(Feature photos courtesy of Indy Star and the Journal & Courier)
Most fan bases in most sports have specific stats, moments or years that are branded in their memories. All-time records, seasons or moments. For Purdue basketball, the years where something truly special has happened are pretty well known by Purdue fans.
1969 – Purdue goes to the National Finals with Rick Mount and loses to Purdue alum John Wooden and his buzzsaw UCLA program
1980 – Joe Barry Carroll leads Purdue to the Final Four, including a win over Indiana in the Sweet 16 (how amazing is that?) and Duke in the Elite Eight.
1994 – Glenn Robinson takes Purdue rampaging into the NCAA Tournament and punctuates his legend with a monster game over Kansas in the Sweet 16. Robinson, of course, would get hurt goofing off before the Elite Eight game and Purdue would fall to Duke.
2000 – A Brian Cardinal-led squad that nabbed a 6-seed weaved its way through the tournament to meet Big Ten foe Wisconsin in the Elite Eight. Eighth-seeded Wisconsin, I might add. Purdue lost 64-60 to Tony Bennett’s dad.
And now here we are. It’s 2019 and you better start getting used to that year being in the pantheon of memorable, special seasons. It can become perhaps the most fun year we’ve ever experienced with just one more win. You also may notice that for each of those years above, it’s very easy to note the key Purdue legend who was the guy you automatically think of for each of those teams. We have that in 2019, too, with Carsen Edwards. He’s there, guys. He’s in that discussion.
The last couple of times Purdue got this close – or felt like they could get this close – there were mitigating factors. There were those kinds of things where you felt, man, if only this could have been a little different. Big Dog’s back. Hummel’s knee. The 2000 team actually not being all that good.
What about 2019? This team is firing on all cylinders. They’re healthy (as much as one can be at this point in the season anyway). They’ve bought in. They’re relaxed.
Over the years, when we all watch the tourney, there often seem to be teams and players that become legendary. Carmelo Anthony as a freshman taking Syracuse to new heights. Kemba Walker dragging a not-very-good UConn team to the title. Kevin Pittsnogle (all time great tourney name) pushing WVU further than they might otherwise have gone. You remember these guys. There are many other examples. This Purdue team can become that.
Coach Painter has also evolved as a coach. We’ve felt for years that he’s very good but that, you know, he is who he is. A great program builder who is maybe just an average in-game coach. Plays out of time outs have never looked particularly impressive. The team has seemed to wilt in certain high pressure situations. Coach Painter himself has looked a bit, ah, shall we say…nervous at times. However, much of that also seems to have changed this year. Matt Painter seems – at just 48 – to be coming into his own. He’s comfortable, he’s at ease, he doesn’t panic. To me, this was never more evident than in the Tennessee game, when the Vols had come to life and were raining fire on Purdue like a top-tier team might…and Matt Painter basically told his team, “relax.”
This was Coach Painter reminding his team that Tennessee was really good and it wasn’t really reasonable to not expect them to make this kind of a run. Purdue managed to barely weather the storm. They managed to do un-Purdue-like things. They’ve become a team we’ll never forget. Already.
So, that brings us to this Elite Eight game. They’re already in the upper echelon in the annals of Purdue history. The pressure to break through that Sweet 16 ceiling is gone. They’ve done it and now…well, now, as the expression goes, it’s truly house money. Here’s hoping they relax and keep firing….and become truly legendary.
Choo choo, muthas.