Robbie Hummel Injured for Purdue; Final Four Contenders in Short Supply

One month ago I listed the seven teams I felt had a chance to win the 2010 NCAA Tournament. I only regret including one of those teams — Texas? Really, Texas? — but if I could re-do the list now, I’d have to remove two teams, as Robbie Hummel’s season-ending knee injury means Purdue won’t be winning it all either.

In my breakdown of the Boilermakers, I wrote that if sophomore point guard Lewis Jackson returned from injury and could play at a level close to what he did last season, Purdue would make the Final Four in Indianapolis and had the third best chance to win the whole thing (behind Kansas and Kentucky). Jackson has in fact returned to the lineup, and even though his numbers and minutes are down from last year, he still provided the true point guard that Purdue lacked.

But less than a month after Jackson returned, Hummel went down, landing awkwardly on his right knee in the first half of Wednesday’s game against Minnesota. The diagnosis? A torn ACL and a junior season that ends in disappointment. I feel really bad for Hummel, this Purdue team, and its fans. Other than Jackson, the Boilermaker rotation was mostly all upperclassmen. There were the trio of juniors — Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, and E’Twaun Moore — and the pair of seniors in Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer.

Moore is leading this team in scoring and Johnson is the top rebounder, but Hummel is a close second in both categories. He is the heart and soul of the Boilermakers. Ask any opposing coach which player means the most to this team, which player is game-planned around, which player Purdue would miss the most, and I can’t imagine one that wouldn’t say Hummel.

I’ve read about West Virginia coach Bob Huggins saying this injury is different than when his Cincinnati team lost Kenyon Martin just before the 2000 Tournament. First of all, Purdue will have more games before the Big Dance to learn how to play without its star (Martin was injured in the conference tournament, a game which Cincy lost). Secondly, and this is what I don’t fully buy — Huggins noted that the entire Cincy offense ran through Martin and that Purdue’s motion offense won’t be altered. The Purdue system itself may not be changed, but it certainly will be affected. Even if he’s not scoring, Hummel has exceptional passing skills, especially for a player 6’8. He is often referred to as a “facilitator” on the offensive end. Even if he doesn’t get the assist, sometimes he makes the pass that leads to the assist.

Veterans like Kramer — a hard-nosed, lockdown defender who accumulates more floor burns than points, rebounds, and assists combined  — won’t allow this team to lose focus of the team’s goals and it’s not inconceivable that Purdue could still earn a No. 1 seed (a win at home against Michigan State on Sunday puts them in great position for the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and a deep run there should get them a top seed in the Big Dance). But the Boilermakers’ dream of winning it all is out of the question and even their goal of playing in the Final Four in their home state is all but washed away.

I still believe in Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Villanova, and Michigan State can win it all (and that’s probably my new order of likelihood, too), and I still don’t believe the likes of Duke, West Virginia, or Georgetown have a chance. Texas’ unraveling and Hummel’s injury opens the door for teams like Ohio State and Kansas State as dark horses to reach Indianapolis, though a title for either of those teams would be a huge shock.

We’ll all find out soon enough. Luckily for college basketball fans, March is only three days away!

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