SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—No Robbie Hummel, no chance.
That’s the nation’s consensus on Purdue, and we mean the top of the nation. As in, President Barack Obama.
“Our president picked against us. EVERYONE is picking against us,” Boilermakers shooting guard Chris Kramer said with a huff Thursday, a day before No. 4 seed Purdue (27-5) plays 13th-seeded giant-killer Siena (27-6) in the NCAA tournament.
Coach Fran McCaffery’s Saints are the trendy upset pick of the first round. They are getting so much attention, from the White House to everyone else’s house, they may be the first double-digit seed to discuss dealing with the pressure and expectations of being a … favorite?
“It’s definitely weird,” Siena forward Ryan Rossiter said.
Kramer sounded particularly offended that even the commander-in-chief is picking against Purdue, which until the versatile Hummel injured his knee on Feb. 24 was a favorite for a top seed and a trip to the Final Four near home in Indianapolis.
Nobody seems to care that even after Murray State stunned Vanderbilt on Thursday, No. 13 seeds had won just 22 times in 101 games against No. 4 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“Yeah, you know it is (motivation),” said Kramer, who needs to keep up his team-high 57.5 percent field-goal shooting for Purdue to beat a high-scoring Saints team that has upset Ohio State and Vanderbilt to begin the last two NCAA tournaments.
“As soon as Rob went down they counted us out. And sure, there’s that one player on your team that does a lot of things for you. But after everything you put into the season—conditioning, the weights, the open gyms—we have a lot of people who can step up and make plays.”
OK, then where are they?
With Hummel, the Boilermakers were 24-3, averaged 73 points per game and shot 46 percent from the field.
Without the 6-foot-8 forward, his 15.7 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and his orchestration of the offense, they are 3-2 while averaging 59 points per game and shooting 38 percent.
The Boilermakers scored a season-low 42 points in a Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota, and their 11-point first half was their most anemic half since the school began keeping records in 1950. Purdue also has rebounded poorly since Hummel went down, getting outworked 46-20 against Michigan State and 50-26 against Minnesota.
Plus, Siena isn’t any old No. 13 seed against which Purdue can count on getting well.
The school with just 3,000 undergraduates outside of Albany, N.Y., joins Xavier as the only two tournament teams from a “mid-major” conference to win in the NCAAs in each of the last two seasons. The Saints, who rolled to a 17-1 record in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, are the chic pick to become the third team since the field expanded in ’85 to win games in three straight NCAA tournaments as a lower seed. Texas did it from 1995-97, and Gonzaga did it from 1999-2001.
As Siena’s leading scorer, Alex Franklin, said flatly Thursday, “We know what it takes to win a first-round game.”
Particularly, they know how to score. And they’ve been doing it for a while. The Saints start three seniors and two juniors. Four of them average at least 13.6 points per game.
“Siena does have experience. That’s what’s different,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “They aren’t excited about playing in an NCAA tournament. They are just happy about winning games in the NCAA tournament.”
The one Saints player who doesn’t average in double figures in scoring is the nation’s leading assist man, point guard Ronald Moore. Ask any Boilermaker what it will take to get past Siena, and Moore’s name comes out first.
Purdue will likely need multiple men to control Moore. Point guard Lewis Jackson said he is only 75 percent healed from a “Lisfranc” midfoot bone displacement. He aggravated the injury when an opponent fell on him in the Big Ten tournament. Yet Painter said Jackson, who as a freshman was extraordinary last March in getting the Boilermakers to the regional semifinals, will start Friday.
Jackson said he still has two screws in his foot.
Those aren’t the only screws being put to Purdue right now.
Even Siena’s backups are formidable—and interesting. Senior guard Just-in’love Smith enlisted in the Army and spent a year deployed in Iraq before fellow soldiers playing ball outdoors with him in that war zone convinced him he was good enough for college basketball.
He wants to return to work for the government, on border patrol.
Oh, as for the name, Smith said: “My mother was just in love with me. I asked my mother (about it) before she passed away and she said she was just in love with me.
“I’m going to name my son Just-In’Love Jr.”