Friday, February 13, 2015

February rising(s)

Quietly now, the two of them make their noise.

Purdue beat Rutgers by 10 last night, on the road, the Boilermakers' eighth conference win and their sixth in their last eight games. They're now tied for second in the Big Ten, two games adrift of Wisconsin.

IPFW hammered IUPUI by 15 Wednesday, on the road, the Mastodons' seventh Summit League win and their sixth straight overall. It's their longest winning streak in 22 years, and they're now fourth in the Summit League after being dead last a month ago.

They are two schools playing basketball on different levels, but with the same trajectory. And doing so while not stirring up a great deal of attention outside their respective spheres of influence.

That's too bad. Attention should be paid.

It should be paid in West Lafayette, because this might be Matt Painter's finest hour. He came to this season on something of a hot seat, although most of that perception admittedly originated outside the Purdue athletic department. And it surely didn't get less warm for him in December when the Boilermakers lost by 30 to Notre Dame and then to Gardner-Webb at home back-to-back.

Well. All of that is a dim memory now, because the Boilers are not that team anymore. Rapheal Davis has stepped emphatically into the senior leadership role every successful team must fill, and everything has flowed from that. He's bought into what Painter is selling, and he's brought everyone with him -- most notably enigmatic big man A.J. Hammons, who's finally achieved a modicum of consistency.

What's come of that is a team that was constructed to win in the Big Ten -- presence on the low blocks and a reasonable amount of scoring elsewhere -- and is doing so. And this despite being picked to finish 11th in the conference preseason poll.

And the Mastodons?

There was a lot of low rumbling that they weren't living up to their high expectations early on, because they weren't. But now they are exactly the team everyone thought they would be when they were picked to win the Summit League, thanks to Steve Forbes getting healthy and a couple of notable personnel moves by head coach Jon Coffman.

The first was inserting Max Landis into the starting backcourt. The second was deciding to bring Joe Reed off the bench, a role Reed filled with gusto last season.

Both have worked famously. Landis has gone for 19, 27 and 14 points in IPFW's last three games. Reed has become Reed again, producing his usual energy and production at both ends. Forbes has reasserted himself under the glass, and a team that looked lost at times six weeks ago has regained the focus and swagger that took it to 25 victories in the breakout 2013-14 season.

The Mastodons may not catch the three teams ahead of them. But do those teams, or anyone else in the conference, want a piece of them right now?

Or, in the Big Ten, want Purdue?

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