Playing The What-If Game

One of the easiest things to fall into when looking at any sport is the "what if" game. What if Butler's heave goes in at the buzzer last year? What if David Tyree doesn't catch the ball against his helmet against the Patriots? What if Kyle Orton doesn't fumble against Wisconsin in '04? What if IU never fired a good coach and hired a cheater?

It's only natural to think about Rob being healthy now and then. It's okay, too. It's a little selfish, but it's not a terrible thing to dream. And early in the season, I said that as much as I wanted to look forward and see what this team could do as constituted, I did admit that no matter what happens, we'll always be able to say, I wonder what would have happened with Rob. Basically, anything short of a national title and it'll be possible to wonder that.

However, I've begun to honestly change my thoughts on this. I still see clowns like Goodman tweeting after the OSU win "Just imagine if they had Hummel." Why, Jeff? So they could have beated OSU by 20? I don't get it. This team is playing as well as anyone in the country right now....yet people like you are still saying "what if they had Hummel?" How much more could they be winning right now? How much more dominant could they look? Seriously.

Let's consider things for a moment. What might be different right now, had Rob not torn his ACL for a second time in October?

Would JJ and E'Twaun be the players they are right now?

I'm not suggesting Rob being healthy would make them worse, so let's understand that right now. But let's also understand that there is zero doubt that these two simply looked at the situation and immediately understood what they had to do. Down 1/3 of the trio, they needed to cover that gap, be it in points, leadership, minutes, whatever. 

Would JJ be a player of the year candidate? Probably not, simply because he would be ceding some of his points and rebounds. Would Smooge have had that monstrosity of a game vs OSU? Probably not, for the same reasons. Again, Rob wouldn't have stunted their growth, per se, but he would have changed the distribution of responsibilities.

Would Ryne Smith be who he is right now?

Sure, Ryne comes and goes, but would he have had that hot start to the Big Ten season, including four straight double digit scoring games plus three games with five or more treys made? I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. Purdue needed a third scoring option in those games and Ryne didn't have Rob to defer to, so up the shots went...and down they fell. Kind of makes the tandem of he and Rob firing away next year sound delicious, doesn't it?

Would Kelsey Barlow be playing as much?

With Rob in the lineup, where does Kelsey fit? I guess he's spelling LewJack still, but that's about it. Does he develop as a player as he has if Rob is there? Again, do not misunderstand -- I'd love to have a healthy Hummel. But there are side effects of his absence that are going to ultimately be good for the development of guys like Kelsey.

Does Terone Johnson redshirt?

Going down the depth chart, how much would Terone have played? Would it have been more prudent just to redshirt him? And if the answer is yes, while that's nice in terms of having him around longer, he loses all of what he has gained this year. As many people say, by this time of year, freshmen are no longer freshman. We've seen TJ go through the growing pains of learning the college game, adjusting to the speed, feeling his way through conference play, etc. And now we're seeing him hit big-time shots. Think about how valuable that experience might turn out to be in the tournament this year and for years to come.

Is the resolve this team has shown there?

There is absolutely no doubt, this team was marked for great things this year with Rob. Everyone was saying so, with top five preseason rankings a certainty. Then it all changed and Purdue's season reportedly went with Rob's knee. Now, I'm not saying the team would have been less focused, but I think it's reasonable to think they might have....expected...to be great. With Rob's injury and the resulting media remarks about Purdue, I think our boys got pissed. They'll never fully admit it, but they hear what gets said. They know they were absolutely left for dead. One of my favorite recent digs from another site was that we "manufactured the chip on Purdue's shoulder." This is one of those remarks that simply underscores ignorance. We didn't manufacture anything. We simply report what we see.

So would this team be this focused? I honestly don't know. I have faith in Matty and the boys and I think they do a great job of keeping things in perspective and staying the course and keeping their eyes on the prize. In the past it was making the tourney. Then it was winning the conference. Now it's a lot more than that. And whatever you thought might happen back in mid-October, you couldn't have asked for things to be in better shape than they are at this moment.

The train is coming, folks. Choo-choo.

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