WEST LAFAYETTE – The No. 16 Purdue basketball team didn’t anticipate being in this pleasant position – an outright Big Ten Conference championship wrapped up before heading to Northwestern for today’s regular-season finale.
With their Tuesday night victory against rival Indiana coupled with No. 22 Wisconsin’s home loss Thursday to Iowa, the Boilermakers (24-6, 13-4) clinched their first outright league championship since 1996.
Purdue shared the 2010 Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State. This conference championship is the Boilermakers’ Big Ten-leading 23rd, one more than Indiana.
So, what’s really a stake at Northwestern (21-9, 10-7), which appears solidly in the NCAA Tournament field for the first time in school history?
"Honestly, I don’t see that changes anything," Purdue junior center Isaac Haas said of having wrapped up the Big Ten championship. "You still have to maintain that importance of playing Northwestern, who’s a really good team.
"You want to go in there and try to improve your seeding in the NCAA Tournament. They’re trying to beat us to do the same thing."
Junior guard Dakota Mathias is thrilled about this week’s events, but wants the Boilermakers to sustain momentum going into this coming week’s Big Ten Tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C..
"You never want to share it with anybody, so it’s pretty special," Mathias said. "Every game matters. It doesn’t matter what you’re playing for, you’re trying to win a game.
"I don’t think it changes the mindset of anyone. It shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter the scenarios or circumstances."
Junior Vince Edwards said the Boilermakers are grateful to Iowa for eliminating Wisconsin from a possible tie for the Big Ten crown.
"We were just excited," Edwards said. "It lets us go into our Northwestern game with a little less stress. We’re going to just go in, play and take care of business. (The game) is huge.
"We still want to go in and carry some momentum because everything we do now goes toward our NCAA résumé. We want to state our case for a higher seed in the tournament. We just need to win out and take care of business."
Purdue coach Matt Painter predicted some unusual things might take place during the final several weeks of the Big Ten regular season.
"I talked to our guys two or three weeks ago and said you’ve got to do your part, but you’re going to get some help from some of those other teams," Painter said. "Things like that normally happen. We were fortunate to win more and be in a really good position."
Now, Painter said Purdue can be in an even better position by winning at Northwestern, a team the Boilermakers crushed 80-59 on Feb. 1 in Mackey Arena, where the Wildcats played without leading scorer Scottie Lindsey, who was ill and did not travel with the team.
"For us, it’s a chance to play another NCAA tourney team and get a win, especially a road win," Painter said. "That will help you get ready for the NCAA tournament and your seeding."
Notes: Purdue leading scorer and Homestead graduate Caleb Swanigan said Friday that he is thrilled to be selected an Academic All-American.
"That’s a hard achievement to get," Swanigan said. "I was surprised. I wouldn’t say I’m competitive (with my school work). I just get it done and handle my business." …
Swanigan has been named to the final ballot for a John R. Wooden National Player of the Year, the Los Angeles Tipoff Club announced Saturday. The final ballot is comprised of 15 student-athletes. The winner will be announced in April.