OK, I went to Purdue. Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way—
No, Purdue has never won an NCAA Tournament. No, we haven’t been to the Final Four since 1980, the year before Gene Keady was hired. Yes, we crapped the bed against Little Rock two years ago, and got blasted by Kansas last year.
The NCAA Tournament is not our thing, OK?
That said, my beloved Boilermakers have made some memorable runs. Yes, they all had heartbreaking endings, but every ending that doesn’t culminate with the hoisting of a national championship trophy is heartbreaking.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of past years.
Purdue’s first-ever trip to the Big Dance was in 1969, and the Boilermakers rode the greatest shooter of all time, Rick Mount, all the way to the National Title game, only to lose to UCLA, coached by Purdue alumnus John Wooden.
Later in the year, another Purdue Boilermaker rode a Saturn V all the way to the moon, becoming the first human to walk on the face of another heavenly body. Neil Armstrong was whistled for traveling by Ted Valentine, and when he tried to argue that it was only a “small step”, was promptly ejected from the game.
It was only Purdue’s third experience in the Madness, but it was a great one. Led by Joe Barry Carroll (who was AJ Hammons before AJ Hammons taught you whippersnappers what it meant to be AJ Hammons), the Boilermakers bested both Indiana and Our Most Hated Rival the Iowa Hawkeyes on their sojourn through the bracket. Unfortunately, that Iowa win was in the third place game (this was before Ricky Bobby came along and taught America that if you ain’t first, you’re last), the Boilermakers having lost—once again—to UCLA, though John Wooden had long since retired. There were no moon landings later that year, either.
Purdue was the 6 seed and lost in double overtime to 11 seed LSU. The only reason that game is notable is because it was played on LSU’s home floor. There are rules against that now.
The Three Amigos led Purdue to a Big Ten title and were favorites for the Final Four, earning Purdue’s first-ever No. 1 seed. They were stopped in the Sweet Sixteen by Kansas State and Mitch Richmond. Kansas State is Gene Keady’s alma mater.
Another Big Ten title and No. 1 seed, this time on the back of the Big Dog, Glenn Robinson, still the last player from a power conference to lead the nation in scoring. He averaged 30 and 11 a game. This time the Boilers were able to handle a team from Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, besting the Jayhawks 83-78. But Duke lurked in the Elite Eight, and a mysterious back injury hobbled the Big Dog, ending what was probably Gene Keady’s best chance at a National Title.
Nobody expected anything from the 1996 Purdue team at the beginning of the year, but they messed around and won the Big Ten outright for the third year in a row and earned Purdue’s third No. 1 seed. And then they nearly became the first No. 1 seed to lose in the first round, squeaking past Western Carolina by 2 before bowing out in the next round.
Late 90s and 2000s
With one notable exception below, Purdue put together a string of lackluster runs, which are notable only because, flame out as they inevitably did, Purdue didn’t lose a first round game from 1994 until 2015. Granted, they didn’t make the Tourney some years, but when they did, the superior coaching acumen of Gene Keady and then Matt Painter was the determining factor in advancing, at minumum (and usually at maximum) to the Round of 32.
This wasn’t a great Purdue team, but the six-seeded Boilers saw their bracket bust wide open. Their path to the Final Four included the No. 11, No. 3, No. 10, and No. 8 seeds. They handled the first three, but went down to eighth-seeded Wisconsin, the fourth time the Boilers and Badgers met that year. Wisconsin was coached by Dick Bennet. Coach Keady got his revenge by placing a curse on Coach Bennet, ensuring that his son Tony would never make the Final Four.
The Final Four was in Indianapolis, and Purdue had the best team in the country until Robbie Hummel tore his ACL. Butler ended up being the Indiana representative at Lucas Oil Stadium. But for one bad step at the Barn, it could be Matt Painter coaching the Celtics right now instead of Brad Stevens.
The team did rally after a late-season swoon, and Chris Kramer hit a delicious off-hand layup to beat Texas A&M in overtime and send the team to the Sweet Sixteen, but there the Boilermakers ran into a stacked Duke team who ended their season.
After a three-year absence, Purdue basketball was back, featuring Dakota Mathias, PJ Thompson, Isaac Haas, and Vince Edwards as freshmen. Despite heartbreak and frustration, at least Purdue had its first-round winning streak, which even the likes of Kansas and Duke couldn’t claim. And then Purdue lost in the first round in overtime to Cincinnati. It was at this point that Purdue fans realized that the NCAA Tournament is pain.
We only thought we knew pain. With five minutes left in the game, Purdue was up 63-49 against Arkansas-Little Rock. Purdue thought they would bleed out the clock, but they decided to bleed out their fans hopes and dreams instead, losing in double-overtime in one of the most inexplicable comebacks I can recall watching. This Purdue team was bad against the press, but even worse against my liver.
Let’s not talk about that Kansas game, shall we?
And here we are. The optimistic Purdue fans think our bracket sets up nicely. Those of us who know better see that Butler lurks in the second round and Texas Tech—now coached by Chris Beard, the man who orchestrated the Little Rock comeback—in the third. It would be fun to play our 1 seed, Villanova, and I think that we match up pretty well against them, but we have to get there first. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I became a Purdue fan it’s—well, OK, it’s differential equations and linear algebra. We’re a STEM school, baby! Only STEM stands for Suspect To be Eliminated in March.
God, I want a Final Four so bad.