College Basketball Nation: Matt Painter

Conference Power Rankings: Big Ten

December, 21, 2012
New week, new Big Ten power rankings, new No. 1. Let's dig right in:

1. Michigan: Indiana's loss to Butler Saturday -- and the fashion in which it came -- prompted some legitimate near-term questions for the Hoosiers. But it's not like Michigan only gets this spot by default. Quite the contrary. The Wolverines are 12-0, have an All-America-level point guard (Trey Burke) running a balanced, hyper-talented team, and as such play some of the most efficient offense in the country. Michigan has its weak spots on the defensive end -- it doesn't force many turnovers, for one -- but the Wolverines don't allow opposing offensive rebounds, and they don't foul. They're the real deal.

2. Illinois: It does not make me an Illinois "hater" (haterz!) to assume that the Illini will not finish above Ohio State and Indiana through the rest of the college hoops season. I mean, I'm ready to have my perceptions altered and all, but even at 12-0 the Illini haven't been playing as well on a per-possession basis as many of the teams now sitting below them in my rankings. And, you know, so what? John Groce's team is still shooting the ball well enough from the perimeter to keep all those attempts looking like the right strategy, and Brandon Paul is still playing well, and the Illini beat Butler on a neutral floor (cough, Indiana) and Gonzaga at the Kennel. I think Illinois is probably the fourth- or fifth-best team in the league by February. But right now, it would be a disservice to move Illinois any lower than this.

3. Ohio State. Nonconference games don't get much bigger than what the Bucks have on tap Saturday. Kansas comes to town. Why is this so important? For one, it's Kansas, a good, tough team that will push the Buckeyes to the limit (particularly on the low block, where Jeff Withey's height poses a major matchup problem). For another, Ohio State had just one other nonconference game of note this season, and it was at Duke -- a game the Buckeyes could well have won. Other than that, Ohio State has a pretty weak noncon schedule. Saturday's game is massive.

4. Indiana. Don't worry, Hoosiers fans: Indiana won't languish this low in the rankings too long. But there's nothing wrong with a little medicine right now. On Saturday, IU was outworked by a Butler team with a fraction of its talent. Cody Zeller was beaten up by Andrew Smith. Tom Crean was outcoached by Brad Stevens. The Hoosiers were outrebounded, outfought and outthought, and couldn't put away a team missing three starters to foul trouble in the final minutes of overtime. Zeller needs some physical help along the front line -- the arrival of Hanner Mosquera-Perea should be a step in the right direction there -- and the Hoosiers still need to shore a few things up on defense. They'll get there.

5. Minnesota. It's becoming a weekly routine for me: I dig around for some college hoops stats, I check in on Minnesota, I make sure they're still ranked No. 1 in the country in offensive rebounding, I write as much in the power rankings. And so it is again this week, as the Gophers haven't played since last week's 13-point victory over a really solid North Dakota State team.

6. Michigan State. Thursday was tough on the Spartans. Right up until he unveiled that Duke T-shirt, MSU fans were still holding out a ton of hope that star recruit Jabari Parker would decide to take his talents to East Lansing. Instead, Parker passed, citing his positional similarity with Branden Dawson (a fair point). The good news: The Spartans you know are still a very good defensive team, and they rebound the ball on both ends of the floor. If they can cut down on turnovers -- particularly by not allowing so many possessions (13.9 percent) to turn into steals -- Keith Appling and company have a ton of potential. (Saturday's home date versus Texas should be a win, but beware that Longhorns defense.)

7. Wisconsin. It will come as no surprise for me to tell you that I base most of my statistical analysis -- i.e., the stuff I use to help me see the game, in addition to actually seeing the game (word to ESPN3 and Synergy Sports) -- on Ken Pomeroy's measures of per-possession performance. Currently, Wisconsin is ranked No. 16 overall. Much as it pains me to say this … that number is untrustworthy, even if it isn't quite as off as you might think. Wisconsin's four losses (at Florida, Creighton, Virginia, at Marquette) are all to good teams, and Bo Ryan's squad did put an utter beating on a decent Cal team. But we still haven't seen Wisconsin beat anyone really good. The Badgers have a ways to go yet.

8. Iowa. Hey, don't mind me -- just hanging out on the Iowa Big Ten sleeper bandwagon again. Oh, I'm all the way back on. Sure, sure: I was critical of the Hawkeyes after that loss at Virginia Tech, but that's because I didn't realize Virginia Tech was actually a really good offensive team (and that Erick Green was a legit All-America type this season). But after being somewhat dismissive, the Hawks swept their state foes (Iowa State and Northern Iowa) in back-to-back weeks. I already have Indiana fans telling me they're dreading opening the Big Ten season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on New Year's Eve. All aboard!

9. Northwestern. The Wildcats got a quality home win this week, beating Texas State 74-68 … wait a second … how do you only beat Texas State 74-68 at home? It's Texas State! (No offense to Texas State.) I'll tell you how: When your best player, guard Drew Crawford, is sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury, you're bound to experience some difficulties pulling away from inferior teams. The Wildcats had a chance to stay in the middle of the Big Ten race this season, but that Crawford injury might be a killer.

10. Purdue. I maintain faith in Matt Painter's ability as a coach; indeed, he's probably already underrated, and at this rate will definitely remain so. The Boilermakers play good defense. They do not play particularly good offense. Surrounded by a young team and no real developed interior, one-time glue guy D.J. Byrd has tried to morph into a catch-and-shooter star. It hasn't worked. The lackluster loss to Notre Dame at the Crossroads Classic last Saturday wasn't pretty, but it had nothing on the 47-44 loss to Eastern Michigan that preceded it. Yuck.

11. Nebraska. How offensively challenged are the Huskers? I could give you a handful of statistics, like their rank -- No. 251 -- in points per possession, or cite their paltry offensive rebounding and inability to get to the free throw line. Or I could tell you that Nebraska scored 38 points at Oregon last Saturday, or exactly 0.59 ppp. In the words of Jesus Quintana: laughable man.

