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Purdue looks to emulate MSU model

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Tom Izzo didn't want to make the all-important quest for Ford Field and the Final Four in Detroit too public.

As soon as the NCAA men's basketball committee chose the location for last season's Final Four, it was understood that Michigan State would covet a berth at home. But Izzo didn't talk about the pressure to get to Motown until the tournament was at hand.

The Spartans weren't a favorite to land in Detroit when the bracket was announced, especially since they were in the same region as No. 1 overall seed Louisville, the hottest team in the field after winning the Big East regular-season and conference-tournament titles.

But securing a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region put the Spartans in an advantageous position to at least reach the Elite Eight matchup with the Cardinals. MSU beat Louisville and then took out Connecticut in a dream scenario for organizers, as a wave of green covered downtown Detroit and helped fill the stadium with a record 72,000-plus fans.

The NCAA won't need a hometown team to fill Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis, a basketball-crazed city. But that isn't stopping one team from focusing on pulling off a feat like Michigan State's.

Purdue, located in West Lafayette, 65 miles northwest of Indy, would like nothing more than to be the home team at the 2010 Final Four.

It's possible. It's plausible. But the Boilermakers are savvy enough to know they must be in position to get a high seed and make it happen.

The Boilers were a No. 5 last March when they reached the Sweet 16 and lost to top-seeded Connecticut in the West. The reason for the lower seed had a lot to do with Purdue's inability to get close to Michigan State in the Big Ten standings. Purdue was 11-7 in league play last season, tied with Illinois for second, four games behind Michigan State.

"It has been discussed,'' Purdue junior forward Robbie Hummel said of the quest to be the home team in Indianapolis. "We're taking the same approach Michigan State did.''

Purdue coach Matt Painter took note of the way Izzo handled the desire to be in a nearby Final Four. The Spartans, who will once again be the Big Ten favorite, tried to keep the focus on the Big Ten title first and then they took dead-aim at Detroit.

Where Do The Boilers Rank?

In Andy Katz's latest Top 25 for the 2009-2010 season, both Purdue and Michigan State are ranked among the six best teams in the country. See the complete rankings.

"We've got to keep things in order,'' Painter said. "We still haven't won the Big Ten [with the current group]. We have been second the last two years and we've got to try to win the league first. Anytime you win the Big Ten you put yourself in a better position. It's not going to guarantee it, but we've got to do it to put ourselves in a position to help ourselves."

The pursuit of Indy began last month in Colorado Springs. Hummel and JaJuan Johnson, two of Purdue's anchors along with fellow junior E'Twaun Moore (the team's top three scorers last season), were trying out for the World University Games team.

Hummel made the squad. Johnson didn't. But don't read too much into that decision. Johnson was caught up in a numbers game inside with Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, Clemson's Trevor Booker and North Carolina's Deon Thompson as the primary front-line defenders for Wisconsin/Team USA coach Bo Ryan.

Hummel was the perfect fit for Ryan. He could play a variety of positions, and could even bring up the ball if need be. Ryan needed a rugged Hummel, a healthy one -- something Painter didn't get last season. Hummel's back injury forced him to miss five games, and limited his minutes, and, at times, his aggressiveness in the games he did play. He didn't practice much last season, either.

Hummel said he got the conditioning back in late spring that he lacked during the season. His numbers were understandably stable from freshman to sophomore season, from 11.4 to 12.5 points and 6.1 to 7.0 rebounds a game, respectively. Normally there would be much more of a jump from freshman to sophomore season, but the back injury prevented him from making more of a leap. He simply couldn't work on his skill development during the season like he could this summer.

"Last season was very tough, and in January and February, that was the hardest thing I had to go through in basketball, sitting out,'' Hummel said. "You don't realize how much the back does for you.''

Hummel didn't want it to affect his style of play and his desire to dive on the floor for loose balls.

Through the first four games of the WUG event in Belgrade, Hummel was a role player, averaging six points and 4.8 boards. But he was mobile and that's what is imperative for Purdue.

"It makes a big difference for our team,'' Johnson said. "He gives us that added dimension of inside and outside scoring. You can't lose a guy who can be a double-double player like that. It's going to hurt you."

The Boilermakers were the sleeper team in the Big Ten two seasons ago, when the freshmen-led squad finished second in the Big Ten and won road games at Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

"That's what surprised me, that the freshmen won those road games in those type of atmospheres in Champaign and Madison,'' said Painter, who was in Colorado Springs, preparing to be an assistant to Pitt's Jamie Dixon on the Under-19 U.S. team competing in New Zealand.

Johnson improved his production dramatically from freshman to sophomore year, going from 5.4 to 13.4 points and 3.1 to 5.6 rebounds. And Moore, an Indiana native like Hummel and Johnson, has steadily improved from 12.9 to 13.8 points and 3.9 to 4.6 rebounds.

The Boilers, who will be one of the three featured teams at November's Paradise Jam in St. Thomas (along with Tennessee and Boston College), should be a Top-10 team all season. If they can stay on Michigan State's heels or even beat the Spartans for the Big Ten title, they can be in prime position to make the Indy run -- perhaps earning a chance to play in the Midwest Regional in St. Louis, an easily drivable distance for Purdue fans.

But the bottom line is still this: A healthy Hummel is critical to any Purdue discussion of being a Final Four contender, regardless of the Boilermakers' proximity.

"If you look at the Final Four teams, they're usually led by seniors or more mature teams that have played a bunch of games,'' Hummel said. "We've all been there. We've all played in the tournament. We can be that team this year.''

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.