The Boilermakers entered the week with a #3 ranking in both the Associated Press and Coaches Poll.
Bracketologists everywhere were penciling Purdue in as a #1 seed in the Syracuse Regional, meaning Purdue would not have to face either Kansas or Kentucky on the Road to the Final Four, which just so happens to be in Indianapolis this year.
Could it get much better than that? And then IT happened.
Robbie Hummel went down with a knee injury in the first half of Purdue's game at Minnesota Wednesday. He returned to the sidelines with crutches. Hummel watched as his teammates "gutted" out a 59-58 victory over the Golden Gophers.
Whenever a player goes down awkwardly, on his own, and reacts by holding his knee, the news is usually NOT good. Reports that Hummel did in fact tear an ACL, were confirmed Thursday afternoon by the University.
This is possibly the worst thing that could happen at perhaps the worst possible time. It is almost not fair to start assessing the Boilermakers post-season chances less than 24 hours removed from the injury. Purdue (one of the gutsiest teams I've seen) showed tremendous intestinal fortitude to pull out a victory despite losing its star forward and the lead in a hostile environment against a team desperate for a resume-building victory.
Purdue is 24-3. Even without Hummel, they still are a veteran bunch who simply knows how to win. While the storybook trip down Interstate 65 to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Final Four will not be easy without #4, it is by no means impossible.
That said, the early vibe from fans and media members shows the glass half empty as opposed to half full.
Foxsports.com College Basketball writer Jeff Goodman reported the injury news on his blog, then offered this analysis via his TWITTER account:
"It was going to be tough enough for Purdue to get there with Hummel; tough to imagine them getting there without him."
While waiting on official confirmation, ESPN's Pat Forde wrote a column about other potential championship seasons ruined by injury.
ESPN's resident Bracketologist Joe Lunardi gets all kinds of run this time of the year and his TWITTER post says it all:
"Biggest news today will come off the court. Diagnosis of Robbie Hummel has enormous implications on the bracket and beyond."
Sunday's game against Michigan State will tell us quite a bit about Purdue's chances at earning a high seed. IF Purdue can impress against the Spartans, they'll have shown the selection committee TWO quality wins without Hummel.
The Boilers should still be able to beat Indiana and Penn State at the end of the regular season to finish the regular season 27-3. Even if the Boilers lose a game in the Big Ten tournament, they would earn AT LEAST a two seed, and could even earn a number one.
If the Boilers are a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but play with a chip on their shoulder as if to prove all of their doubters wrong, then Anything is Possible.
If the Boilers were a team led primarily by freshman and sophomores, I would think Hummel's injury would be impossible to recover from. However, I can't see Chris Kramer letting his senior season end without making some noise.
I'm guessing most Purdue fans had mixed reactions Wednesday in the moments after Purdue's victory. Surely, they felt good about the win, but likely were more devastated about the loss (Hummel). I got two text messages from a die-hard Gold and Black supporter moments after the game. (who shall remain nameless so his John Purdue Club Ranking isn't affected)
Text Message #1: Season over for Boilers
Text Message #2: Good win though
I talked to this "fan" today and he did say that watching the second half of that game was as pumped up as he has been for awhile. His general disappointment is one many Boiler supporters feel since they had been pointing to March/April 2010 for such a long time.
I think an "us against the world" mentality could allow the fans and players to make something positive of an otherwise very unfortunate situation.
Purdue's players, however, showed the guts it will take to make some major noise in the month of March.
While the bandwagon may be emptying just a bit, I think Purdue still has the talent necessary to salvage a Final Four trip. Will it be easy? No. But as the saying goes, nothing worth having is. Everybody loves an underdog and Purdue has a chance to be the biggest "David" of any #1 seed in recent memory.
Purdue passed its first gut-check in the second half Wednesday against Minnesota. It's time for the 6th man to do its part Sunday at Mackey Arena against Michigan State. Robbie Hummel's injury is devastating blow, but, but it doesn't have to a knockout punch to Purdue.
It's Gut-Check time, and I for one think the Boilers still have a chance to be playing basketball the first weekend in April.