What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
For those of you walking in downtown Lafayette today, steer clear of the newly-painted orange squares on the sidewalks. These are designated suicide landing zones for despondent Boilermaker basketball fans after yesterday’s costly NCAA Tournament victory. This morning, the college basketball world outside of Boiler Nation is waking up to the historic plundering of a #1 seed by a #16 with University of Maryland-Baltimore County”s 74-54 drubbing of top-overall seed Virginia. But back in West Lafayette, the eternal fatalists which are the Boilermaker faithful are already planning the funeral procession down State Street. Despite the fact #2 Purdue dominated #15 Cal State-Fullerton 74-48 n Friday’s opening round tilt, senior Isaac Haas’ season-ending fractured elbow has the Boiler faithful smelling another title-hopes-crushing injury.
Not only does Haas’ injury take Boiler fans back 8 years in time, but the surprise nature of it is what is sending the Boiler fans into their usual state of fatalism. It was 2010 when the Boilers were poised to make another deep tournament trek when their star forward Robbie Hummel shredded his right knee just before the “Big Dance.” At the time, Purdue was 24-3 and were undeniably a favorite to reach the Final Four. Granted, they lost to eventual champion Duke in the Sweet 16, but there was no debating they were a better team than the Blue Devils with a healthy Hummel; not so much without.
Hop into the Way-Back Machine to 24 hours ago, when Purdue is coming off that statement win. Everybody watching that game knew Haas had taken a hard fall in the second half, but he came back into the game after that. The Purdue post-game locker room looked like a team who had just a tournament game; there was no indication something was wrong.
In fact, the picture above was taken in the Purdue locker room just moments after the game. Does that look like a guy whose college career just ended due to a broken elbow? Then a few hours later, the word came out of the clear blue sky that Haas would not play again in the tournament.
That’s when you heard the collective breath come straight out of Boiler Nation. There was a palpable “fuck, it’s happening again” feel in the air around Purdue, and there’s a reason why. Be it football or basketball, Boilermaker fans are used to two decades of mediocre-or-worse performances with precious few peeks of sunshine. Last night, Virginia became the first #1 to lose in the first round, but if you dial the Purdue Way-Back machine from 24 hours to 22 years ago, we must not forget that for a missed three-pointer by #16 Western Carolina in 1996, Purdue would have been what Virginia is today.
Purdue’s partly-cloudy past matters because this year’s clearing brought the promise of a new day. Boiler football under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm brought home its first bowl win in recent memory, and heading into the basketball season, the Boilers were a favorite to win the B1G Ten and make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament. The Boilers came up just short for the conference tourney title against Michigan, and regardless of what happened yesterday, they are still primed for a run to the Final Four.
You read that right, Boiler fans. Despite your impending sense of doom, the Boilers are still formidable even without their senior man-mountain.
If you doubt that, just look at the bracket. As the #2 seed, Purdue has a pretty manageable run to the Regional Final. Let’s face it. A team that nearly won the B1G Ten tournament should be able to handle Butler on Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, the Bulldogs are a solid team, but this isn’t the Gordon Hayward team that went all the way to the National Championship game against Duke.
After that stands the winner between Florida and Texas Tech. As for Florida, they finished third in the unimpressive SEC at 11-7; the top-seeded team in the tournament from the SEC was Auburn as a #4. Not to mention, Miami (FL) wasn’t the only Florida team to lose to surprise second-round NCAA Tournament squad Loyola-Chicago. The Texas Tech Red Raiders represent the Big 12, conference in which they finished 11-7, which was good enough for a second-place tie. But then they dropped a conference tournament semifinal to West Virginia, who may very well be Purdue’s opponent in the Elite 8. It’s also entirely possible the Boilers might also face another Big 12 team, the Kansas Jayhawks, in the Regional Final.
So, with potentially three Big 12 teams ahead of them, how does a Haas-less Purdue team stack up? Pretty favorably.
With the sole exceptions of Kansas’ center Udoka Azubuike and West Virginia forward Maciej Bender, nobody has a player over 6’10.” Purdue still has Matt Haarms (7’3″) and Jacquil Taylor (6’10”). That means the Boilers still can match big bodies on the floor, and while Haarms doesn’t have Haas’ braun, he’s already a superior natural player.
But even then, Purdue doesn’t depend on a “big” game to win. I will be the first to admit that Haas is dominating figure on the court, but he doesn’t post dominating numbers. Now that he’s developed a serviceable game in the post, his 15 points a night on a team which averages 80 suggest the offense doesn’t run through him. Beyond that, Haas only averages 5.7 rebounds per game, which definitely means he doesn’t assert his presence under the boards.
I know the optics don’t work. Time and time again basketball is a game which can be dominated by the biggest guy on the floor. Let’s be honest, more often than not Isaac Haas looks like a 30-year old man posting up a sixth-grader. But the reality is Purdue’s Final Four chances never hinged on Haas. don’t get me wrong, he’s an integral piece, and as a die-hard Los Angles Lakers fan, Haas would be more than welcome to don the purple and gold. He’s the star of the show because he’s an enormous human being and your eyes can not stay off him when he’s on the floor.
But in the reality of the Boiler scheme, he’s part of the supporting cast. Purdue’s strength is in its shooting game. The Boilers are all about scoring from the perimeter; they’ve done nothing but demonstrate that since the losses to Western Kentucky and Tennessee in an early-season off-shore tournament. This team drains 3-pointers at a 42% clip; that makes them the best team in this tournament from behind the arc.
The people at Five Guys should work out a deal giving away burgers at Mackey Arena since Purdue has five guys in Carsen Edwards, Vincent Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson, and Ryan Cline who all average 39 percent or better from downtown. Or maybe they could put Matt Haarms on a bulking-up crash-diet of fatburgers, because the one thing Purdue needs which Haas wasn’t really providing is rebounding.
No matter what, Purdue still has to get by Butler on Sunday. Given the way this tournament is breaking down so far, my picks for who they may face should they win that game may not happen. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter as much who they play as how they play. The Boilermakers have lived and died on the 3-pointer all season, and the presence of Isaac Haas didn’t change that.
Why should his absence be any different?