Carrying On About Purdue Basketball (Feb. 25): The Return of Hummel & Jekyll
The sound you heard on Friday was the moans and gasps of Purdue fans all over the Midwest when they found out that the Boilermakers' best player, Robbie Hummel, was unlikely to play again this year.
Thank goodness for incorrect newspaper reports.
It turns out that a combination of Hummel not practicing that day and a bunch of faulty information from "extremely close sources" ignited to take the Internet by storm with an erroneous story.
Purdue message boards lit up in despair as they read the latest blog from the hometown newspaper's beat writer, which included this phrase: "Robbie Hummel almost certainly will not play today against Indiana, and chances are, he has played his final game of the 2008-09 season."
While Hummel's status is still day-to-day, and will remain that way through the end of the campaign, the Purdue sophomore star has been able to participate in three straight games (including the Indiana game he "almost certainly" wouldn't play in), and the Boilermakers have won all three.
Hummel's contributions have not been overwhelming (he's only averaging 5.3 ppg since his return to the rotation), but the boost his presence gives to Purdue's hopes and performance simply can't be documented in numbers.
The most impressive game in the Boilermakers' current four-game winning streak is unquestionably the 18-point beatdown they administered to conference leader Michigan State. Whether due to the brand new Nike uniforms they sported, the ESPN national showcase, or just having their whole team somewhat healthy for one perfect night, the Boilermakers ran the Big Ten leaders right out of Mackey Arena.
So which team will coach Matt Painter have down the stretch? The squad that struggled to an ugly 49-45 win in Iowa City? Or the team that disposed of Michigan State and controls its own destiny to win a regular season crown?
Calling the Old Gold and Black a Jekyll-and-Hyde team is somewhat unfair; the ongoing questions of Hummel's availability are not anything the coaching staff can control. However, it's obvious that Purdue's postseason hopes rest firmly on the fractured L5 vertebra of Robbie Hummel. As Spartan coach Tom Izzo pointed out, "They're a pretty good team without him, but they're a special team with him."
FOUR HIGHLIGHTS FROM A FOUR-GAME WINNING STREAK
No. 1: E'Twaun Moore's shooting
Moore finally found the range against the rival Hoosiers with 26 points on 10-14 shooting. Purdue needs a scoring guard if they plan to produce any March magic, and Moore can deliver (when he's locked in like he was against IU).
No. 2: Forced turnovers
If you had told me that Purdue could force the No. 6 team in the country (MSU) into 22 turnovers, I would have laughed at you and gone back to my reading (I'm currently enjoying a novel called How to Repair Broken Backs for Dummies). The Boilermaker defense has always been their calling card, and it was their defense that downed the Spartans last week.
No. 3: Bobby Buckets
Former walk-on Bobby Riddell almost singlehandedly defeated Penn State to start the streak (career-high 13 points) and has been rewarded with playing time in each of the games since. Riddell is a huge spark to his team, especially in front of the hometown fans at Mackey.
No. 4: JJ looming large
Sophomore center JaJuan Johnson continues his stellar play, providing the only real season-long constant for Purdue. Johnson is a lock for the Big Ten's Most Improved Player and should get serious consideration for Player of the Year; he's averaging 13.6 ppg for the Boilers and is the main reason Purdue still finds itself in the thick of the conference race.
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