February 25, 2010
If you know any diehard Purdue basketball fans, make sure you give them a hug today.
Rather than rehash my thoughts on why the loss of Hummel likely cost third-ranked Purdue a chance to make its first Final Four in three decades and play for a title in its home state, I'll refer you to my post from Wednesday night. Instead let's examine how Hummel's injury impacts the suddenly wide-open race for the NCAA tournament's final No. 1 seed alongside Syracuse, Kentucky and Kansas.
There's no doubt Big Ten-leading Purdue was the front runner for that spot before Hummel's injury. If the Boilers won the conference title outright and made a strong run in the Big Ten tournament, it would have been hard for Duke, Villanova or Kansas State to usurp them no matter what any of them did the rest of the season.
But now the committee must disregard how Purdue fared the first four months of the season and judge the Boilers based on how they perform the next two weeks without Hummel.
If Purdue somehow won its final three regular season games and the Big Ten Tournament title, there's no way the Boilers don't get that No. 1 seed. If they fall at home to Michigan State on Sunday and again early in the conference tournament, then look for them to drop a few rungs. And if it's somewhere in between? Well, that's a fascinating conundrum for the committe, one that will surely inspire criticism no matter how it is handled.
Any slippage from Purdue would probably make Duke the odds-on favorite to grab the final No. 1 seed despite its utter lack of marquee victories. The Devils (23-4) have the strongest computer profile and the most trouble-free remaining schedule, though Villanova could overtake them by beating Syracuse on Saturday and Kansas State could make its case by toppling Kansas next week.
Whereas Cincinnati lost Kenyon Martin in its conference tournament in 2000 and got dropped from a No. 1 to a No. 2 seed without ever playing another game, Purdue can take a little solace in having two weeks to show what it can do without Hummel.
Either the Boilers struggle down the stretch without arguably their most important player and suffer a similar fate to the Bearcats, or they rally, beat Michigan State at home and make the decision as tough as possible for the committee.