Full disclosure: I am a huge Purdue fan.
I would love to see my Boilermakers participating in the Final Four in a few months.
I don't mind referring to Purdue as "us" and "we" when it suits my purposes. (In case you wondered, this is the sign of a true fan, a delusional fan, or both.)
You see, the Purdue basketball program hasn't made a Final Four since before I was born.
That's a long time. Over 26 years, to be exact.
Since I was born...
...We've had a legendary coach in Gene Keady.
...We've had a larger-than life star in Glenn Robinson.
...We've put together an incredible string of Big Ten titles (that would be the "3-Pete" in 1994, 1995, and 1996).
...We've won a bunch of NCAA games, produced a few NBA players, and even won a Big Ten Tournament championship (finally) this past March.
But we've never been to a Final Four.
Now with star juniors Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, and E'Twaun Moore piling up points, experienced seniors Chris Kramer and Keaton Grant providing toughness and leadership, sophomore Lewis Jackson running the offense, and a quartet of freshmen in the "Purdue image" adding depth, things are shaping up for a special season in West Lafayette.
So special, in fact, that many prognosticators are predicting that Purdue will finally make it to the promised land—that elusive Final Four—which will be played just down I-65 in Indianapolis.
A home-state Final Four, a la Michigan State's 2008 title-game run to Detroit: what could be better?
Simple (and I'm glad you asked).
Winning the whole stinking tournament.
These opportunities don't come along very often. Purdue has a team that's capable of capturing not only the Big Ten championship (which they have yet to win under coach Matt Painter), but also the national championship. So let's talk about that instead.
Not in a cocky "anything but a title is a failure" way, but in a "we won't be content to simply make the Final Four" tone.
Do you think the Spartans enjoyed qualifying for the Final Four and leaving without a trophy?
Purdue's incessant "hey, how cool would it be to make it to Indy" talk is setting them up for a Tampa Bay Rays-type run.
You remember the Tampa Bay Rays, circa 2008? Came from nowhere...hadn't been a championship factor forever...made the World Series...and then played like a team just happy to be there?
And where are the Tampa Bay Rays now?
For every team that's had an opportunity to win it all and has taken the "happy to be there" approach, they've quickly learned how hard it is to get back the next season when the title, not the journey, is the primary goal.
Sure, a Final Four appearance this year would be nice. It would end the long drought...help with recruiting...and give experience for the 2010-11 campaign.
But what if there's an injury? What if Johnson or Hummel test the NBA draft waters? What if there's an upset?
I'll say it one more time: when the pieces are in place, it's time to go for broke.
No next year.
No baby steps.
My advice to Painter and the Boilermakers is to put their focus where it belongs.
Quit talking about the hometown Final Four.
Start thinking about bringing the trophy home.