12. Penn State. No jokes or Lebowski references here. We all knew the Nittany Lions were going to struggle without Tim Frazier, and that's what's happened. To wit: Last Saturday, Penn State had to battle to hold on for an overtime home victory against Delaware State. But hey, at least the Nittany Lions are battling.

2K Sports Classic primer

November, 15, 2012
The four-team field of the 2K Sports Classic isn’t populated with superstars. Alabama, Oregon State, Villanova and Purdue aren’t expected to compete for the championships of their respective conferences -- if they reach their ceilings, they might find themselves on the bubble on Selection Sunday. Although there’s limited star power in this tournament, the parity could add to the competition. With so many potential bubble teams in the field, a 2K Sports Classic title could be a separating factor for the selection committee in four months.

The basics: Nov. 15-16 at Madison Square Garden in New York

The set matchups: Alabama vs. Oregon State, 7 p.m. ET; Villanova vs. Purdue, 9:30 p.m. (Both games on ESPN2)

[+] EnlargeTrevor Lacey
Kelly Lambert/US PresswireGuard Trevor Lacey has averaged 19 points in two games for the 2K Sports Classic favorite.
The favorite: Last season, Alabama reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006. But JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell, who averaged more than 27 points combined, are gone. Still, Anthony Grant has a team that can compete for a slot in the NCAA tournament. Trevor Lacey, Rodney Cooper, Andrew Steele and Trevor Releford comprise the field’s most talented core. They also have experience that some of the other participants lack. Those features should propel Alabama to a pair of victories and the tournament title.


Trevor Lacey, Alabama -- The 6-foot-3 guard scored 15 points in Bama’s season-opening victory over South Dakota State. He dropped 23 on West Alabama. Grant needed a new playmaker following the departures of Green and Mitchell. And Lacey looks like the player who will fill that role for the Tide in 2012-13.

Ronnie Johnson, Purdue -- Matt Painter uses three Johnsons (Terone, Ronnie and Anthony) in his rotation. And they’re all significant. Freshman Ronnie Johnson (the younger brother of junior Terone; Anthony Johnson is no relation) is the new starting point guard for this young Boilermakers squad. And he has been impressive in his debut. After two games, he’s averaging 10.5 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova -- The freshman guard has averaged 18.0 points and 5.0 assists through two games, both wins, for Villanova. Arcidiacono, ranked 46th on ESPN Recruiting Nation’s list of the top 100 prospects in the 2012 class, steps into a key role in the backcourt just months after talented guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek left the program to turn pro. It’s early, but Arcidiacono’s start has been a promising one.

Ahmad Starks, Oregon State -- Craig Robinson’s program lost its best player when Jared Cunningham left school early. But Starks could be the catalyst Robinson needs to produce one of the Pac-12’s best offensive units again. Starks scored 33 points in a win over New Mexico State, and he recorded 18 points in a season-opening victory over Niagara.

Devonta Pollard, Alabama -- Pollard was the gem of Grant’s 2012 recruiting class (28th in Recruiting Nation’s top 100). The 6-7 forward has had his moments early. This tournament -- and the venue -- could bring out the best in Pollard. He received a flurry of high praise during the recruitment process. Expectations are high, even though he has struggled early.


Can Alabama get back to the NCAA tournament?

This tournament will be a good barometer for Grant’s program. Alabama has the talent to win it -- and really, it should. If it doesn’t secure the tournament championship, then any doubts about the Crimson Tide's potential to return to the NCAA tourney will be validated.

How will Oregon State survive without Jared Cunningham?

Cunningham was the 24th pick in the 2012 NBA draft. Losing a first-round pick would hurt any program. But even with Cunningham, Oregon State finished 7-11 in the Pac-12. The Beavers have regrouped and rebuilt. So any early success would give the program a confidence boost.

Which team took the biggest offseason hit?

Every team in this field shares a similar burden: They all lost a significant player(s) from last season’s squad. Villanova (Wayns and Cheek), Alabama (Mitchell and Green), Purdue (Robbie Hummel) and Oregon State (Cunningham) enter 2012-13 without their stars from a year ago. Within that group, the Boilermakers will have the most difficult time replacing the production and leadership of Hummel. But they’ve all been forced to overcome personnel hits.

Is Villanova underrated?

Nova is coming off a 5-13 finish in the Big East. And they lost their two best players in the offseason. But the early production from Arcidiacono suggests that the Wildcats could outperform preseason projections that placed them at the bottom of the league.

Can Purdue compete in the Big Ten?

The Boilermakers are in that second tier of teams in the Big Ten. It’s a mixed bag -- Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa -- that features a multitude of possibilities. With so much depth, a young Boilers squad will have its hands full in league play. And that’s why its nonconference slate is so important. Painter’s youngsters need to prove to themselves that they can compete against high-level opponents.


Semifinals: Alabama over Oregon State; Villanova over Purdue
Championship game: Alabama over Villanova
1. Former Mississippi State center Arnett Moultrie said his one-time teammate Rodney Hood will be a one-and-done player when he plays in 2013-14. Hood, who is leaving the Bulldogs after his freshman season, is likely deciding among Ohio State, Memphis and Duke. (He also visited Baylor.) Hood would have to sit out one season before playing for one of those teams. “His skill level is really nice,’’ said Moultrie. “He’s athletic and gets inside when he needs to. He’ll be one-and-done wherever he goes.’’ Moultrie said he talks to Hood multiple times a week and expected him to make up his mind shortly.

2. Purdue coach Matt Painter planned an August trip to Italy at the perfect time. A school can go once every four years and the cycle has worked out for the Boilermakers. Painter, who was in Chicago last Thursday and Friday to watch former forward Robbie Hummel at the pre-draft combine at UIC, said this is the first time that he’ll have a massive group of newcomers that needs that summer preseason push since Hummel’s freshmen class that included former stars JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. The Boilermakers bring in four key newcomers in center A.J. Hammons, shooting guard Raphael Davis, point guard Ronnie Johnson and power forward Jay Simpson.

