It took Purdue a while to get going this season, and then just when it seemed they were clicking there was a road bump at the end of the regular season. But it all came together for them in Indianapolis and they finished it off today by rallying for a 65-61 win over Ohio State that gave them their first tournament title.
Robbie Hummel was strong on the boards, coming up with 11 rebounds to cap off his run to the Outstanding Player award. This was a game closely contested across the board, but the Boilers held narrow edges consistently. By the time you added up their free throw scoring edge (13-10), one additional three-point basket, a 37-30 rebounding advantage and a 12-7 edge in forcing turnovers, it adds up to enough to produce a win.
Now this isn't the ACC where conference life rises and falls on the league tourney (I was told by a Maryland diehard yesterday that she'd rather win the ACC Tournament than the NCAA Tournament) at the expense of the regular season. But winning the conference tournament is still a significant achievment, ranking behind only the Final Four and winning the regular season. Congratulations to Matt Painter and his program.
Now on to the NCAA Tournament selection. Seven teams got in. We'll be talking about them plenty the next couple days, so for now let's talk about the eighth that was left out. Penn State did not get a bid, despite a 22-11 record. I understand about Penn State's non-conference schedule, but even if you throw that out, they still went 10-8 in the nation's second-toughest conference. Meanwhile, Arizona goes 19-13, 9-9 in the 5th best conference, and they get in. Something doesn't add up.
I also have a problem with Mississippi State taking a bid away from the Lions--or anyone else for that matter. I realize this sort of thing has been going on since the advent of at-large bids in 1976 and the Big Ten has benefited from it in years like 2001 when Iowa played its way in. But why should a conference be rewarded because its top teams prove unable to get it done in a league tourney? If we want to give the conference tournament champ an automatic bid (and I do), let them take it away from a team within their own league. Let the teams that failed on the court be the ones that bear the burden. I'd cut a break to the midmajors in this regard, because they get so few as it is--meaning Butler could still get in. But the big conferences should have the conflict of interest removed.
At the end of the bubble griping though, I do have to give a hat tip to CBS' Seth Greenberg on one count. He pointed out that all the bubble teams are flawed to begin with. In the power conferences, there's more than enough chances to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt you belong. As a Wisconsin fan, looking at the #12 seed, I feel like someone who's skidded to the edge of a cliff before falling out. But like Penn State, UW had its own chances to eliminate all doubt and would have only itself to blame if the roles were reversed. As is the case for Michigan, Minnesota and other power conference teams fortunate enough to be given a chance at March glory.
Penn State will join Iowa in the NIT. This post is going online about 45 minutes before that bracket is announced (9 PM EST). Here's hoping the Lions and Hawkeyes can both make the run to Madison Square Garden. Talor Battle, Jamelle Cornley and Jake Kelly belong on the stage that New York provides, and Big Ten Country will follow them throughout.
And the NCAA Tournament will get going for real on Thursday. I'll be back in on Tuesday and Wednesday to break down the entire brackets, with a special emphasis naturally going to Big Ten schools. See you then!