We hear it every year, especially from a certain school to the south: It has been 32 years since Purdue last made a Final Four. It certainly isn't for a lack of trying, either. Painful defeats in 1988, 1994, 1996, 1998, and 2000 are often coupled with the injuries in 2010 and 2011 as reasons that Purdue has not made it to the tournament's final weekend. All of those teams were certainly good enough, but for whatever reason they could not get it done.
This year's team is really only like one of those near misses on a Final Four: The 2000 team that took advantage of a few upsets and came within a few possessions of a berth in Indianapolis. Had Purdue made it, who knows what would have happened? All I know is that its two opponents, Michigan State and Florida, had already lost to our Boilermakers that year. Of course, so had Wisconsin.
This team is similar in that it is blessed with senior leadership and a three-point shooting power forward with a lot of moxie. Robbie Hummel doesn't have the thinning hair of the Custodian, but he certain has his toughness and leadership.
On the eve of the NCAA Tournament it is always fun to dream. Realistically, Purdue's season will probably end either Friday night or Sunday afternoon, but when I see teams like George Mason, butler, and VCU coming out of nowhere to make Final Fours I ask, "Why not us?"
Well, here is how it can happen:
Purdue Over St. Mary's
This is the most likely of the four victories it would take to reach New Orleans. Most experts agree this game is just about even, giving us a slight edge for having played a more rigorous school. Like 2000 in the first round against Dayton, I can see Purdue prevailing in a close game throughout. Matthew Dellavedova does some magic at guard, but the Gaels don't get their shots to fall at key times. Purdue finds the defense that has been hit or miss at times this year and pulls out a five point win as Hummel scored a savvy, quiet 25 and Lewis Jackson uses his speed to repeatedly score at the rim.
Purdue Over Detroit
To get to the Final Four Purdue is going to need some upsets, so why not get Kansas out of the way immediately? Thomas Robinson would cause us nightmares in the post, but only if we have to face him. Detroit pulls the shocker of the tournament and takes down the Jayhawks, opening our path to the Sweet 16. We then break out the white jerseys we didn't think we would need and show what we should do to a mid-major. Eli Holman gets into foul trouble after battling Robinson and we capitalize on the fact that none of the 15 seeds that have pulled off an upset of a two have never made it to the Sweet 16.
In the event we face Kansas we get past them like the surprise upset of Oklahoma in 2000. Purdue has one of those rare excellent shooting days where every key basket seems to fall and we keep the Jayhawks at bay.
Purdue Over NC State
Given Georgetown's recent history and the fact that San Diego State is highly overrated again it would not surprise me if we saw NC State or Belmont here. If it is Belmont, expect some starry eyes from getting this far. That would be like the Sweet 16 game against Gonzaga in 2000. If it is NC State, well, Indiana beat them on the road, so that tells me all I need to know. Should Purdue be fortuitous enough to get this far it might actually have an easier game than the second round game. After shooting the lights out in round two Ryne Smith cools off, but Terone Johnson returns to his Big Ten Tourney form with 22 against the Wolfpack.
Purdue Over Michigan
Like 2000, we get a Big Ten opponent in the regional final, only this time we win. The Wolverines stun North Carolina with a barrage of three-pointers to reach the regional final, only to see their Senior Day nemesis standing in their way. Purdue handled Michigan with unexpected ease in Ann Arbor, and fell by two in West Lafayette despite two five minute scoring droughts. The Boilermakers go away from Hummel beast mode as LewJack teaches Trey Burke some more lessons about how to be a Big Ten point guard. The threes that fell against UNC stop falling, and Purdue makes an unexpected trip to New Orleans, where Drew Brees personally welcomes them and gives a pep talk in the locker room before the National Semifinal against Ohio State.
So there it is: Dream it, Do it Boilers.