3. Former UNLV assistant Mark Warkentein (under Jerry Tarkanian) was camped out next to UNLV assistant coach Heath Schroyer during the Chicago draft camp on Friday at the UIC Pavilion. Warkentein is one of many Tark-era personnel who are now fully on board with the Runnin’ Rebels’ program after an extended period where there was not as strong of a connection. Of course it helps that his daughter Kreigh is the director of basketball operations for the men’s basketball program. Former coach Lon Kruger finally offered stability but he didn’t have the same connection that current coach Dave Rice now holds with his one-time teammates and coaches. “The collection of leadership in men’s basketball is at its highest level that it’s ever been,’’ said Warkentein, who has worked for Seattle, Denver, Cleveland, Denver and now New York in the NBA. “The president, Neal Smatresk, is the best they’ve ever had. Jim Livengood, is the best athletic director they’ve had since Brad Rothermel (1981-90 as AD), and Dave Rice is a running version of Brad Stevens.’’

Previewing Omaha: Evening games

March, 16, 2012
OMAHA, Neb. -- Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for in Friday’s afternoon games in Omaha.

No. 7 Saint Mary’s (27-5) vs. No. 10 Purdue (21-12), 7:27 ET

For Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, Thursday’s shootaround at the CenturyLink Center was gratifying for two reasons. His Gaels are back in the national spotlight -- and Bennett caught a glimpse of a celebrity.

“He’s a legend,” Bennett said of Purdue’s Robbie Hummel. “I’ve heard about him for six years. I finally got to see him up close.”

Bennett was only halfway kidding.

Hummel, after all, has garnered national public sympathy after missing the past two NCAA tournaments because of knee injuries. The fifth-year senior -- who didn’t play at all last season after tearing his ACL on the first day of practice -- is hoping his return to the postseason isn’t short-lived.

“Sitting out the last two years ... it’s been frustrating,” said Hummel, who averages 16.3 points. “I think it’s made this time all the more special for me. I think we’re all excited to be here and we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

The Boilermakers face a tough task in their first game.

Saint Mary’s became the first team in 11 years other than Gonzaga to win the West Coast Conference title outright. The Gaels, who reached the Sweet 16 in 2010, are led by point guard Matthew Dellavedova. The Cousy Award finalist is the school’s all-time assists leader. He averages 15.6 points.

Things appeared bleak for Saint Mary’s after a 14-point loss at Murray State in a BracketBusters game Feb. 18. But Bennett’s squad bounced back with four straight wins to end the season.

Saint Mary’s, which is comprised largely of Australian players, has won 25 or more games in each of the past five seasons. On Friday the Gaels will attempt to beat a Purdue squad that has won its past 13 games in the round of 64.

“They’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of talented guys,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”

Players to watch:

Robbie Hummel, Purdue -- The senior’s 16.3-point scoring average is a career high, and so are his 7.1 rebounds per game. He's averaging just 10.6 points in his past three contests.

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary’s -- One of the more fundamentally sound point guards in the country averages 15.6 points and 6.4 assists.

Rob Jones, Saint Mary’s -- The senior forward is a bit undersized at 6-foot-6, but you’d hardly be able to tell by looking at the stat sheet. Jones averages 14.8 points and 10.7 rebounds.

No. 2 Kansas (27-6) vs. No. 15 Detroit (22-13), 9:57 p.m. ET

For all the thrills they’ve experienced in the regular season, the Kansas Jayhawks still have painful memories from their past two NCAA tournaments.

More than the defeats, it’s who the Jayhawks lost to that has been hard for Bill Self’s team to stomach.

Two years ago it was Northern Iowa. Last season, Virginia Commonwealth.

When Kansas drew No. 15 seed Detroit in the round of 64 in this year’s tournament, more than a few fans feared that another upset loss to a mid-major team could be in store.

“We didn’t come to play,” point guard Tyshawn Taylor said of the past two years. “We thought if we just showed up, we’d beat those teams.”

The Jayhawks probably don’t have that opinion of Detroit, which features a McDonald’s All-American in Ray McCallum Jr. and a pro-caliber center in Eli Holman, who began his career at Indiana.

The Titans, who earned an automatic bid by beating Valparaiso by 20 points on their home floor, may be the most talented No. 15 seed in the history of the tournament. Seven of their 13 losses came without Holman, who was suspended for the fall semester.

Holman will be one of the main players charged with defending Big 12 Player of the Year Thomas Robinson, who averages 17.9 points and 11.8 rebounds. He certainly sounded confident when asked about the matchup earlier in the week.

“Robinson?” Holman said. “I can handle Robinson. He has to handle me.”

Detroit head coach Ray McCallum -- the father of the star point guard -- said the last thing his players intended to do was disrespect Kansas.

“I think some of those comments have been exaggerated,” the coach said. “We’ve been a team that hasn’t bragged or boasted about anything. Some of the things in print, I scratch my head, like 'Where did that come from?'

“I don’t think [it’s] arrogance. We’ve got great respect for their team. We know they’re truly one of the best. We’re going to have to play our best game of the year to win.”

Players to Watch:

Thomas Robinson, Kansas -- The first-team All-American and Wooden Award candidate has gone from a nonstarter to one of the best players in America. The NCAA tournament will likely mark the final time he will be in a Kansas uniform, as he’s expected to enter the NBA draft.

Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas -- Not many point guards in the country were as good during the second half of the season as Taylor, who led the Jayhawks in scoring in Big 12 play. The senior is a fourth-year starter

Ray McCallum Jr., Detroit -- The son of the Titans’ head coach averages 15.6 points per game but shoots just 25 percent from beyond the arc. He chose Detroit over schools such as Kansas, Florida and UCLA.

Purdue's season now on the brink

February, 20, 2012
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.

Hopefully, you ignored college football. Hopefully, you procrastinated putting up your Christmas decorations. Hopefully, after Kentucky's thrilling win over North Carolina this afternoon, you stayed plopped in that couch groove, remote in one hand and snacks in the other, ready to flip from one hoops affair to the next.

Why? Because UK-UNC was merely this Saturday's opening salvo. Sure, it was the best and most important and most entertaining and most talented and most insert-your-adjective-of-choice-here game of the day. But it wasn't the only one. Let's run through the rest of this afternoon's action -- beginning with Xavier's remarkable comeback win over Purdue. (Tu!)

