Finally a Breakthrough

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!