Kansas and Purdue have shared a very small, but significant history of head to head meetings.
I was surprised to see that Thursday night's Sweet 16 matchup will be just the sixth time the programs have met on the court.
While Purdue is not counted among the elite, NCAA Title level clubs, they do have a tradition rich program that, like Kansas, goes back to the 1890s in a basketball crazy state. Knowing this, you'd think these two programs would have met more often over the years.
The three most recent meetings in this short series have all come in the NCAA tournament though.
The first of which came on March 24, 1994 in the Sweet 16. Purdue was the 1-seed in the Southeast Region, Kansas was the 4.
That '94 Boilermakers squad was Gene Keady's best shot at making the Final Four in his 20+ years at Purdue. They were loaded with '94 National Player of the year Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson and fellow future NBA player, and as of last week, Missouri basketball coach, Cuonzo Martin. Robinson was a beast in his junior season at Purdue throwing down 30 points and grabbing 11 boards a game.
The '94 Jayhawks squad followed one of the most successful four year stretches in the history of the Kansas basketball program at that time. From 1990 to 1993, Roy Williams’ Jayhawks posted 113 wins, won three straight Big 8 crowns ('91-'93) and played in two Final Fours in three years, finishing as National Runner-Up to Duke and coming fresh off a Final Four appearance in '93. In '94 though, it was a bit of reboot year for Williams as gone were the likes of Rex Walters, Adonis Jordan, Eric Pauley and Darrin Hancock. It was Richard Scott and Steve Woodberry's team in '94, but they were joined by a talented freshman point guard in Jacque Vaughn.
If you've heard Kansas fans bemoaning the idea of having to play a solid Purdue squad in this year's tournament, you might not get any sympathy from Boilermaker fans who remember the Southeast Region from '94. It might have been the most comically overloaded region in the history of the tournament. Aside from Kansas sitting in the 4 spot, Kentucky, like Kansas a '93 Final Four participant, sat at the 3 and Duke, just two years removed from back to back Titles and armed with Grant Hill, was the 2. Three of the four 2,000 win club members.
In the Sweet 16 matchup, Williams' Jayhawks went right at the 1-seed Purdue. Running up and down the court, Kansas was attempting to fight size and strength with speed. The first half ended with Purdue up 44-42, and it would be neck and neck throughout the second half as well. Robinson and Martin scored 73 of the Boilermakers TOTAL of 83 for the game. The rest of Purdue's roster was absolutely worthless in this contest as the Jayhawks tried their hardest to ruin Purdue's Final Four dreams.
Robinson though, was an absolute God that night. He scored 44 points. The lasting highlight from this game was a dunk Robinson threw down over Kansas' seven foot, lovable goof, Greg Ostertag. On the play, Robinson grabbed a pass a little too deep in the paint. He spun to find Ostertag standing between him and the rim. Robinson took one dribble, jump stopped around Ostertag and then went straight up and over him before slamming it home and getting fouled on the play. All Ostertag could do was laugh and extend his hand to Robinson, congratulating the National Player of the Year on having just posterized him. Robinson, who was in the process of striking a cocky pose, curling his lip in a snarl, could only laugh before taking Ostertag's hand and smacking the big man on his ass.
The Boilermakers won 83-78. Unfortunately for Purdue however, the pace of which Kansas forced Purdue to play this game and the Herculean effort Robinson had to deliver for them to win it, resulted in a strained and injured back to Robinson. Just two days later in the Elite Eight, he wasn't the same player, and Duke sent Purdue home.
The second post season meeting between Kansas and Purdue came on March 15, 1997 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
This time around Kansas was the 1-seed in the Southeast Region, and coming off the most successful regular season in the history of Kansas basketball, bringing with them a 32-1 record into the tournament. This was the game right before - what was exactly 20 years ago this past Tuesday (March 21) - Miles Simon, Mike Bibby and 4-seeded Arizona ripped the heart out of this '97 Kansas team, which many Jayhawk fans felt was unbeatable.
This '97 meeting between Kansas and Purdue was the game everyone thought we'd see the year before in the '96 West Regional Final game when Purdue was the 1-seed and Kansas the 2. But After Purdue became one on a very short list of 1-seeds to legitimately almost fall to a 16 (Western Carolina), they were bounced by Tubby Smith's 8-seeded Georgia Bulldogs in the second round. Kansas made it to the Elite Eight before falling to John Wallace and the Syracuse Orange.
In '97 though, Purdue was coming off an up and down season in which many people thought they would wind up in the NIT. Kansas was supposed to make quick work of the Boilermakers in this one. And despite taking a 10-point lead into half time, Kansas wasn't playing very well in the game. Purdue made them pay for this sloppiness, battling back to take a one point lead with 10 minutes to go in the second half. Kansas regrouped and went on to win 75-61, but the game was closer than that score would indicate and the cold shooting that made it so would ultimately carry over into the Sweet 16 loss to Arizona just six days later.
The third and most recent post season meeting came on March 18, 2012 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Most KU fans will never forget this one. In 2012 Final Four run in which Kansas had to gut out all five wins on the way to a National Runner-Up finish, this Purdue game was the closest they came to ending the party. Kansas was the 2-seed and Purdue the 10 in the Midwest Region.
To fully understand the weight of this game not just for Purdue fans, but for their senior star at the time, Robbie Hummel, you have to go back to the spring of 2010. For the 2009-10 season, Boilermakers Coach Matt Painter returned all five starters from his '09 Sweet Sixteen run, which included three absolute studs and future NBA players JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, and Hummel. The team tied the '94 squad's school best record to start the season, made it as high as #3 in the polls and was barrelling its way toward a Big 10 title and a 1-seed in the '10 NCAA Tournament. They were a legit Final Four and Title contender. Then Hummel tore his ACL with just three games left in the regular season. Without their second leading scorer, Purdue eventually lost to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Feeling like they had unfinished business, Johnson, Moore and Hummel all decided to return to Purdue for the 2010-11 season. In a heartbreaking twist of cruel fate though, Hummel tore his same ACL in practice before the season even started. Once again without Hummel, the '11 Purdue squad's season ended in the second round of the tournament to the same VCU squad that eventually ran through Kansas to the Final Four.
Heading into the 2012 tournament, Hummel was the only star Purdue had left. And after all the hard work that Hummel did to get back onto the court, man did that kid go out swinging. In that second round game against Kansas, Hummel was on fire. Seemingly never leaving the court in 38 minutes of playing time, Hummel shot 70% from the field, including nailing five threes. Kansas found itself just trying to weather the storm.
In the second half though, with Hummel clearly gassed, too often Purdue's offense became pass the ball to Robbie and just stand around and watch what he does. The one man show wasn't sustainable and with Purdue clinging to a 60-59 lead, Boilermaker guard Lewis Jackson had Tyshawn Talor pick his pocket, knocking the ball right to his Jayhawk teammate Elijah Johnson who took it down the court for the lay in and Kansas first lead of the game with 23 seconds left. The 'Hawks held on to win 63-60.
Whatever happens Thursday night, it's clear from the small sample size of Purdue-v-Kansas tournament history that it should be a hell of a contest.