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Thursday, July 29, 2010
Summer Buzz: Purdue Boilermakers

By Eamonn Brennan

For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: Purdue. Up next? Butler.

It's the existential basketball question: Can you win a title with stars alone? Or does it require more?

Thanks to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and some other dude, most NBA fans have been asking themselves that question all summer. The consensus answer, long codified in the NBA, is yes: If your stars are that good, it doesn't matter who else fills in.

College basketball isn't quite the same game, of course, and the Purdue trio isn't exactly LeBron-Wade-Bosh, but it's fair to ask a similar question of the 2010-11 Purdue Boilermakers. Will a three-headed monster of Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson be enough to win an NCAA title?

It's also fair to answer with a resounding yes.

Which is not to say the Boilermakers will win the title. Merely that they can. (It's far too early for such bold proclamations. I'm a wimp.) Why? Because Hummel, Moore and Johnson are the rarest of college basketball trios -- a group of seniors with four years of collective experiences, accomplishments and disappointments alike. It's hard to quantify, but that sort of connectedness rarely happens for college basketball teams anymore, and it counts as a major plus. It's like going to college and playing in an open gym with your high school friends against a random pickup team. Even if you're less talented, you have an innate advantage. (You never want to play against that team in open gym. It's the worst.)

Purdue's three stars aren't likely to be the less talented team too often this season. Hummel is a bonafide do-everything wing, Moore is a silky perimeter threat, and Johnson is a consistently underrated presence on both ends of the floor. Together, they subsume a huge percentage of Purdue's offensive possessions, and Purdue coach Matt Painter wouldn't have it any other way.

That's not to say Purdue won't have to make some adjustments from last season's successful-until-the-Hummel-injury campaign. The main challenge for Purdue will be in replacing senior guard Chris Kramer, arguably the best perimeter defender in the country last season. Kramer's defensive contributions -- harassing every Purdue opponent's best player with all-out man defense for 40 minutes and forcing steals at a league-leading rate -- are a big part of why Purdue finished No. 3 overall in adjusted defensive efficiency last season. When Hummel was injured, the Boilermakers' offensive efficiency plummeted. (Remember that Minnesota game? Blech.) It's indicative of just how good Kramer was that the defense didn't face a similar fate.

But weirdly enough, replacing Kramer on defense might be the easiest part of the transition. Sophomore guard Lewis Jackson, who will step into Kramer's shoes, has the chops to approximate some of his former teammate's defensive ability. Painter will also look for Kelsey Barlow, freshman Terone Johnson, and 6-foot-8 sophomore Patrick Bade to fill Kramer's crater-sized shoes.

It's on offense that Kramer made his most underrated plays: Believe it or not, Kramer took the highest percentage of shots (62.4 percent) of any Purdue player in 2009-10, and his effective field goal percentage (58.5 percent) made him one of the more efficient scorers on the team. Jackson's eFG percentage in 2009-10 was, by contrast, 35.0 percent. It remains to be seen whether any of Purdue's newcomers or sophomores can do much better.

Still, there are reasons to be bullish about the Boilermakers, and they're not hard to find. Hummel, Moore, and Johnson are this team's core. They take the majority of its possessions -- that figure should increase in 2010-11 -- make the majority of the big plays, and they're as experienced as any group in the country. There's no reason, save maybe for Kramer's absence, to expect anything different in 2010-11.

Can three stars win you a national championship? Sure. Can they win Purdue one? We're about to find out.