No. 11 Xavier 66, Purdue 63: Technically, a brief glance at the Game Flow illustration in the link to the left tells the story here. The Purdue lead was 20-6 after 10 minutes. It was 33-22 after 20 minutes. It was -- get this -- 55-36 after 30 minutes. Then, in the final 10 minutes, and especially the final five, Xavier staged a marvelous comeback, ending the game on a 30-8 run and holding on in the end to get the most unlikely of wins.

You can look at the box score and know this, and therefore know the story of the game. But believe me when I say this is one you had to see to believe. In particular, you needed to see X guard Tu Holloway, whose late-game transformations -- Holloway goes from inefficient to "oh my God, did you just see that?!?" -- are one of the strangest and most compelling performance storylines in college basketball this season. It pains me to say this, but in his past two games, Tu Holloway became college basketball's Tim Tebow. (I know, I know. I couldn't resist.)

As in Xavier's victory at Vanderbilt on Monday, Holloway was pedestrian to downright bad for much of Saturday afternoon. Before the final five minutes, he was borderline invisible, when he wasn't committing one of his six turnovers, that is. And then, just as it did Monday night in Nashville, something clicked. After the five-minute mark, Holloway went 3-of-4 and scored 13 of his 21 total points, including the three consecutive dagger 3s he stuck in the closing moments when his team needed them most. He won the game with his shooting and finished it off with his free throws.

It's strange, this lightbulb that seems to click only in the closing moments. But whatever it is that goes off in Holloway's head when the game is on the line in the closing moments, Xavier fans will take it. Thanks in large part to Holloway's late-game heroics, the Musketeers end this week with two crucial nonconference wins over two power-six teams, one of which came on the road.

There's a ton of season left, but would anyone want to draw the Muskies in an elimination game right now? For all its occasional struggles -- and by occasional, I mean "for the first 35 minutes of any given game" -- this Xavier team not only appears to be balanced and talented, but also appears to be as difficult an out as any team in the country. If you're up on the Musketeers, you better bury them deep. As long as Holloway's on the floor and the lead is mathematically in reach, you're never, ever safe.

As for Purdue, Matt Painter and Co. will certainly be unhappy to lose a game they controlled for so long in such heartbreaking fashion. And the sight of Robbie Hummel wincing at the end of the Boilermakers bench -- Hummel was crippled by apparently excruciating cramps for much of the afternoon -- was certainly an unwelcome one. But there are bright sides. For one, Hummel's injuries were merely cramps. (Seeing the Purdue senior, in the midst of a heartwarming comeback from two major ACL surgeries, hold his leg after contact is the quickest way this side of an Eli Roth movie to feel one's stomach turn in knots.)

More important, it should be noted that Purdue was the vastly superior team for much of the game. A loss is a loss, of course; no distinction will be made for its type during the résumé comparison season in early March. But the Boilers can take something from this game. They were the better team for its majority -- on the road, in a tough environment, against an experienced and talented team, with its best player cramping late -- and at the end of the day, maybe that's what's worth remembering.

No. 16 Marquette 61, No. 7 Wisconsin 54: Make no mistake: Marquette is a good team. Arguably a very good one. Even without star Jimmy Butler, last season's do-everything scorer, rebounder, glue guy and teammate extraordinaire, the Golden Eagles are still very good.

Even so, this is a borderline shocking result. Why? Because Wisconsin doesn't lose at home, like, ever. Before Saturday, in 11 seasons under Bo Ryan, UW was 156-11 at the Kohl Center. The Badgers were working on a 23-game home winning streak against all opponents; the last time they lost a nonconference home game was Dec. 23, 2008. So for the Golden Eagles to come in and get a win in this underrated in-state hoops rivalry -- well, yeah, that's a shocker, no matter how good this Marquette team is.

Of course, the Badgers gave Marquette the opportunity almost from the starting tip. Wisconsin posted an uncharacteristically awful shooting performance Saturday afternoon, particularly in the first half, when the Badgers scored just 22 points and found themselves in a 10-point hole at halftime. Things improved slightly in the second, but UW still finished 16-of-50 from the field and 5-of-19 from 3. For a team averaging 44 percent from 3 and 50 percent from 2 this season -- a team that relies on slowly working the ball in pursuit of a high-percentage final shot -- that simply won't get it done.

Wisconsin's slow pace -- its greatest advantage at times -- also makes it very difficult for the Badgers to mount a comeback. They tried, and cut the lead to within striking distance late in the second half even despite a tough charging call on point guard Jordan Taylor that cost the Badgers a three-point play and sent Taylor to the bench with his fourth foul. But Marquette was just as good down the stretch. Guard Darius Johnson-Odom didn't have a hugely efficient night (17 points on 15 shots), but anytime he can get his 18-foot step-back jumper off, it becomes an unstoppable offensive weapon. Meanwhile, Marquette is getting good contributions from sophomore Vander Blue and freshman guard Todd Mayo (younger brother of O.J.).

Wisconsin may have shot itself in the foot in this one -- not unlike Tuesday's close call at North Carolina -- but Marquette deserves the credit. The Golden Eagles took advantage early, made enough plays to finish the game and in the process notched one of the biggest wins of Buzz Williams' ever-promising tenure at the program. Impressive stuff.

Illinois 82, No. 18 Gonzaga 75: Maybe Gonzaga beats Illinois on a neutral court. But maybe not.

That's the feeling one got while watching this game, in which Illinois -- a young team but one with talent, which is something yours truly has been saying all season -- never looked overmatched or overwhelmed against a ranked Bulldogs team with designs on a deep tournament run. A little like UK-UNC, this win didn't feel like the benefit of home-court advantage as some deciding factor. Illinois can play with people. Now we know.

