One year ago, the Purdue Boilermakers hoisted their Big Ten championship hardware high in the air, while the Indianapolis crowd celebrated their local team.
In its run to the top, Purdue had the benefit of what might as well have a home-court advantage, playing just 45 minutes away from West Lafayette. This time, the Boilermakers must hit the road, as the Big Ten Tournament has moved to Hoffman Estate, Ill., a northwest suburb of Chicago.
How does Purdue revive its Indy magic?
“Once I walk in Friday morning at 8 a.m., I’ll let you know,” joked head coach Sharon Versyp.
The defending Big Ten champions open up the conference tournament on Friday, following a first-round bye, and will meet with either sixth-seeded Illinois or 11th-seeded Wisconsin. Purdue hopes its time in town lasts through the weekend.
“That is the goal,” guard Drey Mingo said. “The Big Ten is tough. We know it’s going to be a grind out. But we’re hoping that it’s going to be a fun couple days for us.”
Purdue enters the Sears Centre Arena feeling well rested after it was afforded four days off from game action. Most importantly, it has a semblance of stability on its side.
The Boilermakers opened their conference slate winning seven of eight games in the month of January; then dropped five of their next seven when the calendar flipped to February. They ended the regular season with a 76-65 victory over Illinois, securing a first-round bye in the tournament.
“All of us but the freshmen know that once the regular season is over, it’s a clean slate—it’s zero-zero,” forward Sam Ostarello said. “We know nothing matters from what we’ve done in the past, and we have to move forward.”
Such experience gained by the Boilermaker veterans from their last Big Ten Tournament run offers guidance for this go-around.
“[We need to] just keep focused, keeping our inner-circle,” said Ostarello. “That’s really important for us to do. Kind of keep the hype out, not looking at your percentage of what they think, who’s going to win, or whatever. Just keeping out of that stuff really helped us. It was us focusing on us and not worrying about what other people are doing.”
The Boilermakers will find themselves in an unfamiliar environment, but the experience they have will make them feel right at home in Hoffman Estates.
“It’ll be a new environment, but I think we’ll just be focused,” Versyp said. “For everybody, I think it’s going to be a great tournament. There are going to be things happening left and right that none of us expect.”