|Big Ten tournament in familiar surroundings for Purdue freshmen|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 12 March 2008 11:59|
Moore's final high school game was in the downtown Indianapolis arena last spring, when his East Chicago team won Indiana's Class 4A championship. He and three of his Boilermakers teammates were on the state's All-Star team that completed a two-game sweep of Kentucky there last summer.
And their first time back to Conseco in college was in Purdue's upset of Louisville in the Wooden Tradition in December.
Now the stakes are a lot higher as the surprising Boilermakers and everyone else take aim at regular-season champion Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament this week.
``We all played in Conseco Fieldhouse, so we are a little used to the building,'' said Robbie Hummel, a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a freshman at Purdue (24-7). ``I'm sure there will be a great atmosphere down there with all the different teams in town. We're really looking forward to it.''
Moore, Hummel and freshmen Scott Martin and JaJuan Johnson played a big part in Purdue's climb to second in the Big Ten after a preseason projection for the bottom half of the conference. The No. 17 Boilermakers finished one game behind No. 8 Wisconsin in the conference race, and they were responsible for the Badgers' only two Big Ten losses.
And Purdue's Matt Painter was named Big Ten coach of the year, two years after the Boilermakers finished last in the conference.
``Since we've been down a couple years ago, we have guys that want to prove that we belong,'' Painter said. ``It's been a tough climb, but we didn't achieve our goal of winning the Big Ten (regular-season) championship. Now, our goal is to play better basketball. ... If we could win the title, that'd be great, but this team has already made some history.''
Seeded second behind Wisconsin, Purdue will play Friday against the winner of Thursday's first-round matchup between Illinois (13-18) and Penn State (15-15). Wisconsin (26-4) will play in the quarterfinals against either Michigan (9-21) or Iowa (13-18).
Another first-round game Thursday matches Northwestern (8-21) against Minnesota (18-12), with that winner advancing to face No. 22 Indiana (25-6), the third seed. No. 19 Michigan State (24-7), the fourth seed, will play defending conference tourney champion Ohio State (19-12) in another quarterfinal Friday.
Indiana's Eric Gordon - whose North Central team lost to Moore and East Chicago in the high school championship game last year - was named Big Ten freshman of the year. He and IU teammate D.J. White, the Big Ten player of the year, were joined on the media's all-conference team by Hummel, Wisconsin's Brian Butch and Ohio State's Jamar Butler. Michigan State's Drew Neitzel was an All-Big Ten pick by the league's coaches instead of Butler.
The Hoosiers are coming into the tournament off a loss last week at Penn State, a lapse interim coach Dan Dakich says was not a result of the turmoil from the allegations of NCAA violations that led to Kelvin Sampson's resignation last month.
``I watch the film for what it is and I saw more effort out of our guys on the defensive end than I have seen all year,'' Dakich said of Indiana's loss to the Nittany Lions. ``I'll say when we are not playing well, but I don't think there is any issue with anybody's mental state. I thought it was better than it has been all year, to tell you the truth.''
Iowa's Todd Lickliter also will be returning to his hometown for the Big Ten tournament in his first season as the Hawkeyes coach. Also returning is Ohio State's Thad Matta, who like Lickliter coached at Butler before moving to the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes reached the NCAA championship game last year but lost their top two players - Indianapolis products Greg Oden and Mike Conley - to the NBA.
``They have to understand the urgency of what's at stake, from the standpoint of you win, you advance, you lose, you go home,'' Matta said of the tournament. ``They've got to understand that in a lot of regards this is postseason play.''