[+] EnlargeMeyers Leonard
AP Photo/Robert K. O'DaniellSophomore Meyers Leonard's second-half surge helped Illinois to the upset of visiting Gonzaga.
Of special note? Illinois forward Meyers Leonard. The sophomore missed much of the first half thanks to foul trouble, but he returned in the second with a determined style of play. The end result: 21 points and 6 rebounds on 9-for-11 shooting from the field. Those are impressive tallies any way you slice them, but considering Leonard posted those numbers while matched up with Gonzaga center Robert Sacre, they're doubly so. Throw in the balanced performances from starters D.J. Richardson (19 points), Brandon Paul (13 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) and Sam Maniscalco (10 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds) and, well, don't look now, but this Illinois team might well be better than last season's disappointing senior-led squad. It certainly looked the part Saturday.

No. 17 Pittsburgh 61, Tennessee 56: In Maui, the Tennessee Volunteers proved themselves to be a flawed but hard-nosed and pesky bunch, one that would refuse to roll over for their apparently more talented opponents. That quality was on full display against Pitt, which led UT by eight with 1:46 to go. That's when the Vols began fouling, and after an elbow cost guard Ashton Gibbs a technical foul -- and gave Tennessee the customary shots and possession -- the Panthers missed the front end of two one-and-ones and watched as Trae Golden's 3 cut the lead to 58-56 with 11 seconds remaining.

It wasn't pretty, but the Panthers pulled this one out after forcing a jump ball on Tennessee's key possession late. They'll be thankful for that when seeding time comes around this spring. But let it be known: Tennessee was supposed to be rebuilding. That may be true. But don't tell the Volunteers. Because they aren't yielding anything in the meantime.

Other noteworthy results from the afternoon: The jury is still out on Iowa State; the Cyclones don't have any truly bad losses (at Drake is forgivable, and so is a home loss to UNI), but after Saturday's 75-65 loss at Michigan, Fred Hoiberg's rebuilt team hasn't made us sit up and take notice either. ... Ryan Boatright's home debut after a six-game NCAA rules suspension went swimmingly: The freshman guard scored 23 points and led his team to a game-opening 14-2 run in what was arguably a struggling UConn team's most impressive performance of the year, a 75-62 victory over Arkansas. ... Usually, UCLA-Texas is a marquee game. Not this season. The Bruins are now 2-5 after today's home loss to the Longhorns, which was briefly interrupted by a power surge that caused the lights to dim in the aging Los Angeles Sports Arena, UCLA's temporary home. One imagines Ben Howland would have preferred the lights stay off. ... BYU played at the home of the Utah Jazz (hey, there's nothing going on there) and dusted off Oregon with a 13-0 run in the second half of its impressive 79-65 win. Noah Hartsock led the way with 23 points and 12 boards for the Cougars. In other news, the Horizon League began conference play -- yes, conference play -- on Saturday, with the two biggest results a 77-71 overtime win by Valpo at Butler and Cleveland State's 66-61 win at preseason Horizon favorite Detroit. We know to never count out Butler (or Detroit if Eli Holman ever returns), but it's becoming apparent that the Crusaders and Vikings are the teams to beat in the Horizon.

One would assume, based on one's sporadic and entirely unscientific knowledge of ACL injuries, that Robbie Hummel's long rehabilitation from his second ACL tear -- the one he suffered just prior to the 2010-11 season -- would have allowed him plenty of time to get back to feeling comfortable on the basketball court.

But last week at Big Ten media day, Hummel seemed slightly less than convinced; he told me his knee was "structurally sound" but that there were still things he didn't quite trust it to do -- rebounding in traffic among them. "At this point, it's all mental," he said.

Perhaps Hummel was selling himself short. The Purdue senior starred in the Boilermakers' first exhibition game Tuesday night, scoring 18 points and grabbing seven rebounds in -- get this -- just 15 minutes of action. If my math is correct, Hummel was on track for something like a 46-point, 18-rebound game. That's a stellar performance in minor minutes, and it speaks to a level of comfort perhaps even Hummel didn't realize he had.

After the game, Hummel was asked what must be the 5,234th version of "How does your knee feel," and he likewise seemed encouraged by his play. From the Indy Star:
"It felt great," a smiling Hummel said moments after the game. "It felt great to be out there with the guys. It was everything I could hope for. My knee feels solid, and I feel like I am getting better every day in practice."

"The only thing you can judge on is what you see," [Purdue coach Matt] Painter said. "He looks comfortable, and the ball goes in. He makes 3s. He makes pull-ups."

Painter has been careful to introduce his star player slowly in the preseason; last week, Hummel was still on an every-other-day practice regimen. Painter may want to see more from Hummel in extended minutes, but if Hummel can ball like this right now, it might be time to ramp things up. Few players in the country will be as important to their teams as Hummel will be to Purdue in 2011-12. The sooner he's back in the mix, the better.

Getting cut motivated Shabazz Napier

September, 22, 2011
The heir apparent to Kemba Walker was stunningly cut from a basketball team this offseason.

Shabazz Napier, whose role at UConn grew during the team's national championship run and is expected to continue to blossom with Walker having left for the NBA, was one of the final players cut from the World University Games team that played in China for Purdue coach Matt Painter.

According to the New Haven Register, Napier found his motivation after being left off the team.
"It was disappointing, and also surreal, just because I haven’t been cut from a team in a while," Napier said on Tuesday, prior to a team workout inside Guyer Gym. "It motivated me in a good way, but not in a way that I don't like Coach Painter or the USA team. It didn't do that. It just made me want to push harder. At the end of the day, I didn't get chosen for the team because my presence wasn't felt as much. I wasn't being myself. So, I've been out here to help that motivate me and get my team going."

That's great news for UConn, which is hoping the 6-foot sophomore can guide the team to another championship. Napier was comfortable handling the ball last season, enabling Walker to roam free to dominate as a scorer. Now he's in a position to start for the first time and improve after averaging 7.8 points and 3 assists as a freshman.

The talent that surrounds Napier is clearly very good. Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi and freshman Andre Drummond, whose late signing turned the Huskies into Big East favorites, are all looking to blossom as well.

It was Napier's clutch free throws that closed out Kentucky in the Final Four. Now with him looking to assert himself in the future, it's just yet another good sign for the defending champs.

Orlando Johnson got better while overseas

August, 30, 2011
Big West teams know all about UC Santa Barbara star Orlando Johnson, and the rest of the country should get to know him as well if it hasn't done so already.

