It’s a familiar season as Purdue fan, riding high only to fall short and have that pit in your stomach. It felt like that when the Boilermakers lost at Minnesota and then again to the Golden Gophers in the Big Ten Tournament. Heck, because of that and the tough potential draw against Villanova in round two I picked Purdue for only one win in the brackets. Tonight felt like that, the Boilers were up 5 with 3 seconds left but the game went to overtime and Painter’s squad couldn’t close it out.
It’s an all too familiar feeling for the black and gold faithful before you remember what the predictions were for this season. Behind Carsen Edwards this team was supposed to be competitive and get to March, but maybe just the Sweet 16. Instead they won a share of the Big Ten title and made it to the Elite 8 for the first time in Painter’s tenure, breaking through for the first time since 2000. They were right on the door step for their first Final 4 in over 30 years, something Gene Keady couldn’t even do.
Four starting seniors left the program, one of the most distinguished classes in Purdue history and yet Painter still put together a team that almost made it to the final weekend. He earned Big Ten coach of the year and then some. Matt Painter built a complimentary roster to get that far and showed how he has evolved. At the beginning of the decade Purdue found itself at the bottom of the Big Ten because of failed ability to put a team together. That has changed as the Boilers have gone on a stretch of historical success inside the conference.
Now let’s not kid ourselves, C Boogie just went on a historical fun in the tournament to seal his place of one of the greatest to wear the black and gold. Just as last year Painter must replace a lot of muscle from the lineup with Cline and Eifert graduating and Edwards likely leaving (though faithful can hold out hope he comes back for one more run). Now, it’s easier to replace Haarms, Mathias, Thompson and Vince when you have Carsen coming back, but Purdue still did it.
Matt Haarms had a big end of the season and March and both Aaron Wheeler and Eric Hunter played like juniors instead of freshman on the run to the Elite 8. Nojel Eastern is a defensive player of the year candidate as long as he suits up in West Lafayette. Sasha Stefanovic looks like the next in the mold of Cline, Mathias, Smith as another reliable shooter than does everything fairly well. Fresh off a red shirt year sitting out a year for injury Trevion Williams was key in that run after the new year before seemingly hitting a wall. Williams played better in March and has to give Purdue faithful hope for a big improvement in year two.
Four star center Emmanuel Dowuona also red shirted this year and will join four start guard Brandon Newsman and three star forward Mason Gillis and three star guard Isaiah Thompson. This team will be incredibly young but just gained a bunch of experience in the conference regular season and run to the Elite 8. Who will step up for all the missing points next season?
In two straight years Purdue will lose six of the winningest seniors in program history and, likely, one of the best player ever to call West Lafayette home. Two Sweet 16 berths and an Elite 8, but more importantly a big break through the Baby Boilers and Biggie couldn’t make. Injuries were big factors in those runs falling short, but this year shattered the ceiling of expectations. Matt Painter showed something in this year, and the narrative will be a step back again next season, but this was a step back year also. Take the breakthrough and keep the special moments coming. Boiler Up!