Purdue's Isaac Haas might play through broken elbow in NCAA tournament

The Dagger

Purdue’s Final Four hopes were dealt a huge blow on Friday when senior center Isaac Haas was ruled out for the remainder of the NCAA tournament with a broken elbow.

Or were they?

The program itself announced the diagnosis, but less than 24 hours later, Haas appeared at practice with teammates one day before Purdue’s second-round game against Butler. He apparently wants to play despite the injury.

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Haas’ participation on Sunday won’t entirely be up to him. Purdue head coach Matt Painter downplayed his involvement in practice, saying, “He ran up and down today, did a few things, worked out. I don’t see him playing, though.”

Painter clarified: “I would think he will dress and go through warmups, but I don’t think he will play. He will need a brace and it needs to be approved [by the NCAA].”

Painter also confirmed that Haas would eventually need surgery, as the program announced Friday.

But Haas, whose college career is over if he does not return in the tournament, apparently wants to give it a go anyway. He was seen in practice gear with the heavy black brace on the elbow:

His backup, Matt Haarms, reportedly confirmed Haas’ wish to play.

Haas fractured the right elbow fighting for a rebound in Purdue’s first round win over Cal State Fullerton. The Boilermakers won easily, but face a tough road ahead if they are without their 7-foot-2 man in the middle.

Isaac Haas’ injury. (Original video: CBS/Turner)
Isaac Haas’ injury. (Original video: CBS/Turner)
Isaac Haas’ injury. (Original video: CBS/Turner)
Isaac Haas’ injury. (Original video: CBS/Turner)

Haas’ absence, if he does not play through the fracture, would dent Purdue’s Final Four hopes in a big way:

Haas, at 7-foot-2, was the big man around whom Purdue was built on both ends. He shot 62 percent from the field during the regular season and Big Ten tournament. He averaged 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in less than 24 minutes per game. He also ranked among the top 10 in the Big Ten in block percentage, and affected many opponent shots in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

In his absence, the Boilermakers will likely do two things. Haarms, a 7-foot-3 freshman from the Netherlands, will be pushed into a larger role. And Painter will presumably be forced to experiment with small-ball lineups featuring versatile 6-foot-8 wing Vince Edwards at the five.

But neither solution is ideal. The Boilermakers’ potential will be diminished by the Haas injury blow. Their status as a Final Four contender was largely predicated on an offense that at times bordered on unstoppable, and without Haas, it will be less so.

It was the second-most efficient in the country, per Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted numbers, and a big reason for its success was its balanced construction, with five 39-plus-percent shooters around Haas. The senior’s presence forced defenses to collapse or double. Those doubles freed up the likes of Dakota Mathias and P.J. Thompson. Haas led the Big Ten in win shares per 40 minutes, and ranked fifth in offensive win shares despite playing only 58 percent of available minutes.

Without him, defenses won’t have to collapse. Harms is no slouch, and he’ll be able to replicate some of Haas’ rim protection, but he lacks the strength and back-to-the-basket ability of the senior. And he’s not going to be able to make a jump from 16 minutes per game to 30 minutes per game. Purdue has no other big man in its rotation, so will have to scramble for solutions.

If Haas could play, therefore, and if he could be somewhat effective, even in limited minutes, he would provide a massive, unexpected boost.

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and college basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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