I feel like we won the Big Ten championship last night. When Devoe Joseph got an open look to win it at the end I think my heart stopped beating for a second, but he was thankfully short and the tip in was late. We now need to win just two of the last three to win at least a share of the Big Ten, and we'll be heavily favored in two of those three. I am even on track still for my original 27-3, 15-3 regular season prediction. The chance is still there for a #1 seed and a deep tournament run.
So why do I feel hollow inside? Why was I awake most of last night? I'm not supposed to care this much, right?
Obviously, we now wait to hear word on Robbie Hummel. It looked bad at first, but then I kept hoping for the miracle jog out of the tunnel. Then halftime came, and those damn crutches. Twitter started leaking rumors of a torn ACL, as apparently a requirement for being the Minnesota beat writer is MRI vision. This morning the early news and speculation is cautiously positive. Maybe it's a sprain. Maybe he is out 2-3 weeks and will be ready for the NCAA's.
Injuries suck, don't get me wrong. If you were to ask me which guy we could least afford to lose, however, I would have said Robbie without question. Chris Kramer would only be listed as questionable if he was dead. If JJ went down it would suck, but we have learned somewhat to live without him during foul trouble. We even beat a top 10 team this way in Tennessee. If E'Twaun went down we could find scoring in some combination of KG/Barlow/LewJack/Kramer/Hart.
No one does all the little things that Robbie does. If Kramer is the heart of the team Robbie is the brains. He grabs a rebound here, hits a three there, has the perfect pass at the right time. He closes games at the line. He sets screens. He moves without the ball. Look at the Illinois game: His shot wasn't falling, so he willed his way to the line. He is a mismatch for almost every team we face offensively and defensively he is underrated. We're still a good team without him, but with him we are great.
Last night was a prime example. Just look at the game before he went out. Robbie splashed two huge 3-pointers in the opening minutes, we quickly built a double-digit lead, and we were well on our way to a dominating road win. Minnesota was pumped up at home and desperate for a big win. With Robbie, we exerted our will and told them in no uncertain terms that we were the better team and they would like it. This is not a diss on the Gophers, but they could not hang with us when everything was working before the injury.
As for the rest of the game, it was sheer guts. I was thinking some awfully dark things during Minnesota's 18-0 run, but we pulled it off. We pulled it off with a 6'3" guard who has the heart of an entire freaking army trying to play power forward. What else can you say about Chris Kramer at this point? He saw that Robbie wasn't coming back and he went to the team and said, "Don't worry guys, I've got this in his spot. Let me bang with the bigs, run point forward, and try to do all the little things Robbie gives us." This guy would bleed to help this team win, and has. Statistically he didn't do a whole lot: 6 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals. He did have one gigantic freaking heart that willed this team to a win when it was shell-shocked.
Then there is our other main senior: Keaton Grant. How many times have we given up on Keaton this year? I have kept saying it even when it looked like it wasn't going to happen. I knew he was going to find it eventually. He has now delivered one of the best three game stretches of his career. How about his confidence to take that shot for the win? Dare I say it, was this like Seth Morales all over again? I think with a healthy Hummel on the floor Grant is safely the fourth option, wouldn't you say?
There were so many other small things from this one. The team really clamped down defensively in the last five minutes, even though our inability to rebound (Patrick Bade, grab the damn ball!) nearly killed us. LewJack was more of the game-changer we need him to be. John Hart hit a big three. In fact, Hart hit the three of the night. It was that basket that finally broke the 18-0 run by Minnesota and woke us up somewhat.
We still have some things to work on. Free throw shooting was awful last night. Bade needs to be much more assertive and confident in going after the ball. We have to find a way to not look lost offensively with Robbie on the bench. If we cans till get a #1 seed that is almost a paved path to the Sweet 16, so that puts you two steps from the Final Four regardless of what you do. All we can do is what we have been doing: take care of what is in front of us.
I think that unless there is a tear of some kind, we see Robbie Hummel again this year. He knows what's at stake. You only have so many chances at greatness and this is one of them.
In the meantime, we wait to hear about Robbie.