Suddenly, there’s a sinking feeling that the Purdue Boilermakers are incapable of reaching the big dance.
When a team loses its second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder to injuries, the notion of facing elimination magnifies immensity. The stress level also ascends in realizing an acute run to the Final Four might be settled before the shuffle of championship week heats up.
With March Madness looming, Purdue pushes the panic button. And bearing the circumstance of losing intangible elements is hard adapting to. Nowadays, the Boilermakers fear for their lives, feeling helpless and scourged without their talented forward, Robbie Hummel.
The mental state of the damaging news takes away from potentially capping a No. 1 seed; for much of the season, Purdue was destined to win a Big 10 title. What a season it has been, until the mind-boggling news diagnosed that Hummel suffered a season-ending knee injury when he went down in a win against Minnesota. It’s too bad for a program leading the Big 10 with the most wins, as it all may fade to revoke a tough-driven team of reaching a pinnacle of success and appearing in front of its home crowd at Indianapolis.
It’s nearly impossible for the versatile forward to walk the streets of Indiana without receiving praise or recognition, and he is constantly hampered on campus following sterling wins. He made a strong presence, flourishing into a top scorer, a primary team player to keep the pieces together.
On the positive side, at Mackey Arena on Sunday, he stood on his own power and walked around without crutches. However, if he suits up and attempts to play on an ailing knee, possible setbacks may contribute to vital damage in the torn cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Either way, that is, missing the remainder of the season is logical in this context in which he’s ineffective and limited. There’s a motionless mood swirling in a community; aspirations have diminished without their instrumental and inspirational maestro. He’s the athlete idol at Purdue, the likable jock on campus, and the ultimate player of the Big 10.
But now, he’s battered by a heartbreaking injury, presumably costing the Boilermakers an ultimate seeding. Without him, I’ll rank Purdue as an average team lasting until the Sweet 16, based on the role players' effectiveness and mentality.
Meanwhile, in playing their interstate rivals on Wednesday night, there were indications of positive things to occur in the upcoming weeks. This was an appearance of a momentum lift, a starting point for a team that needs to come alive and advance without their best player.
Projected to last in the tourney, it’s hard to imagine Purdue representing themselves as a March Madness pest. The absence of Hummel jeopardizes any ideal conversions to finally clinch a Final Four berth or win a national title in its home state, where the feverish basketball maniacs were inclined to observe the coolest and sweetest home victory in what takes place in a neutral site.
He tore his ACL when the Boilermakers shined as the best Big 10 school, perhaps the most dangerous school entering the tourney. This is a huge letdown for Purdue; it was their year to dance and hoist the title.
Face it, Purdue isn’t as fierce, destructive, or dynamic, but an early ouster. Reality is, the Boilermakers may not even qualify for a No. 1 seed or cruise to the Final Four. There has been misfortune dooming them in recent memory. Last year, Hummel was sidelined and limited when he fractured his vertebrae.
Déjà vu, anyone!
Even if you’re not a Purdue fan, you have to feel sorry for Hummel. He takes much pride in the game, but never really had a chance of translating his swagger in the NCAA tourney. During the regular season he plays brilliantly, but suddenly goes down with a heartbreaking injury near the end of the season and is forced to miss contributing in the biggest and most-watched basketball tournament.
He hasn’t had a chance of flourishing at a time when it counts. It’s just too bad no one will see a healthy Hummel in March, the month fans fill out elusive brackets and put up with a bracket buster literally in the first round of a mesmerizing postseason.
As far-fetched as winning is at the moment, head coach Matt Painter is very optimistic...but is he really? His team was shell-shocked after Hummel blew out his knee and allowed Minnesota to take a 30-9 run, but held off to win 59-58 on the road. Having to rally from a nine-point deficit, Keaton Grant fired a game-winning shot as Purdue managed to escape a monstrous letdown.
Ordinarily, when a team relies on one player to bail them out of critical situations and expects him to produce the thrilling shot in crunch time, an injury reduces capacity and thwarts glamorous promise.
The real issue now is the Boilermakers must survive without their best player, after averaging 15.8 points and 7.2 boards per game. Wipe away all his stats, and Purdue isn’t nearly perceived as a Final Four school. Wipe away Hummel’s contributions, and Purdue loses multiple games in conference play. The NCAA committee is among those looking to drag down the program, doubting it has nothing to offer unless the players turn it up a notch.
The first name worth mentioning is Chris Kramer, who must dominate in the absence of Hummel, as well as Grant, a streaky shooter who finds rhythm. The true freshman Kelsey Barlow also may provide minutes, an oversized guard, fittingly built to start in the power forward position.
For now, it’s a wait-and-see process. For now, it’s a huge adjustment for a team used to their star player. It was a probable journey, but now the Boilermakers burn in dismay. There are, believe it or not, other teams in good position to dance.
Minus the impact of Hummel, Purdue isn’t one of them.
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