Not only did the 6-foot-5 guard lead the conference in scoring last season, averaging 21.1 points, but also that makes him the nation's second-leading returning scorer.

Johnson withdrew his name from the NBA draft to return for his senior season and has already impressed this summer by making the USA's World University Games team where he averaged 7.3 points during the trip to Shenzhen, China.

That scoring average might not appear all that exciting, but the rest of the Big West should know that what really benefited Johnson overseas was an emphasis on his all-around game, according to the Santa Barbara News-Press.
"[World University Games] coach (Matt) Painter said he was looking at bigger things," Johnson said. "He told me, 'You did everything else -- you rebounded, you played defense, you're passing the ball ... I know you'll be able to score the ball, but it's the other things, like being a play-maker, which will get you on the team.'"


"They really opened his eyes to the value of defense," [UC Santa Barbara coach Bob] Williams said. "Over there, he was asked to be the stopper. As a coach, what do you think? I'm just smiling. Absolutely. All of a sudden, your best player realizes that he has the ability to be the stopper?

"I feel really, really good about what he's learned, and also about the relationship he had with the coaches and the interaction with the players from all different levels. He had an unbelievable experience."

Look for Johnson to team up with backcourt mate James Nunnally as the Gauchos look to capture their third consecutive NCAA tournament berth. Long Beach State is the favorite to win the regular-season title, but UCSB is right there, especially with Johnson becoming an improved player.

That Johnson expanded his game wasn't the only uplifting part of his China trip. He was also selected to represent the entire American delegation as the flag bearer during the opening ceremonies of the World University Games.

As the video shows, it was quite a cool moment.

Trevor Mbakwe a bright spot for Team USA

August, 22, 2011
It had to be at least somewhat bittersweet for Purdue coach Matt Painter to get to know Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe this summer.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Mbakwe
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidTrevor Mbakwe earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last season before an impressive showing at the World University Games.
On one hand, Mbakwe was the star of the Team USA during the World University Games. The Americans settled for a fifth-place finish, but the 6-foot-8 forward stood out while averaging 11.4 points and 9.4 rebounds.

On the other hand, Painter now has a better appreciation for what he and his team have to go up against when the Golden Gophers come up during the Big Ten schedule.

"They really fouled him the whole tournament," Painter said in a statement from China. "He’s tough to guard. He’s very strong. We just wanted to keep pounding the ball inside and try to get the ball to the basket as much as we could."

That's probably what Tubby Smith probably has in mind as well now that expectations are sky high for Mbakwe, who at this time last year was best known for his legal woes. After averaging a double-double (13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds) in his first season with the program, he now enters his senior season with momentum and the understanding that he could put up those numbers on the international stage as well.

From The Star Tribune:
"It's just a confidence-builder knowing that I’m able to compete," he said last week about his World University Games experience. "These same guys are some of the best players in the country and other countries, too."

Since Mbakwe earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last year, I think it's fair to expect him to achieve first-team all-conference honors and to play his way into the All-America conversation by the end of the 2011-12 campaign.

The Gophers coaching staff believes Mbakwe can have a special year that ends with national honors.

"We're going to be able to take something we learned from here and be able to use it when we get back home for our college teams," Mbakwe said in a statement from China. "It's just been a wonderful experience and I'm really grateful to be able to have this opportunity."

Touring Purdue's new facilities

July, 12, 2011
Somewhere in this spring's "Will Matt Painter really leave?" fray -- probably after Painter flirted with the open job at Missouri but before he agreed to a new deal at his alma mater (just a guess!) -- Purdue's athletics department decided it was time for the basketball team to spruce things up. Painter wanted a greater "commitment" from Purdue in the form of more resources, pay and travel for his staff, and by the time Purdue fans' long provincial nightmare came to an end, their coach got exactly that.

This increased commitment times up nicely with a few other changes. Purdue is renovating Mackey Arena -- both by choice and by natural design -- and included in those renovations are a new locker room, new film room, new practice court and a host of other spiffy upgrades that should do well to rebuild Mackey's image from an old, impersonal concrete haven to one with at few state-of-the-art amenities.

But as Lavar Burton would say, don't take my word for it. Purdue Sports is taking tours of the facilities upgrades and uploading them to YouTube, and they're certainly worth a peek:

I have to say, that film room looks like the kind of place I could spend a lazy Sunday. Give me a Netflix hookup, an XBox controller, and a delivery pizza, and you won't hear from me until Monday morning. As is tradition.

In any case, the facilities aren't going to knock anyone off their feet. After all, once you've seen Oklahoma State's $4 million locker room, everything else is bound to be a bit of a letdown. (I still can't get over it. It's just ... baffling. Four million dollars! For a locker room! Four million!) Still, for a program desperate to lose its reputation as an organizational tightwad, this is a pretty promising start.

(Hat tip: BIAH)
Demetri Goodson's decision to leave Gonzaga and play football at Baylor, which he announced early in May, was, it is safe to say, a surprise. Goodson started 68 of 69 games in his sophomore and junior seasons, had another year of hoops eligibility remaining and, with much of his team returning in 2011-12, might have spent that year chasing a Final Four appearance. Instead, Goodson decided to hit the reset button and play a sport he gave up as a sophomore in high school.

Whether it's higher or lower on the surprise scale, the news of Purdue forward Patrick Bade's decision to leave the Boilermakers basketball team and for the Boilermakers football team is similarly unforeseen. It's not uncommon to see basketball players enjoy a fifth year of football eligibility after their basketball careers are over. But Bade, like Goodson, is leaving time on the table, making the switch after his sophomore season and before he has time to become a major contributor in the post-JaJuan Johnson era at Purdue.

Like Goodson, Bade hasn't played football since high school. In his case, Bade played until his junior year before dropping the sport and focusing on basketball. But as ESPN Big Ten football blogger Brian Bennett writes, Bade is 6-foot-8, and that size has convinced Purdue football coach Danny Hope that he can compete for a spot at tight end in the coming seasons:
"I’ve seen his junior film, and he looks like a pretty good prospect for us," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "He’s a big-body guy who plays a position where we have a quite a bit of youth and not a lot experience, so he’ll be able to compete right away. We’re happy to have him aboard.”

