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Monday, October 18, 2010
Where does Purdue go from here?

By Eamonn Brennan

What was the first thing you thought when you heard the news? If you're like me, your immediate, gut-level reaction to news of Robbie Hummel's re-torn ACL Saturday morning was: "That's that."

Before the injury, Purdue was a legitimate Final Four contender and one of the few teams in the country with enough talent and pedigree to unseat Duke, the consensus national title favorite. After the injury, those dreams are over. Purdue will be good, but not great. The season will be nice, but not remarkable. That, as they say, was that.

That reaction is probably right. If you're a Purdue fan, it's also untenable. Perhaps the most depressing thing about Hummel's injury -- beyond the fact that a kid like Hummel has to go through this brutal Sisyphean rehab process again -- is that it rips the heart out of the Boilermakers' entire winter before the winter even had a chance to get started. It's only Oct. 16. We just had Midnight Madness. And Purdue fans are supposed to come to grips with the fact that their team's season is essentially over. How tough is that?

It's kind of encouraging, then, to see that not all Purdue fans are just going to tuck their tails between their legs and give up. (That's probably what I would do.) That's the message at Hammer and Rails, where BoilerTMill describes hearing the news at the Purdue-Minnesota game Saturday. Mr. Mills was tearing up before he went and sat with a friend in the student section, where he found himself taking a more optimistic tack.

Why the optimism? There are some silver linings in the way Hummel's injury happened. For one, its early timing gives coach Matt Painter an extended preseason opportunity. He can slot players in, find things that work, change the balance between JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore on offense. The Boilers don't have to rush to figure out their post-Hummel identity, the way they did during last year's ugly late-season and Big Ten tournament appearances.

Purdue also has some depth to work with. Young players like Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll can be rebounding threats. Patrick Bade, a solid recruit from last year's class, has reportedly been making vast improvements this offseason, and Kelsey Barlow is athletic enough to replicate Hummel's face-up stretch forward style.

Plus, you know, it's not like the Boilermakers just lost their only star. Seniors Johnson and Moore are two of the Big Ten's -- and nation's -- best players, and if you'd never heard the name "Robbie Hummel," you'd probably still like this team to contend for the conference title.

All is not lost. Yes, Purdue could have had That Year in 2010-11, a historic culmination of so much recent effort and long-term program-building. The chances of That Year happening now are pretty slim. Hummel is that good. But that doesn't mean Purdue can't have an awfully good year anyway.

Pity them if you want, but ignore them at your own peril. A great team just lost its best player. A very good team just got something to prove. If Purdue's season is now over, I'm betting Painter and company won't get that memo.