Such is the case for Purdue, following its key road victory in front of a hostile West Virginia crowd. As the Boilermakers broke for Christmas break, their record stands at 10-3 with two quality wins, no bad losses and a tournament résumé intact.
Big Ten play is around the corner and Purdue sits in a good place.
The difference between 10-3 and 9-4 seems great. It was a consistent effort against a quality opponent. It showed a young team can win in an intimidating road environment. And above all, it boosted a team in desperate need of one more résumé win.
This nonconference slate was designed for Purdue to see early-season success, that following a disappointing, sub-.500 year. It's fair to say that the majority of the Boilermakers' victories thus far won't bolster their tournament credentials, but each collectively helped build the confidence of a team that needs it.
Sure, the wins came against Northern Kentuckys, Riders and Sienas (twice). But the victories allowed Terone Johnson to become a stronger scorer, A.J. Hammons to improve from a struggle of a freshman year, and the freshmen to settle into key roles.
Purdue is a better team than the one which nearly lost to Northern Kentucky in the season opener. It's even a little stronger than the one which unraveled against Butler 10 days ago. That's what this schedule was constructed to accomplish.
There are still a myriad of problems to be solved, namely inconsistencies on offense. One win against West Virginia didn't change that, but it proved some positives.
Johnson paced the team with a 20-point performance, Ronnie Johnson and Basil Smotherman offered a secondary scoring option, Hammons pulled down a season-high 12 rebounds, and the defense held a high-scoring offense to 36.9 percent from the field. Maybe this team is making progress after all.
The Boilermakers are far from battle tested after a weak early-season slate, but they're in a positive place entering the brutally tough Big Ten. Purdue is in that upper echelon of conference teams with 10 wins.
An unbeaten Ohio State Buckeye team awaits the Boilermakers in the Big Ten opener, and this is where the true challenges begin. However, Purdue was a winner in five of its last six games and confidence is higher than ever.
Purdue has great hurdles to leap in order to reach its goals—a 20-win season, a run for the Big Ten title, and an NCAA Tournament appearance. After a successful run through the nonconference slate—capped off by that one pivotal win—the Boilermakers are in position for a prosperous season.
At the very least, they can enjoy a Merry Christmas.