Bade was recruited to play football out of high school, and he will have three years of eligibility remaining under NCAA rules, so if there's any time to make this decision it's now. Besides, Bade never really found his stride in the Boilermakers' lineup; it's possible he believes he's reached his hoops ceiling.

The problem? This makes an already-thin Purdue frontcourt even more so. Coach Matt Painter will now have only little-used returners (Sandi Marcius, Travis Carroll) and relatively unheralded three-star freshmen (Jacob Lawson, Donnie Hale) to surround star forward Robbie Hummel, who will return from successive ACL injuries for his senior season this fall. It's likely Bade would have -- or at least could have -- been a consistent starter in that rotation. Instead, Painter will have to adjust. It's hardly a death blow, but it will present another challenge for Painter and his crew, one few could have seem coming weeks ago.
No matter what demographic niche you inhabit, the Internet probably has a social network or forum for you. Roger Federer fan? Here you go. Hard-core gamer? Take your pick. "Arrested Development" devotee? You better believe it.

Wife of a college coach? Believe it or not, yes, there is a social network for you, too.

It's called, and it sprang forth from the mind of Roberta Martin, wife of newly hired Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. The site, which is open to wives of any college sports coach, allows users to post photos, leave messages and chat in forums -- like a miniature, hyper-niche Facebook. According to the AP, members "share their gameday fashions, talk about bringing children to games or commiserate about their husbands' absences during recruiting season."

Since Martin conceived the idea in 2008, the site has amassed around 700 users. Those members include Joani Crean and Jerri Painter, the wives of Indiana coach Tom Crean and Purdue coach Matt Painter, who met on the site and developed a friendship that crosses heated rivalry lines. According to Martin, that's essentially the point of the site. From the AP:
Martin said she had the idea for MarriedToTheGame after her husband left his job as a Purdue assistant and accepted the head coaching position at Missouri State in 2008. She left her own full-time job and became a stay-at-home mom in the process.

"It was my first time being a stay-at-home mom, and I was running on the treadmill, and I was like, 'Certainly there are other wives who have gone through this transition,'" Martin said. "I thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have a way to connect with them,' and I was just getting into Facebook at the time." [...]

Connie Whitesell is currently in the middle of her own relocation after husband Jim was fired from Loyola and accepted a job as a Saint Louis assistant. Through connections on MarriedToTheGame, she's gotten to know St. Louis as she prepares to move there from Chicago.

"I think the thing I appreciate it the most is that there are some really unique challenges that are faced by the families and spouses of coaches," she said. "All the movement that goes on and how your husband can get a new job and have to be there within hours while the spouses are coordinating the efforts back at home."

College coaches live strangely. Addicted to Crackberries and travel, driven by the same competitive instincts he attempts to instill in players, the modern college hoops coach doesn't get much time to rest or pause or -- especially among the ambitious youngsters -- be selective about where the next coaching destination is. A job opens. It's better than the one you have. You take it. Typically, the calculus is just that simple.

Lost in all this, of course, is what it means to be a family member -- let alone the significant other -- of someone in such a topsy-turvy profession. Lots of college coaches' wives find themselves in small, middle-of-nowhere college towns. When they get there, they may have few, if any friends in the area. Their husbands are frequently traveling. An image of a large, well-appointed, empty house comes to mind. Sure, you could do much worse in this world. Still, that can't be fun.

Married To The Game may not be the tech world's latest hot IPO, but it's an awfully cool idea.

My question is, what's next? Fathered By The Game? Family Pets Of The Game? When no niche is too small, the possibilities are endless.

If that was a bluff, it was one of the more impressive bluffs in coaching contract history.

After two days of gradually increased uncertainty about Matt Painter's future at Purdue, ESPN's own Andy Katz is reporting, per a source, that Painter will remain at the school. (Update: The school later announced that Painter has indeed signed a new eight-year contract that runs through the 2018-19 season.)

In the big picture, this might seem like an expected outcome. But as anyone who followed this story throughout the week knows, Painter left little room for expectation. Early Wednesday, the coach's tenure at Purdue looked all but over. The reports of his decision to leave West Lafayette, Ind., for Columbia, Mo., for a seven-year, $14 million contract to become the newest head coach of the Missouri Tigers were leaking quickly and enthusiastically in St. Louis and elsewhere. The text messages were flying. The uncertainty was rampant.

[+] EnlargeMatt Painter
AJ Mast/Icon SMIReports claiming Purdue coach Matt Painter was headed to Missouri were false.
Would Painter -- Purdue alum, Gene Keady disciple, and the best thing to happen to Purdue's title-starved fan base since Keady himself -- really make a seemingly lateral move to Missouri? Why?

The answer, basically, boiled down (sorry) to money. And not necessarily Painter's money, either.

Sure, his base salary of $1.3 million was the eighth-highest in the Big Ten this season, a figure too low for a coach with three of the last four Big Ten Coach of the Year awards and five straight NCAA tournament appearances. The desire to boost that figure might have played into Painter's thinking, as it would any coach or athlete who demands to be paid commensurate to the market value of his success.

More than anything, though, Painter's decision to listen long and hard to Missouri's offer had to do with money outside his salary. Keady, the defining coach of Purdue hoops history, told the Indianapolis Star that Painter wanted to know that the Purdue athletic department was financially committed to national title aspirations, that he could have "the opportunity to win a national title with the backing of everyone," that "if an assistant coach needs a car, he can get it." Keady's comments created a perception that Purdue's athletic department frequently nickel-and-dimed the coach on minor issues, and it didn't take long for Mizzou to see that weakness and attempt to exploit it.

That notion led to a hasty and rather poorly handled response from Purdue athletics, in which the school made clear it was "proactive" in offering Painter a larger contract and a greater overall financial commitment. (Unfortunately, Purdue also deemed it necessary to point blame at its fans in a letter to the John Purdue Club, a needless finger-pointing for which Nancy Cross, senior associate athletics director, later apologized.)

