"It was a bad time."
So reads the opening line of one of the 20th century's greatest novels, Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien. In recent years the Purdue Boilermakers and their faith-filled fans would have given O'Brien a solid thumbs up. Luckily, things have taken a turn for the better and with it a turn toward the tournament.
The Purdue Boilermakers have played themselves into the upper echelon of the storied NCAA tournament bubble. Currently 17-9 and 6-6 in the Big Ten, the Boilers have eked into more than one bracket projection and are seemingly controlling their 10-seed destiny.
Joe Lunardi at ESPN.com has them at an 11.
Jerry Palm at collegerpi.com says 10.
David Mihm at bracketography.com says 10 as well.
God be praised, the Boilers are back in the dance. But are they ready to punch their card for more than a mere appearance? Can they get down to business and give fans more hope than a trip to the Champs Sports Bowl ever could?
Purdue hasn't been to the tournament since the 2002-2003 season when the 9th seeded Boilers dismantled LSU 80-56 only to go on and lose in a dog fight with 1 seed Texas and player of the year T.J. Ford. They've not seen post-season play since the following season when they limped into the NIT and lost at Notre Dame in an ill-fated realization of years of attempts to get the Irish permanently onto the schedule.
Since then fans have endured a 7-21 farewell to Gene Keady and a 9-19 debut for Matt Painter. Yet, last season saw the happiest fans ever supporting a pitiful team. Injuries robbed the team of its top scorers, a hit-and-run took away a dizzying prospect, and bad luck intervened to remove all hopes of success, but the fans saw glimmers of hope. Chickens have roosted and the Boilers are champing at the bit to enter the realm of 65.
However, in this world of short memories, fans are going to be looking for Sweet 16 success or otherwise crying foul. It wasn't that long ago that I was a senior and the Cardinal-led Boilers were knocking on the door of the Final Four only to be unseated for the fourth f*cking time by Wisconsin. Inevitably, some fans will hold a George Mason-esque run to Atlanta up against their season ticket order. I'm not saying 'Be happy with an invitation' but you can't expect this team to be merely voted a champion by the Helms Athletic Foundation.
Should my beloved Boilermakers make the tourney I pray they'll play a late game on Thurs/Fri so the faithful can tune in with authority. Hopefully we'll have a reason to cheer beyond the first weekend, but until then, let's beat Iowa.