DETROIT — Purdue center Matt Haarms saw the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2010. Or, as he describes it, “When Purdue went to the Sweet 16.”
Haarms was still back home in the Netherlands then, and was a year away from even beginning to play basketball competitively. He’ll now be filling the biggest shoes in the 2018 NCAA Tournament — literally and figuratively — when the Boilermakers face Butler at 12:10 p.m. ET Sunday.
Purdue is expected to be without starting center Isaac Haas, who broke his elbow Friday in a first-round victory over Cal State Fullerton. Haas — 7-foot-2, 290 pounds — has been the Boilermakers’ go-to offensive option. Playing almost exclusively in the paint, he’s made 61.7 percent of his shots in Purdue’s first 35 games.
This situation is reminiscent of what Purdue faced during the season of Haarms’ first NCAA Tournament memory. The Boilermakers lost star forward Robbie Hummel to a knee injury with just three regular-season games remaining in 2010. They still advanced to the Sweet 16, as Haarms is quick to point out, before falling to eventual national champion Duke in a competitive game.
“That’s just the mentality we have at Purdue. We’re just grind it out, tough guys,” Haarms said of having to replace a star player.
The Big Ten Network recently re-aired Purdue’s second-round win over Texas A&M from the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Boilermakers coach Matt Painter was among the viewers, refreshing his memory of what it was like to plan around losing his go-to player late in the season. But Painter feels that situation and the one his current team is in are different, and that’s a good thing.
“It just makes you run things differently,” Painter said of Hummel’s injury. “Rob made things work for us. [Now], we don’t run anything differently. We run a lot of things for Isaac, but we also run things for other people.
“I think it’s going to be key more than anything, just us running our stuff, sticking with it.”
Following Purdue’s practice Saturday, there was some hope Haas might be able to play after all. He went through the session with the team, wearing a brace over his injured elbow. But coach Matt Painter essentially nixed the notion he’d get any minutes Sunday.
“I would think he dresses and goes to warm-ups,” Painter said. “I would think he wants to do that to stay connected and stuff. But I don’t think he’ll play.”
So, this is going to be Haarms’ moment to step up. He almost certainly must outpace his 16.6 minutes per game if Purdue has hopes of advancing. The 7-foot-3 redshirt freshman has already done just that against this very same opponent, though.
In mid-December, Haarms played 27 minutes off the bench with Haas in foul trouble as Purdue led Butler from start to finish in an 82-67 win. Haarms had just 2 points and 5 rebounds. But he also added 3 blocks, showing off a facet of his game that is actually much better than what Haas provides as a rim protector.
All that’s really needed from Haarms is a similar performance Sunday. If he can do that, he may have another special Sweet 16 memory — eight years after his first.
Story by SEC Country’s Trent Shadid. Follow Trent on Twitter @Shadid13