[FanPosts that get linked by ESPN.com get bumped. -KJ]
There's no question that the season-ending injury to Robbie Hummel is a disaster for college basketball. It's a different question whether it's a disaster for Purdue's Big Ten and National Championship hopes. There has been much dramatic rewriting of pre-season rankings in the days since Hummel's injury. For example, Andy Katz dropped Purdue from #2 all the way to #23. In response to this furor, Ken Pomeroy has weighed in with the appropriate observation that no one player, at least no one player in college basketball today, would make the difference between #2 and #23 to a team. This is a significant point: the importance of a single player is often overstated in team sports, but especially basketball. TOC's home-grown PORPAG measurement is an appropriate metric to bring in here, as it attempts to measure how much more per game a player contributes on offense than the average player who would replace him. Although PORPAG does penalize a player for time lost to injury, Hummel missed only a handful of games last year so it should be a fair measure of his value to the team on offense. PORPAG saw Hummel as the third most valuable player in the conference at 3.75 points per game above replacement level in conference play. So he meant roughly 4 extra points per game for Purdue. That is significant, definitely, but probably not the difference between national championship contention and not making it out the first weekend of the tournament.
At the same time, I completely understand the pessimism about Purdue's chances as well. If there's anyone whose contributions were not fully captured by any one metric, it has to be Hummel. As impressive as Hummel's numbers were, he was also clearly the glue that held Purdue's parts together. He played tough defense of course (3rd on the team in block and steal %, second in DR %), got on the glass at both ends (6.3% OReb), hit timely threes (36%), made good passes (15.2% ARate) and had a ridiculously low 8.6% TORate. As if all that weren't enough, he shot 90% (!) from the line. (All stats from KenPom.com.) He was just crazy good. And he was clearly a team leader, with the respect and admiration of his teammates. He was my pick for Big Ten POY this year as soon as it was clear he would be back. As a case in point, with Hummel out last year Purdue perpetrated two of the most horrific offensive abominations I've ever witnessed in losses to MSU (0.69 PPP) and in the Big Ten tournament to Minnesota (0.63 PPP). With all of that, however, they managed to get it together enough to beat noted bracket-buster Siena and a solid Texas A & M team to reach the Sweet 16. They even hung with eventual champions Duke for a half. And all of this happened with very little time to adjust to playing without Hummel. That, to me, is the biggest difference between this year and last. They'll have a few weeks plus a very soft non-conference schedule to get their roles set and schemes in place for the conference and post-conference seasons. They have a very solid incoming class, featuring 4-star guard Terone Johnson, and current players like Patrick Bade, Travis Carroll and Sandi Marcius are ready to expand their roles. With these guys, a reportedly much stronger JaJuan Johnson and the excellent Moore to absorb the load, I expect Purdue to get better than replacement level production to fill the Hummel void. They're not in my top 5 any more, but I can't see dropping Purdue out of the top 15.
As a postscript, it looks like Hummel will redshirt this year, enroll in graduate school and return for the 2011-12 season.