Boilermaker fans are strange birds.
Purdue is on the verge of something unprecedented. They have won 12 straight games. They’ve beat Arizona on a neutral floor and Butler, they’ve traveled to Maryland and won, and they’ve hosted Louisville and won. You have to go back to December 3rd when Purdue hosted Northwestern at Mackey Arena to find a game where they didn’t win by double-digits and dominate the whole way through.
And yet I wake up to read a message in our group chat from a certain unnamed and supposedly fearless leader who thinks tonight is the night the clock strikes twelve.
And let’s be clear: For Purdue fans, losing tonight will not be like Cinderella’s carriage turning back into a pumpkin, it will be a Doomsday clock marking nuclear evisceration.
It’s a strange dance we do.
As Purdue’s win streak started climbing into double-digits, their rankings barely broke into the teens. Just last week, Purdue was ranked only 13th despite computers loving them and having a profile of tier 1 wins that looked as good as anyone’s in the nation. Purdue twitter was starting to get agitated. When were we going to get our due? Our respect?
Then everyone lost in the top 10 and Purdue leaped over Duke and Gonzaga and tied Wichita State for the fifth ranking in the nation. The Boilers have not been ranked this high since the Baby Boiler days.
And by days, I do mean days, because right after getting this amount of respect last time, tragedy struck in Minnesota and Hummel’s knee was gone as well as Purdue’s chance for a fairy tale ending.
But injuries are beyond all of our control. That isn’t really where the fear harbors. The fear comes from the idea that tonight’s game in Ann Arbor, on the night after finally getting top-5 respect, is the night Purdue’s team lays a stinker and validates all the non-believers who think Coach Painter will never having a Final Four team. Because that’s just what Purdue does.
Purdue fans are always at the precipice, leaning over the edge, looking down and angry that people aren’t recognizing how far they’ve climbed while believing fully that the fall is inevitable.
The Little-Rock game. The Kansas game. The Atlantis games. Iowa last year. Michigan last year. Always Michigan.
When this Purdue team steps onto the court tonight against an upstart and young Wolverine squad, they will do so as the most complete team of my lifetime. A team that ranks as the 9th best offense and 9th best defense by Kenpom. This team makes so much sense everywhere. Dakota is the defensive stopper. PJ is the constant. Carsen is a comet. Haas is a monster. Vincent is the swiss-army knife. Cline is the crisp sip of champagne at a party and Haarms is the Fairy Godmother magically sealing everything together.
(I think my metaphors got away from me.)
When this Purdue teams steps onto the court tonight, they will be the better team. They’ll be facing a young and uneven squad that’s on a roll. Michigan has won seven straight themselves, including knocking off UCLA and Texas in back to back games. They don’t really have a bad loss. They beat Purdue twice last year.
Which is mostly the point. The Wolverines were a bad match-up for Purdue last year. The combination of Wagner and Wilson was too much for a big-man tandem that featured two big-men without lateral quickness. Wilson is now gone for Michigan. Swanigan is now gone for Purdue. In his place for Purdue, a 7’3 unicorn who has been put on this earth to defend stretch bigs like Wagner.
Derek Walton is no longer there for Michigan or Purdue killer Zak Irvin. Instead, Michigan will lean on their Kentucky transfer Charles Mathew. Purdue will counter with the best perimeter defender in the conference, Dakota Mathias. Michigan doesn’t have an answer for Carsen Edwards - no one really does. Ditto for Haas.
The reason this season is different than others is that this team is different than the others. For once, Purdue isn’t limited to one style of play or one player. As a collective, they are experienced and adaptable. They can shoot outside and score inside. They can defend and scrap. They have been tested and passed.
So instead of believing in ghosts past, start enjoying the now. Purdue will go into Ann Arbor and win tonight because they’re for real. In March, don’t be surprised if they’re getting fit for Cinderella’s glass slipper.
Doomsday isn’t coming tonight, regardless of result. So enjoy this one, Boiler fans. We’ve waited a long time for the spotlight. Might as well enjoy the dance.