Sorry that this one got up a bit late everyone! And a big thanks to Travis (@HammerandRails) from Hammer and Rails for taking time to answer my questions. He had a few questions for me as well and you can find my awesome answers here.
The Daily Gopher: So, let's say you didn't know anything about Purdue basketball this season. What would you need to know to understand how things have gone for the Boilermakers thus far? Asking for a friend.
Travis Miller: Purdue is maddeningly inconsistent this season. In the season opener Purdue trailed Northern Kentucky, a newcomer to Division I who isn't even tournament eligible until 2017, by a point after trailing by four with less than a minute left in Mackey Arena. Only a three by Errick Peck, two free throws from Ronnie Johnson, and a pair of skin-of-your-teeth defensive stops saved the day. A few weeks later Purdue had a furious comeback and gave Oklahoma State, a possible #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament a hell of a game on a neutral floor. Purdue followed that by a turd of a game in a loss to Washington State, who only scored 25 points in a loss to Arizona this week. As you saw on Wednesday, the Boiler gave another possible No. 1 seed, Ohio State, a good game.
When Purdue is playing well like it did against Boston College it can play with anyone in the country. The key is its effort level. Purdue is best when it is playing the in-your-jersey defense it is known for and everyone is moving without the basketball on offense. Unfortunately, the offense can sometimes stagnate and the Johnson brothers try to play one-on-one hero ball.
A.J. Hammons also has to be engaged on both ends of the floor. He had a monster 18-16-5 game against OSU, but didn't even attempt a single shot against Washington State in 27 minutes.
TDG: After 7 straight NCAA appearances under Matt Painter the Boilermakers decided to enjoy a change of pace and check out the College Basketball Invitational last season. Are Purdue fans expecting an NCAA tournament berth this season or are you prepared to miss out on the Dance for a second season in a row?
TM: I think most fans know the NCAA Tournament is certainly a possibility, but it is not a life-or-death matter. I feel like a 10-8 Big Ten season (and Purdue was still 8-10 last season in the league) will be enough. It is a reasonable goal and if the Boilers can sweep the perceived bottom three of Penn State, Nebraska, and Northwestern they'll already be six wins toward that goal.
I look for Purdue to be in a morass of teams including Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan fighting for those last few bids from the conference. That's what makes this game so big. One of these teams is already going to be 0-2 and Minnesota can't afford to be 0-2 already at home against two teams it is fighting against.
Also of note, if Purdue gets to the tourney I want to win a game. Purdue has the longest active streak of tournament appearances in the country where it has won at least one game. Purdue last lost a first round game in 1993 (when Painter was a player) and is 14-0 in first round games since.
TDG: My best friend the Purdue professor thinks The Barn is cursed. Do you agree? If yes, what does Purdue need to do to banish the evil spirits that claimed Robbie Hummel's knee?
TM: Of course it is cursed. That is why I called it the Demon Wood of Xibalba. Do you think it is a coincidence that Hummel's second ACL tear occurred when your football team was in West Lafayette? I fear for his life with him playing for the Timberwolves so close to the Barn.
Interesting note I discovered today, however: Purdue has more wins in Williams Arena than in any other Big Ten arena. Of course, part of that is the near 90-year age of the place, but its not bad.
TDG: If you were coaching the Boilermakers, how would you attack Minnesota on offense and defense?
TM: On defense Hammons and Jay Simpson protect the rim well but need to stay out of foul trouble. Errick Peck is also an underrated defender and rebounder, while on the perimeter Bryson Scott and Sterling Carter have defended pretty well.
On offense Purdue needs Carter and Kendall Stephens to hit some threes to open up the offense. The Johnsons and Scott are excellent at driving to the basket hopefully the light has gone on permanently for Hammons from the Ohio State game. He can either play like the most dominant player in the conference or like a virtual ghost. It is a matter of which Hammons we're going to get.
I really thought Minnesota missed an opportunity against Michigan Thursday with Robinson and McGary out. (ED NOTE: You're not alone.) That was a game the Gophers really needed. If Purdue plays at the level it did against Ohio State I think they win a close one. If they play as bad as I have seen this year Minnesota wins easily.
Thanks again to Travis. Gophers tip off today at 1:30 pm CST on BTN.