- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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On Saturday, Purdue lost at home to Michigan State, 76-62. This was to be expected for a few reasons, chief among them the fact that this Michigan State team is really, really good. It is no shame to lose to the Spartans on your own floor. Why, Ohio State accomplished that feat just one week ago. ("Well good for Happy Gilm- OH MY GOD!") In other words, it happens.
No, there are other reasons for Purdue fans to be disconcerted. Those reasons have names: Kelsey Barlow. D.J. Byrd.
Barlow, a guard who you last saw dunking on Jared Sullinger in Purdue's near-miss in Columbus two weeks ago, was dismissed by Purdue coach Matt Painter for his alleged role in an altercation at the Where Else bar in West Lafayette, Ind. Friday morning. Byrd was suspended Sunday for his involvement, which led to an arrest for public intoxication by Indiana State Police. Byrd will likely be back in the lineup soon, but Barlow is gone for good, and after Sunday's loss, Painter found himself lamenting the choice Barlow -- who was suspended just before the NCAA tournament last year -- forced the coach to make:
"It's disappointing, no doubt, because when you put in time with guys and give them a second chance, that's what it's all about," Painter said. "Everybody in this (media) room, you think about the chances you get in life, people sticking by you. I had people sticking by me, and maybe they shouldn't have. And I stood by somebody, and it didn't pay off.
"I feel like I let our team down because I made a decision that was best for an individual (Barlow) and, in the long run, isn't the best decision for the team."
It's interesting to note that guard Ryne Smith told Indy Star columnist Bob Kravitz (who wrote the piece linked above) that Barlow's absence would amount to "addition by subtraction." Painter, for his part, said he respected Smith's opinion, but still felt like he had "failed."
If Smith's right, well, that would be good news, because the loss of Barlow and the suspension of Byrd — and any potential internal fallout, or changes to the rotation, or any of the other things you'd prefer to not deal with this late in the season — couldn't come at a worse possible time. Why? The Boilermakers are, as you probably know, a bubble team. In Monday's latest Bracketology update, Joe Lunardi lists them as a No. 10 seed. In other words, if the field was seeded today, Purdue would get in the tournament. But they're not nearly in such safe position that they can afford to lose, say, three of their last four, or have any letdowns against the likes of Nebraska and Penn State at home this week.
Do I think that will happen? No. I tend to think Smith's statement means this team will be every bit as galvanized and productive, and maybe even more so, as it was before the dismissal. Plus, let's not overstate Barlow's presence; it's not like the Boilermakers are losing Robbie Hummel.
Still, Barlow's mistake really was poorly timed. Purdue is more than capable of handling this latest challenge with aplomb; again, I think they will. But if the opposite happens — if the Boilers start to fray at the seams — they'll be able to pinpoint Friday morning's silly bar scuffle as the moment when a solid but unspectacular season went fully off the tracks.