True story that will make Purdue fans groan: the program hasn’t made the Final Four since 1980. Despite 13 AP Top Ten appearances. Despite a plethora of fine NBA talent (Glenn Robinson, Brad Miller, Carl Landry, Brian Cardinal). Despite only two head coaches in the last 36 years.
Today we revisit a season that could have bucked that trend. But didn’t.
Coach: Matt Painter
Record: 29-6 (14-4 in the Big Ten)
Co-Regular Season Champions
- G, E’Twuan Moore, Junior: 16.4 PPG, 3.8 REB, 2.7 AST
- F, Robbie Hummel, Junior: 15.7 PPG, 6.9 REB, 2.1 AST
- F, JuJuan Johnson, Junior: 15.5 PPG, 7.1 REB, 2.0 BLK
This season holds a special lore for Boilermaker fans. With easily the finest collection of talent assembled since the “Big Dog” days of the mid-90s, and a Final Four played in their home state, Purdue basketball dared to dream entering the season. With good reason. The year before, behind a trio of sterling sophomores, they’d surprised the league by winning the conference tournament before bowing out to the over-powering Connecticut Huskies.
For 2009-2010, all three players returned for a special junior season. Running the point was E’Twuan Moore, a strong guard who showed no fear getting into the lane. He could also knock it down from a long range, 38% in college, and has established himself as a fine NBA back-up point guard (now on the New Orleans Pelicans).
Moore showcased a preference for sky-hooking passes to the rim, where they were usually corralled by JuJuan Johnson. After throwing down a thunderous jam, Johnson was fast enough to get back on defense and swat the ball away from behind.
Along the wing was Robbie Hummel. While Moore made them go and Johnson protected the rim, Hummel did just about everything else. A defensive maniac tasked with guarding every opponent’s best player, Hummel fired up the Mackey Arena crowd on a nightly basis. Offensively, he possessed a quick first step and hit reasonably well enough from three to open up the lanes.
The numbers don’t lie. On the season, Hummel was second in the Big Ten in PER (behind National POY and mid-range enthusiast Evan Turner), first in offensive rating at 126.8, and second in defensive rating (again behind Turner) at 88.5. He was the only player in the conference to finish in the Top 5 in both.
In general, defense was Purdue’s strong suit. 4 players finished in the top 10 in conference in defensive rating and as a team they were 12th overall in the nation.
So what happened? They zoomed out to a 14-0 start, beat Sparty and the Buckeyes on the road, and brought a 23-3 record to the Barn at Minnesota when disaster struck. Early in the game, on a routine drive to the bucket, Hummel slipped on the parquet floor and tore his ACL. They won the game on a last second shot by Keaton Grant.
It fell apart after that. Hummel was lost for the season and with him gone, the offense stagnated. They put up just 44 points at home in a loss to Michigan State and got blasted by 27 against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament.
Thus began the great what-if. If Hummel doesn’t get hurt, Purdue probably wins the Big Ten outright and the conference tournament, which probably gets them a #1 seed, which means they don’t have to play Duke in the Sweet 16, which means that even if they did, they had the talent to match up with the Blue Devils.
Alas, their lack of depth became the story of the year. Moore and Johnson dropped in 41 combined against the Devils but the rest of the team chipped in 16 total and the Dukies won going away on their march to a national title.
Matt Painter still hasn’t had a team quite as good as that won, though last year’s squad emerged as a player on the Big Ten stage (and a choker in the first round against Arkansas Little Rock).
The hype machine is revved up for this year too, with Isaac Haas, Vince Edwards, and Caleb Swanigan all poised for break-out seasons. Could this be the year the Purdue Boilermakers finally push through?