|Robbie Hummel :: Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI
There are reasons to be concerned about Purdue's prospects this season. Gone are two of the best players in the program's history, first-team All-America center JaJuan Johnson and All-Big Ten guard E'Twaun Moore, who combined for 53 percent of the Boilermakers' scoring, 39 percent of the rebounding and 69 percent of the blocked shots last season. And Purdue's best player is recovering from back-to-back ACL surgeries on the same knee.
But coach Matt Painter believes in this group. He's comfortable and confident with the pieces he's assembled, even if he needs some underclassmen to perform immediately.
Purdue's success will hinge largely on fifth-year senior Robbie Hummel, who hasn't played a game since February 2010. Hummel not only feels great but also believes he can be just as good as he was before a pair of knee surgeries. And he was mighty impressive back then -- averaging 16 points and seven rebounds and garnering Big Ten Player of the Year attention before getting hurt as a junior.
"I said it last year with E'Twaun and JaJuan -- any time you have an All-America-caliber player, it's a good place to start," Painter says. "Rob's a good place to start. Anybody that goes through the ACL surgery he has, you have that mental hurdle. Now, he's been through two. But if anybody can do it, he can."
The rest of the primary options in the frontcourt are mostly inexperienced, with a pair of sophomores at center (Travis Carroll, Sandi Marcius) and freshmen at the other forward spot (Donnie Hale, Jacob Lawson).
In the backcourt, the Boilermakers will rely on tenacious defender Lewis Jackson. The senior puts the full court pressure on opposing guards and uses his quick step to beat defenders to the rim.
Backup point guard Kelsey Barlow, a 6-foot-5 junior, can be special. But too often in his young career Barlow hasn't consistently played to his potential. Still, Barlow has the ability to dominate defensively with his length and athleticism, and on offense, he has the ability to set up his teammates or take the ball to the basket.
Sophomore Terone Johnson and senior Ryne Smith could also both emerge as scorers. Johnson has the tools but needs to be more consistent as a three-point shooter and decision-maker, while Smith can evolve into more than just a three-point specialist.
There are concerns -- inexperience in the frontcourt, lack of proven scoring and rebounding. But few programs play the type of defense Purdue does -- a tough, gritty, pressure full-court man-to-man -- and the Boilermakers rarely beat themselves. With solid leadership and a healthy Hummel, that could be enough for Purdue to make a sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Neal Beshears (F, Fr.): Will struggle to find playing time.
Donnie Hale (F, Fr.): Spent last year getting seasoned in prep school; is a shot-blocker and solid rebounder.
Anthony Johnson (G, Fr.): Redshirted last season.
Jacob Lawson (F, Fr.): High-energy player but is coming off surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.