trump talent.
First and foremost among those intangibles is a team culture.
That’s the only way you can explain Butler going to back to back national championship games. It’s the only way you can explain George Mason and Loyola Chicago reaching Final Fours,
And really, it’s the only way you can explain the success of Purdue basketball over the last 40 years.
TIME TO PLAY HARD
Sure, they’ve had a few really talented teams — like the Glenn Robinson and Robbie Hummel squads. But ask anyone in the know and they’ll tell you that Gene Keady built a successful career out of turning mediocre talent into high caliber teams that were a nightmare to play against.
And for the most part, Matt Painter has followed right in his footsteps.
Keady didn’t do it by making guys jump higher or shoot better. As the old commercial used to say, they did it they old fashioned way — they earned it.
The work ethic was so fundamental to the program that it became a team motto that remains today. It’s on the walls at Mackey Arena and on the practice shorts of the players — “Play Hard”.
Purdue was and still is the kind of team that would grate on opponents nerves with their physicality, strength, energy and aggressiveness.
You know, the kind of tenacity that would get people so upset that they just wanted to throw something.
Perhaps no Purdue team personified this more than their 1992 team which included current head coach Matt Painter as a guard that averaged 3.3 point per game.
Don’t get us wrong, that Purdue team was nothing special by their standards. They finished 18-15 overall, 8-10 in the Big Ten, and went to the NIT. It was a season not unlike the one that this year’s Indiana team is suffering through.
But it’s only on closer examination of their two games against IU that you begin to understand why we would try to drive home the point about Purdue’s culture by highlighting a NIT team.
Indiana was good that year. Final Four good. Potentially Big Ten title and #1 seed in the NCAA tournament good.
They just needed to beat Purdue to claim that Big Ten title and earn that #1 seed.
On paper that looked like no problem. Indiana had defeated Purdue six weeks earlier 106-65. Yes, you read that score right. This writer was a student in the stands for that game — and it was every bit as bad (good?) as it sounds. Indiana’s fans stayed until the final buzzer and enjoyed every last drop of the Boiler suffering.
But on its Senior Day six weeks later, Purdue decided to grind it out…and “Play Hard”.
When the rematch rolled around, the Boilers played with their trademark energy, grit, determination and fundamentals. They wanted it more.
Oh, and it didn’t hurt that they had one of the Austin brothers.
Kind of like the Scott brothers after them, Woody and Chad Austin were a thorn in the Hoosiers’ side, and on this day in 1992, Woody would get hot in the second half and score 20 for the game in a 61-59 Purdue win.
But this 42 point turnaround in six weeks wasn’t about Woody Austin scoring 20 points. This Indiana team could have survived that.
No, for the game the Hoosiers made only 37% of their shots and were out-rebounded 41-30 despite shooting better than 50% on the season overall and out-rebounding their opponents by nearly five a game.
Purdue’s effort, passion and culture had everything to do with those numbers. The Boilers didn’t get that much better over the course of six weeks. They just wanted it that much more.
BRINGING IT BACK TO 2019
Indiana can win this game on Tuesday night. Purdue is clearly not that much more talented up and down its roster.
For as much praise as the Boilers have rightfully received over the past two months, they have proven to be vulnerable, especially on the road.
Although Archie Miller has promised drastic changes, you can’t flip a switch and reinvent yourself overnight.
But you can always play hard. Real hard. Hard enough to make your opponent miserable. Hard enough to energize and inspire your home crowd.
Hard enough to flip the script on a 41 point loss only six weeks earlier, and take out a team that is in the hunt for a Big Ten title — as you slumber through your NIT season.
Yep, the roles are now reversed and Indiana needs to “Play Hard” to take down the Big Ten title contender. The gap between the teams isn’t anywhere near as big as it was in 1992, and the reversal of fortunes isn’t either. Purdue won by 15 last month in a game where a few more IU made free throws might have kept it interesting.
But a transformation is still nevertheless necessary.
After the second game in 1992, Purdue center Craig Riley said this:
“You dream about this when you`re 9 years old, about winning a game like this and ruining their championship hopes. This game makes my whole basketball career worthwhile.“
You can feel the “Play Hard” passion oozing from that quote.
Archie Miller has promised drastic changes, but that doesn’t necessarily foretell drastically different results. But can he at least find a rotation that will show some pride and give maximum sustained effort for 40 minutes?
It feels like the definition of insanity to expect different results at this point — but we’re about to find out.
If Indiana can somehow flip that switch — the Hoosiers can come out on top on Tuesday night. They have the talent.
But to do it, they’ll have to be a lot more like 1992 Purdue — and a lot less like 2019 Indiana.
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Photo: MICHAEL CONROY/Associated Press