Cardinal leads by example for Purdue

by Michael Dougherty

Take one look at Purdue’s Brian Cardinal and you’ll see he doesn’t look like a typical college basketball player.
Starting at the top and working down, you will find a receding hairline that resembles the failing follicles of George Costanza. Work your way down a little further and you will find an elbow pad covering a scab, a couple of knee pads, two or three floor burns, ankle braces and about two-thirds of a roll of athletic tape.
From the outside, Cardinal looks like he should be dominating an intramural league, not the premier league in Division I college hoops.
But a lot of his success comes from the inside, an internal toughness that reminds some in the basketball world of former Detroit Piston bad boy Bill Laimbeer.
If you want comparisons for the 6-foot-8 senior forward, don’t ask Gophers coach Dan Monson.
“I can’t think of any off the top of my head,” Monson said when asked about Cardinal, “but I would love to have about 12 or 13 of him on my team. I think he’s the epitome of what you want a college basketball player to be.
“I think he plays the game the right way, the way you want your players to play it. I think he’s an inspiration for every player the way he goes out for every game and brings it to the table.”
Cardinal is the barometer for coach Gene Keady’s squad. He was for his first three years, and he still is. As he goes, so goes Purdue.
Six times he has squared off against Minnesota, and his Boilermaker teams have gone 3-3. In the three Purdue wins, Cardinal averages 16 points and seven rebounds per game, but in the losses his numbers drop to 10 ppg and four rpg.
At 11-5, 2-1 Big Ten, the Boilermakers have found out just how much he means to their success this season.
“The North Carolina game he got into foul trouble and we got beat,” Keady said matter-of-factly. “The Ball State game he couldn’t play (because of an injury) and we got beat. North Carolina State he got into foul trouble and we got beat. You can go on and on. The Michigan game he got into foul trouble and we got beat and that’s about as good as you can say it.
“It’s evident when he’s not in the game, we’re not going to be able to function very well, at least so far.”
A Purdue team without Cardinal would suit Gophers fans just fine. Thanks to his penchant for diving after loose balls, absorbing floor burns and flopping to the hardwood at the hint of any oppositional contact, Minnesota fans have Cardinal up high on their list as Public Enemy No. 1.
Chants from the student section always seem to get a bit more creative when Cardinal climbs on the raised floor.
“Cardinal’s balding” or “You need Rogaine” will likely be heard at The Barn tonight.
But Monson cautioned that although he draws the ire of opposing fans, Cardinal’s play is strictly by the book.
“He’s tough, he’s competitive and he’s a very hard-nosed player that does it the right way,” said Monson of the 10-4, 2-2 Gophers. “Some players get labeled ‘dirty’ when they play hard and play tough but I would never say that about Brian Cardinal … I love watching him play.”
Both Monson and Keady credit Cardinal’s maturity with his improved scoring punch (he’s averaging a career-high 14 ppg).
“He doesn’t make the aggressive mistakes he used to make by getting over-hyper,” Keady said. “He’d multiply his mistakes. He used to make a mistake at one end and go back to the other end and foul. He’s limited that pretty much.”
That maturity has grown out of experience. Compare the number of games Cardinal started for his school (107) to those of Monson’s starting five who have tallied only 100 starts at Minnesota (Joel Przybilla 38, Terrance Simmons 20, Dusty Rychart 16, Kevin Burleson 13 and John-Blair Bickerstaff 13).
Who is in the enviable position to guard Cardinal? The last two seasons that honor went to Miles Tarver, who was never one to shy away from physical play. But Monson said Rychart will get to tangle with Cardinal most of the time tonight.
Both players share some attributes such as a nose for the ball and a penchant for hard work. But an up close and personal night with Cardinal could teach Rychart some new tricks — the art of the flop, for instance.
ù Monson said junior co-captain Kyle Sanden has not yet met the requirements to become eligible. Monson said Sanden was held to a high standard academically last quarter and had a “decent semester,” but he had an incomplete he is trying to finish up.
“We ask (academic counselor) John Blanchard every day where we’re at and he says, ‘We’re not ready yet,’ and that’s all I really know with the situation,” Monson said. “Until he’s done what he was held accountable for, he won’t be ready to play, and I don’t anticipate him to play (against Purdue). His time clock is ticking every day.”
Monson said there is no way Sanden could regain his year of eligibility if it came to that.

ù After reviewing the tape from the Indiana game, Przybilla was credited with two more rebounds, upping his total to 11. That gives the sophomore four straight double-doubles. He shared co-Big Ten player of the week honors with Cardinal this past week.
In Big Ten play, Przybilla is leading the conference in field-goal percentage (61.8 percent) and rebounding (13.5 per game). He’s second in blocked shots (four per game) and third in scoring (20.3 per game).

ù Monson’s wife Darci is five months pregnant. He said Mark Few, who took over the Gonzaga coaching job after Monson left for Minnesota, and his wife had a baby boy Tuesday morning.

Michael Dougherty covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]