All this posturing gave Purdue fans a bad feeling, and for good reason: By Wednesday morning, Painter had taken the Boilermakers all the way to the brink of devastation. Purdue students even rallied on campus. For some reason -- Purdue fans are usually great! -- that rally garnered exactly 11 poor souls. But make no mistake: The pixelated wailing and gnashing of teeth stretched far and wide.

In the end, whatever Purdue offered was good enough. Someone ponied up the cash. Someone made sure Painter's assistant coaches would always have the cars they needed. Someone made sure Painter knew the financial commitment that so attracted him to Missouri was also available at Purdue, and that he didn't even need to go house-hunting to find it.

Matt Painter will be back at Purdue for the foreseeable future. If you're a Purdue fan, today was a good news day.

Of course, the coach himself is the biggest winner in all of this. Not only did he get a chance to see what was out there -- a luxury most employees can only dream of -- he got to leverage that offer into a much better deal at his current job.

It's possible no one knows what Painter was thinking throughout all this, whether he ever really planned to leave Purdue or not. But it doesn't matter. Painter seemed ready.

In other words, remind me never to play poker with the head men's basketball coach at Purdue. It's hard to tell if this was a bluff. But if it was, it was masterfully executed, and Matt Painter just raked the pot.
The notion that Purdue coach Matt Painter would leave the school started as a seemingly silly rumor. Purdue is Painter's alma mater. The school has experienced some of its best basketball years in history under Painter, who revitalized a proud-but-stalled program after legendary coach Gene Keady's eventual retirement. Purdue is a big-time job in a big-time hoops state filled with big-time talent. Would Painter really turn away from what, at least to outsiders, looks like a dream gig?

Slowly but surely, the answer has turned into "well ... maybe."

[+] EnlargeMatt Painter
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Matt Painter has led Purdue to five NCAA tournament appearances.
The rumors became full-fledged when legendary New York Daily News writer Dick "Hoops" Weiss tweeted the following Monday night:
matt painter to missouri 7 yrs 14 mill' tigers got a great coach will purdue make a pitch for brad stevens

Was Painter-to-Missouri, which seemed so unlikely before, suddenly a done deal?

It turns out Weiss, as he later admitted, was a bit too enthusiastic. The Indianapolis Star's Jeff Rabjohns soon reported that no such deal was in place, and Weiss himself backtracked on the story, but this once-unlikely story's floodgates were officially opened. As Missouri soon confirmed to the Kansas City Star, the school is in hot pursuit of Painter. The two sides are meeting today in Florida, where Painter is vacationing. Whatever the details of that meeting, one thing is clear: Painter-to-Mizzou is no longer just a rumor. It's a real possibility.

Still, the question of why -- why would Painter leave his alma mater? -- lingers. Is he merely flirting with Missouri to get a bigger contract from Purdue? Is he fielding offers to gauge his place in the coaching hierarchy? To that end, Purdue "hastily arranged" a teleconference this morning to get in front of the story. On that teleconference, Purdue assistant athletic director Tom Schott said the school was "proactive" in its attempts to "encourage Matt to stay through our words and action."

According to Keady, that means Purdue offered Painter more money. Also according to Keady, Painter's Mizzou flirtation has less to do with money and more to do with Purdue's commitment to the program. From the Indianapolis Star:
"Proactive means they gave him more money," former Purdue coach Gene Keady said this morning. "But money's not keeping him from thinking about Missouri.

"It's about having the opportunity to win a national title with the backing of everyone. He wants to know if an assistant coach needs a car, he can get it. If something needs to be done, they'll do it, so he doesn't have to worry about all the nickel and dime stuff.

"It isn't about money. I want him to stay and [athletic director] Morgan [Burke] wants him to stay."

One could argue that reasoning is not good news for Purdue fans. After all, if it's just about money, Purdue should be able to afford to boost Painter's contract. The coach's base salary was $1.3 million this season, but Painter pulled down almost $1.9 million after various performance bonuses. If Missouri's offer is seven years and $14 million, then Purdue should have no problem making their own offer competitive. (Get the boosters on the phone! It's donation time, fellas!)

Money is easier to change than a school's overall approach. If Painter is unhappy with the way his program is run from the top down -- if he thinks he'd have a better chance to win a title in Columbia, Mo. -- then there might not be much Purdue can do to dissuade him.

And there are potentially systemic explanations for Painter's interest in leaving Purdue. For one, a large portion of Painter's best and most successful class (stars JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore among them) is graduating this spring, and the return of Robbie Hummel in 2011-12 is the only real bright personnel spot for the Boilermakers. What's worse is what's happening in Bloomington, where Indiana coach Tom Crean, with a new, gleaming practice facility behind him, has lately boosted his recruiting efforts into the stratosphere. This fall, marquee recruit Cody Zeller arrives on campus, and Crean's 2012 class -- which is chock-full of top Indiana players -- has a chance to be the best in the country. If you're Painter, maybe you look at the future and wonder if the in-state tables have turned. Maybe you look at 2012, 2013 and beyond and wonder if Indiana's supposed rise won't increase the pressure to win in West Lafayette, Ind.

Either way, Purdue fans are officially worried. If Painter does leave, expect to see more than a few pitchforks surrounding the Boilermakers athletic offices in the days and weeks to come. (Hammer and Rails is already planning a "Rally to Restore Sanity" on campus today.) The Boilermakers coach is the best thing to happen to Purdue basketball since Gene Keady, and his loss would be a potentially devastating blow to a fan base desperate for a consistent winner.

It's hard to imagine Painter leaving Purdue to take a job at Missouri. To the outside world, a coach leaving his alma mater to make a seemingly lateral program move -- well, that's almost inexplicable.

But rest assured Painter knows his situation better than anyone, and rest assured he'll approach his future with the same shrewd focus he's brought back to the Mackey Arena sideline. If I'm a Purdue fan, I'm more than a little freaked out.

(Update: If I'm a Purdue fan, I'm also a little peeved that the university chose this time to emphasize a lack of donations from members of its John Purdue Club in a letter to those members by senior associate athletics director Nancy Cross. The guys at Midwest Sports Fans have the letter and some reaction here.)