I couldn't help but think of it this morning. I even went back to the Open Threads to scan how things went in real time. Even though we were riding high, there were ominous clouds before the game. Some select comments made pre-game:
anyone else have their heart beating out their throat? i'm so effin' nervous
We should win this one easily, but I have a bad feeling about this.
A futile crusade to prevent mass ignorance
HammerAndRails, SBNation's Boilermaker Blog
But I don't want to jinx us.
I don't believe in jinxes, but I'm scared of them just the same.
Things were going so positively that I publicly announced I had applied for a Final Four credential. The infamous Hilary Duff photos also made their first appearance as Purdue jumped out to a big lead and looked like a legitimate National Title contender. In fact, we were looking quite unstoppable in dismantling a good team on their home floor.
Then, at 9:07pm, it happened.
The open thread exploded with about a dozen simultaneous comments as Robbie Hummel went down with a torn ACL. With everything that happened the rest of the way, including the Big Ten Championship and somewhat surprising run to the Sweet 16, forever had a "What If' attached to it. The same is true for this season if we end up short of Houston, especially since it has been very successful without him.
It's hard to believe we have gone a year without Rob taking the floor in a game. While there is no guarantee we would have made it to Indianapolis last year with Rob, or if we would have beaten Michigan State and Minnesota before the tourney, our chances certainly would have been better. His injury cost us at least two seed lines if not three had we beaten MSU with him and won the conference outright. That means no Duke in the round of 16.
I didn't want this entry to be a salt-in-the-wound entry. I wanted to examine the five losses this season and see if Rob would have made a difference. The sheer seeding difference was huge without him last year, but would we really be doing that much better with him this season? Don't get me wrong. I would welcome him back to the floor in a heartbeat if he was healthy, but we're still doing nearly as good as our original projections with a healthy Hummel. Is he merely the difference between a great season and an undefeated one? Let's look at the five losses, as it is safe to say he would not have turned one of our victories into a loss.
Vs. Richmond 65-54 loss - We barely shot better than 30% in this loss on a neutral floor against a good, but not great Richmond team. The Spiders got superb guard play from Kevin Anderson, Justin Harper was also a beast on the glass while JaJuan Johnson had maybe his worst game of the season. The Hansons combined for 10 minutes, no rebounds, no shots attempts, two turnovers, and 10 fouls. Basically, it was a horrible night for everyone except John Hart. Hummel, if he plays, may have shot better, or he could have been as cold as everyone else. He would have helped against Harper, but Anderson played such a solid game and we shot so poorly as a team I think the Spiders still get the upset. Hummel Difference: no
At Minnesota 70-67 loss - This was a tough loss, especially now. We faced The Golden Gophers on their home floor before they lost Al Nolen and took them to the wire. We even led a good portion of the second half despite not hitting a field goal in the last nine and a half minutes. JJ was absolutely unstoppable, but E`Twaun Moore had a very off game. Lewis Jackson made up for it with 15 points. I absolutely think this is a win with Robbie, because he would have likely hit SOMETHING in the last nine and a half minutes. Neither team scored in the last three minutes, so I think Robbie gets to the line or does something to get on the scoreboard. That's before you even talk about how he could have defended Blake Hoffarber. Hummel Difference: Absolutely
At West Virginia 68-64 loss - This is also a tough loss because Jim Burr did his drunken best to award fouls without contact. JJ was dominant again, but the Mountaineers shot 26 free throws to our seven and earned a four point home win. We were out-rebounded by six and gave up 11 offensive boards. This is where Hummel can make a difference. He also could have gotten to the line more, but since Jim burr is ALWAYS in favor of the home team those fouls still need to be called. I truly think this was a game taken from us by the officials more than anything, so it is hard to call Hummel's influence. Hummel Difference: 50-50
At Ohio State 87-64 loss - No, Rob does not make a difference as we flat out got our ass kicked. Hummel Difference: No
At Wisconsin 66-59 loss - Though this was a seven point loss, we held a 1 point lead with less than a minute to go and needed one defensive stop to possibly seal it. If we stop Ryan Evans from hitting his runner we get the ball still up one and look to Rob to seal it from the line. In that case, we don't rush possession, take dumb shots, or commit a charge that led to them winning by seven. The final minute of that game was a complete disaster. With Rob I think we avoid it. Hummel Difference: Yes
Again, it is hard to not be satisfied with what we have accomplished so far. We're in line for a possible two seed with a very small chance at a #1 seed. We also have an outside chance at the Big Ten title with some help. With Rob I think we lead the Big Ten with at OSU being our only loss, and that has us as certainly a #1 seed. That's a great place to be, but we're not that far from it right now.
Mostly it comes down to the matchups we would face in the tournament. Fortunately, we have shown we can deal with them. Minnesota, Ohio State, and Wisconsin were difficult matchup teams before Rob went down and we earned a split with them. Therefore, we have proven we can play with, and beat, teams that have a significant size advantage. That's good, but Rob definitely sways those games more in our favor instead of being a 50-50 at best proposition.
So what is the outlook for his return next season? JJ and Smooge will be gone, but Rob is an instant impact guy that will replace one of them scoring wise. He was also a better rebounder before his injury than JJ, so that area is covered. That means, theoretically, to be as good as we are this year we just need to replace roughly 20 points per night. That can come from a variety of sources. Anthony Johnson is still waiting on the bench and he can allegedly fill it up. Terone Johnson can have a breakout year. D.J. Byrd and Ryne Smith have shown they can be dangerous. I think Lewis Jackson is becoming an excellent scorer, while Kelsey Barlow is our best at going to the cup.
As far as sheer size in the middle we will definitely miss the mismatches the JJ gives us from being able to play all over the floor. Travis Carroll has his range, but we have not seen him take any contested jumpers yet. Sandi Marcius is a project that needs to develop more. Patrick Bade is a wild card, as is incoming freshman Donne Hale who is looking to put on more weight. I think our bigs next year will be more traditional bangers than JJ's free-roaming style. It will be Hummel that roams outside shooting threes.
Do not discredit what another year can do for the Hansons, especially since they know they will have to play more minutes. The guard situation is in good hands. I don't think there is any reason we still can't be a top 15 team next season with Rob as a senior leader. All we need are minor adjustments and improvements. Coach Painter has proven he can get guys to improve too.
Regardless, it is my hope that Rob knows we're all thinking of him and have supported him in the past year. We can't wait to see him back out there. Get well soon, young man.
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