Thursday, February 25, 2010

Purdue's Nightmare Night

Reason #716 why I hate zone defense: Good teams always seem to beat zone defense in crunch time. Minnesota could not stop Purdue at all on Tuesday when playing man-to-man, but after Robbie Hummel went down, the zone was amazingly effective. But with about 5 minutes left, Purdue started heating up from the outside. Minnesota tried to switch back to man-to-man, but after a couple of possessions, it was clear the man-to-man wasn’t going to work. So Minnesota settled on zone for the final two minutes, and what happens? Keaton Grant shoots over the zone, Minnesota can’t make any stops, and Purdue wins.

There’s no question Purdue probably wins this game easily if Hummel plays the whole game. His absence completely changed the momentum. But I think this game exposed a few other flaws in Purdue that have been mentioned in recent games. First, Purdue has absolutely no depth in the paint behind JaJuan Johnson. I never thought I’d say this, but this team misses Nemanja Calasan. Patrick Bade is not ready to play in crunch time with the season on the line. Now against Minnesota, Chris Kramer is so versatile that he was able to defend the painted area, but that’s not going to work against some stronger NCAA tournament teams.

Second, Minnesota did a great job exposing Purdue’s defense in the second half, and other teams can watch this film and try to use some of this. Purdue was getting out and over-playing the basketball, defending beyond the three point line. That’s a great recipe for good defense, but it also leaves lanes open for players to cut to the basket. Minnesota exposed that in the second half with some great no-look passes and drives. What I kept thinking is that Georgetown would be a horrible match-up for Purdue right now. I admittedly did not watch the Northwestern upset over Purdue earlier this year, but I have to think they did some of the same things with back-cuts. If a team overplays you have to punish them, just like if a team tries full court pressure you have to punish them.

For all the talk of Minnesota playing 10 or 11 guys, in a game they had to have, Minnesota played a rotation of basically 6 players.

Robbie Hummel’s loss was just heart-breaking. I’m admittedly a Minnesota fan, but there was no joy in seeing Hummel go down.

Again, I had no expectation that Minnesota would win this game, despite what the Pomeroy numbers said. Minnesota has not been as efficient in Big Ten play. But this season has just been a series of heart-breaking losses for Gophers fans. They lost a late-game 13 point lead to Michigan St and lost by 1 point; they lost a late-game 13 point lead to Northwestern and lost in overtime; they lost a second half 9 point lead to Purdue and lost by 1 point.

How much does Minnesota miss having Al Nolen as a defensive option down the stretch? Minnesota’s defense had fallen off this season before the Nolen academic suspension, but I have to wonder if he might have earned a game clinching steal in this one.

As an opposing fan, I am really not going to miss Chris Kramer. He’s just one of the all-time glue guys. He just makes winning plays all the time. Statistics will never tell the story of a guy like Chris Kramer and that’s why I love basketball. There really are some things you have to see in person to understand. (OK, maybe some sort of +/- metric like they use with Shane Battier, but you get my point.)

Thanks to Marquette winning a couple of overtime games, I’m waiting for Pomeroy to update his luck numbers this morning. Minnesota is not going to catch Penn St., or a surging unlucky Alabama team, but Marquette is coming back to the pack.

Again, I know margin-of-victory is important, but is there any question, winning games matters too? If Minnesota holds wins over Michigan St. and Purdue instead of losing by 1 in each game, don’t you have a different impression of this team?