JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore played such an enormous role in the Purdue Boilermakers' success last season that replacing their production will be a huge challenge for Matt Painter, who nearly bolted for Missouri this offseason. The return of Robbie Hummel will certainly help, but does Purdue have enough pieces around the returning senior?
You couldn't help but feel terrible last year when Hummel suffered a second torn ACL in nine months. The first cost him the end of his junior season, while the second happened last October during Purdue's second practice. Hummel's return will provide a huge boost in leadership and scoring, but I am definitely skeptical of whether or not he can return to his old form and play at the high level we are used to seeing.
The only returning frontcourt player to see significant minutes last year is D.J. Byrd who is physical and can shoot the ball from the outside, but incredibly under-sized at 6-5. Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll played sparingly last season, combining to average just 2.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, and .4 blocked shots per game. Now as sophomores, they will battle for minutes in the middle and will be lucky to combine for half of the production Johnson accounted for a season ago.
Freshmen Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson will try to provide some depth off the bench. Hale has a game similar to Hummel; a taller forward, versatile, and can shoot it from the outside. Lawson is more suited to play on the inside and will be a factor early in his career because of his rebounding and shot blocking since his offensive game is still raw.
As big as the loss of Johnson is to the frontcourt, Moore's absence will be felt in the backcourt. Lewis Jackson returns to run the point. He is a solid defender and passer but not much of a shooter. Ryne Smith will have to increase his scoring load and become more than just a three-point assassin; an area where he excelled last season as he connected on 44.1% of his three-point attempts.
I expected Kelsey Barlow to take a bigger step than he did last season, but his development from his freshman year was somewhat disappointing. Terone Johnson was a solid contributor and John Hart saw decent minutes off the bench. All three guards will take on larger roles this season while redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson will try to work his way into the rotation.
Purdue has not finished worse than second in the Big Ten the past four seasons as Painter has found a way to maximize his team's potential. Expectations will be lessened in 2011-2012 as the Boilermakers try to fill the void left behind by Johnson and Moore. If Hummel does not return to his old form, Purdue could be in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years. But if Painter once again works his magic, expect the Boilers to be dancing.
Player to Watch: Kelsey Barlow, G
At 6-5, Barlow has a unique skill set for a bigger guard. He can play the point, handle the rock, and cause problems on defense due to his length. Barlow still struggles with his outside shot and has yet to truly look comfortable at Purdue, but could be an X-factor for the Boilermakers this season if he starts to figure it out.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17 vs. Iona (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/18 vs. Temple/Western Michigan (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)
11/20 vs. Alabama/Maryland/Wichita State/Colorado (Puerto Rico Tip-Off)