As Purdue stumbled to a 13-18 record last season, there were whispers that longtime coach Gene Keady was one more losing season away from retiring - or being retired.
Willie Deane thought it was unfair, considering what Keady had done in his first 21 seasons coaching the Boilermakers. It marked his second losing record at Purdue and the second time one of his Boilermakers teams failed to make the postseason.
"I didn't really see how anybody could make that statement," Deane, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, said yesterday. "The job Coach Keady had done for so many years, it should be when he's ready to leave, not them trying to get rid of him.
"He's not the one playing out there. We were making the mistakes out there. Unfortunately, he's just in the position where all the blame gets placed on him."
There is no longer talk of Keady, 66, retiring anytime soon. It has been silenced by a 15-4 record that includes 10 wins in the team's past 11 games, and a No. 24 national ranking, the first since the 1999-2000 season.
Keady, who gets excited about a lot of things, isn't too hyped about the hype of a team that has quietly moved to the top of the Big Ten standings after being picked in the preseason to finish near the bottom of the heap.
"It helps with recruiting," Keady said earlier this week. "We need a huge recruiting class a year from now. It also helps with the fact that you've got a shot of getting into the NCAA tournament. Those things are big to us. And it shows that the hard work paid off."
It has been a short but hard road back for the Boilermakers. Since coming within a game of giving Keady his first trip to the Final Four as a head coach in 1999-2000 - Purdue lost to Wisconsin in the West Regional final - the Boilermakers progressively got worse.
Purdue finished 17-15 in 2000-2001, ending a streak of eight straight NCAA tournament appearances and settling for the National Invitation Tournament. Things fell apart completely last season, on and off the court.
Except for Deane, who led the Big Ten in scoring (he is third at 17.8 points a game), there weren't many bright spots emanating from West Lafayette, Ind. Deane wouldn't even call the experience bittersweet.
"You might as well say it was bitter, bitter," Deane said. "No one acknowledges you if you're on a team that's not winning."
Deane has been helped by the return of junior guard Kenneth Lowe, who missed last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, as well as the arrival of junior-college transfer Chris Booker, a 6-10 forward, and a talented freshman class.
The added muscle and depth have helped the Boilermakers overcome early-season losses to Xavier, Indiana and Arizona State. Purdue gave Louisville its only loss of the season and has won a lot of close games in the Big Ten.
Keady had trepidation about Wednesday's game with Wisconsin, but Deane scored the first 11 points to help give the Boilermakers an 18-1 lead in what turned into a 78-60 win at home.
"We were concerned about our kids being ready," said Keady, whose team has won five straight and is off to its best start in five years. "That was futile and wasted time on my part. We were ready."
Hoya on a tear
Georgetown's Mike Sweetney must feel the way Deane did last season. Sweetney could be the best player in the Big East this season, but he doesn't have much to show for his efforts but some welts and bruises.
Sweetney's latest tear - 90 points, 40 rebounds and 15 blocked shots - has come in successive losses to Seton Hall, Notre Dame and Syracuse. The Hoyas have dropped four straight going into tomorrow's game against free-falling UCLA.
The player many consider the best power forward in the country, Sweetney said he is not losing heart.
"It's not frustrating, but I can score 100 points a game and grab 60 rebounds - what does it mean if you don't get the win?" Sweetney said. "If you lose, you don't look good at all."
The pounding Sweetney absorbed in some games earlier in the season prompted Georgetown coach Craig Esherick to blast the officials after a game last month, but Esherick's tirade hasn't helped Sweetney get a few more calls.
"Everything's basically been the same," Sweetney said. "They haven't treated us bad because of what happened. Everyone just heard it and went on with their life. I was kind of happy he opened up his mouth and was sticking up for me. That made me feel pretty good."
What would make Sweetney feel better is a win. That could come against the Bruins, who have lost nine straight.
Starting this week, The Sun will predict the top four seeds in each of the four regionals of the NCAA tournament. The predictions are based on team's records and their Rating Percentage Index, or RPI, the power rating given Division I teams each week:
1. Pittsburgh 1. Louisville
2. Florida 2. Georgia
3. Okla. State 3. Kansas
4. Maryland 4. Stanford
1. Texas 1. Arizona
2. Kentucky 2. Oklahoma
3. Notre Dame 3. Alabama
4. Purdue 4. Duke