Purdue is sliding down the Top 25 as star Robbie Hummel recovers from a hairline fracture in his back, and with another loss it’ll have dropped three in a row for the first time in nearly three years.
The Big Ten’s preseason favorite would also likely fall out of the rankings altogether.
The No. 20 Boilermakers have yet to win a conference game without their star forward, and they’ll probably be without him again Wednesday when they host a Penn State team which has already taken advantage of Hummel’s absence.
Purdue (17-6, 6-4) was tabbed as the conference’s team to beat heading into 2008-09, and there was reason to believe coach Matt Painter’s squad could be as good or better than the team that went 15-3 in the league last season with four freshmen playing prominent roles.
One of those was Hummel, who averaged 11.4 points as a freshman and was named the Big Ten preseason player of the year. Hummel originally hurt his back in a 76-60 loss to Duke in early December and missed one non-conference game. He was averaging 15.8 points and 7.7 rebounds as Purdue started 6-2.
Since late December, though, Hummel has been scoring 9.8 points per game on 38.8 percent shooting. He’s missed three Big Ten games, including a 67-64 loss to the Nittany Lions (17-7, 6-5) on Jan. 6.
Hummel came back for the Boilermakers’ next six games, but when it was discovered he had a hairline fracture, Painter sat him and Purdue has struggled. JaJuan’s Johnson’s 30 points weren’t enough in an 80-72 overtime loss at Ohio State on Feb. 3, then the Boilermakers shot 32.2 percent in a 66-48 defeat at then-No. 23 Illinois on Sunday.
“It just doesn’t make sense to me (to play him),” Painter said. “His future’s more important than the Illinois game.”
When Painter will deem Hummel healthy enough to play is still up in the air, but it’s unlikely to be Wednesday. Some reports have suggested he could miss an additional two weeks.
Purdue hasn’t lost three in a row since a five-game skid to end 2005-06.
Johnson (13.4 points per game), one of Purdue’s other sophomore stars, has stepped up in Hummel’s absence, averaging 23.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two losses last week. Sophomore guard E’Twaun Moore (13.6 ppg), however, has struggled, averaging 6.5 points on 25.0 percent shooting.
Moore scored 21 with Hummel sidelined in the loss at Penn State last month, a game defensive stopper Chris Kramer also missed due to a sprained foot.
The Nittany Lions have their own sophomore star in Talor Battle, a 5-foot-11 guard who leads the Big Ten in scoring (18.2) and is tied for the lead in assists with 5.2 per game.
Battle had 21 in the win over Purdue last month and averaged 19.0 points during Penn State’s four-game winning streak that began Jan. 17. That stretch was highlighted by Battle’s 29 points in a 72-68 victory at then-No. 9 Michigan State on Feb. 1.
Both Battle and the Nittany Lions came crashing down last week, however. He was 3-of-16 in a 71-51 loss at Michigan on Thursday, then 4-of-15 on Sunday as Penn State was 0-of-14 from 3-point range in a 54-44 home loss to Wisconsin.
“I don’t think it’s anything that anyone is doing that we haven’t seen or done or whatever,” coach Ed DeChellis said. “We just haven’t played well offensively, and it has affected our defense.”
Senior forward Jamelle Cornley is averaging 17.6 points in five conference road games for Penn State, which has lost six of its last seven visits to West Lafayette.