Beating Texas on Sunday does not accomplish Purdue’s goals.
It does not erase the demons of March past.
In the end, it could be just another NCAA Tournament win, where Purdue has a 3.6 roentgen season (not great, but not terrible) that ends in the Sweet 16 without any Big Ten hardware.
It is still a critically important victory, should it come, because the program has been building to this moment, right now, for months, if not years.
Since the moment North Texas finished its upset of Purdue in last year’s NCAA Tournament we have been waiting for right now. With virtually the entire roster returning the Boilers occupied a high spot on all the “way-too-early” polls since last April. The entire staff here at H&R played its part in hyping this team for a year now. With the combination of depth, talent, and experience, how could we not? On paper, this team was perfect. It had shooters, size, rebounding, slashers, and everything you would want in a college basketball team.
On December 6, 2021 we had an early coronation. For the first time ever Purdue ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll. When we beat Iowa that previous week Mackey was rapturous because we knew an ascent to No. 1 was likely. I wrote then that reaching No. 1 was great, but ultimately meant nothing if we weren’t playing basketball in April.
Well, it sis late March, and we need 120 minutes of great basketball to make April.
What followed was a loss to Rutgers on a miracle heave that, in the end, cost us a Big Ten title. There were three more buzzer beater losses. There were way-too-close wins over Ohio State, Maryland, and Indiana in Mackey. There was the indignity of a loss to the Hoosiers, the first for any player on the current roster, and one that not only also cost us a a Big Ten title, but actually put them in the NCAA Tournament.
Purdue won 27 games this year before the NCAA Tournament, yet because there was no Big Ten title, no Big Ten Tournament title, and because we came up agonizingly short in both, it felt like there was a lack of accomplishment for a team so hyped.
The Texas Longhorns are up next. They have the scary names of Marcus Carr and Chris Beard. They have a couple of memorable non-conference victories over us that Sasha Stefanovic, Trevion Williams, and Eric Hunter Jr. have been around for. Purdue is the higher seed, but that PTSD (Purdue Tournament Stress Disorder) kicked in the moment I saw their name appear as a potential second round opponent.
I was 100% confident we would beat Yale. I have dreaded Texas.
There was always going to be at least one moment of, “I don’t know if we can do this,” for Purdue. We handled business in our first game. It could have been dicey, but Purdue was in control throughout and trailed for all of 16 seconds before taking full control. Yes, it was an Ivy League team, but after what happened to Kentucky there is something to be said for just handling business. Texas is different. They are a challenge with the unique quality of bringing Purdue-centric baggage.
There are 120 minutes to go before the Final Four though, and we reach the first moment of true doubt. Texas is absolutely capable of beating us without playing a perfect game. We’re favored, but the KenPom and NET rankings have these two teams very close together. The weight of history is also there. This has long been projected as THE year for us, and if it doesn’t end in New Orleans it will have a feeling of “if not now, then when?”
Beating Texas does not reach every goal, but losing to them certainly raises the collective angst of Purdue fans.
But that is where we are. We have years of, “Only March Matters,” ingrained in us (and I am guilty of that indoctrination). We have accomplished everything we can accomplish under Painter except reach a Final Four. The same is true under Coach Keady. Four decades have yielded nine Big Ten titles, a Big Ten Tournament title, and numerous runner up finishes in each.
The eyes of the nation are on March though, and that month has been particularly cruel to Purdue Men’s Basketball. There is hope because this could be THE team (especially with Kentucky knocked out already), but the anxiety of “when do we get kicked in the dick this time?”
The moment is here. We can erase so many of those demons in the next 120 minutes of basketball, and it starts with 40 minutes against Texas. The time is now, and against Texas, we can take that next critical step.