Indiana vs. Purdue: Contrasting the Squads' Starting Lineups
After three straight seasons of dominance in this rivalry between in-state rivals, the Boilermakers fell to the Hoosiers in both matchups during the 2011-12 season. Based on preseason expectations for both teams, another season sweep is more than possible this coming year.
Indiana is not only the favorite to win the Big Ten, but possibly the national championship as well. Purdue, on the other hand, lost three key seniors from last year's team, but still has enough returning talent to compete in the Big Ten.
This rivalry is always a heated one where the underdog always has a chance to win because there is so much on the line. While these starting lineups are simply projections, these appear to be both the best returning and incoming players on both team's rosters.
Some of these matchups were easy to pick, while others took some more thought because they could go either way. At the end of the day, the Hoosiers will likely be the better team, but that doesn't mean the Boilermakers are going to lay down for them by any means.
Center: Cody Zeller vs. AJ Hammons
As a freshman in 2011-12, Zeller averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds and was awarded with the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year award. Although he is projected as a future lottery pick in the NBA, Zeller decided to come back to Bloomington for his sophomore season.
Zeller could be one of the top players both in the Big Ten and the entire nation this upcoming season. He is the Hoosiers' only true low-post presence, is efficient on the offensive end of the court and is underrated as a defender.
Hammons comes into West Lafayette as a 4-star recruit from Oak Hill Academy, although he is originally from Carmel, Ind. At 7'0" and 275 pounds, Hammons provides the size that Purdue is in desperate need of.
Hammons did not post gaudy numbers in high school because he was surrounded by other star players and won't be expected to become a big scorer immediately. He will, however, need to rebound and guard opposing team's big men.
While Hammons has the size and potential to become a good big man in the Big Ten, Zeller is already the top of the line in that category. Hammons will have competition from returning Purdue big men, all who have struggled in the past.
Edge: Indiana (Zeller)
Power Forward: Christian Watford vs. DJ Byrd
Watford had yet another solid season as a junior, averaging 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds. While his scoring average was over three points lower as a junior than as a sophomore, Watford shot almost 44 percent from long range.
Watford will forever be remembered for his last-second three-pointer over Kentucky, but he did have some inconsistent play during the middle of the Big Ten season. Watford has the ability to score on the inside and outside, but needs to improve defensively.
While Byrd is quite undersized to be playing the power forward position, coach Matt Painter might not have a choice this year. Byrd played some power forward last season, usually when the Boilermakers went small and slotted Robbie Hummel at center.
Byrd only averaged 8.9 points as a junior, but scored in double figures in 11 of the final 13 games last year and became the team's second option offensively. Byrd shot 43 percent from long range, but is also a scrappy defender who can guard taller players.
While Byrd could be Purdue's best player as a senior, Watford has proven enough during his first three collegiate seasons to get the edge here. Watford has a four-inch height advantage in this matchup, although Byrd weighs 10 pounds more.
Edge: Indiana (Watford)
Small Forward: Victor Oladipo vs. Anthony Johnson
Oladipo broke out as a sophomore, but still has room to improve in preparation for his junior year. Oladipo averaged 10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and two assists last year and was also selected to the Big Ten's All-Defensive Team.
Oladipo is a slasher, although he still misses too many layups. He is an incredible athlete with a great motor, but can play out of control at times. Although he is a natural shooting guard, he should see time at both positions this year.
After redshirting in 2010-11, Johnson saw a decent amount of playing time last year as a redshirt freshman. He averaged 5.4 points and 2.1 rebounds and scored 10 points in Purdue's NCAA Tournament win over St. Mary's.
Johnson is 6'3", but only weighs 179 pounds and needs to add on some muscle to play in the tough Big Ten. If Purdue decides to go with a taller starting lineup, unlike the one I'm projecting here, don't be surprised to see Johnson be the odd man out.
While Johnson showed signs of potential last year, Oladipo broke out and has established himself as a force in this league. Oladipo has the edge on both offense and defense, making this pick a fairly easy one.
Edge: Indiana (Oladipo)
Shooting Guard: Jordan Hulls vs. Terone Johnson
After starting at point guard as a junior, Hulls could make the move over to the other guard position this season. A 49.3 percent three-point shooter in 2011-12, Hulls averaged 11.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists.
Hulls is not a good defender, so the move over to shooting guard could hurt him defensively. He is only 6'0", so he is undersized for a shooting guard. He is not a great ball-handler, though, so moving to a position that could allow him to get more shots off could be for the best.
Terone, the second Johnson highlighted for Purdue, averaged 9.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and two assists as a sophomore. He only became a starter for the team in late January, however. Johnson scored in double figures in the last eight games a year ago.
While Johnson is not known for his shooting, he does have the ability to score cutting to the hoop. He does need to improve his free-throw shooting. He only converted on 43.5 percent of his attempts last year.
While this choice could receive some negative feedback from Hoosiers fans, I am going to give Johnson the edge here. These two players play very differently, although Johnson certainly has the size advantage over Hulls.
Also, Hulls' playing time could be hurt by Yogi Ferrell and other freshmen. Johnson has the luxury of having his younger brother beside him as his point guard.
Edge: Purdue (Johnson)
Point Guard: Yogi Ferrell vs. Ronnie Johnson
Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell comes to Bloomington after a stellar prep career at Park Tudor School. He is rated as the top recruit in the Hoosiers' stellar 2012 recruiting class and could have the most instant impact of those his age.
Ferrell only stands 5'10" and weighs 160 pounds, but he has the quickness to blow by other point guards and is an outstanding passer. He shouldn't be expected to score in bunches as a freshman, especially because of how many other scorers IU already has.
Ronnie Johnson, the younger brother of Terone, played at North Central High School in Indianapolis last season. Like Ferrell, he is small at 5'10" and 160 pounds, making this matchup an intriguing one. Johnson also comes to Purdue as part of a deep recruiting class.
Johnson will be needed to play from day one, as the Boilermakers lost a four-year starter in Lewis Jackson after the completion of last season. Johnson is left-handed and should be capable of playing as Matt Painter's floor general.
While neither of these two have played a collegiate game to this point, Ferrell has landed at higher spots in every recruiting list than Johnson has. While I could actually see Johnson having a bigger immediate impact, I think Ferrell was rated that highly for a reason.
Edge: Indiana (Ferrell)
Based on these projections, Indiana gets a 4-1 edge within the starting lineups. The Hoosiers also have a deeper bench than the Boilermakers do. Despite this, I believe Purdue could be competitive with IU, especially when the two teams match up in West Lafayette.
While Tom Crean may be the better recruiter of these two coaches, Matt Painter is a better in-game coach who always gets the most out of his players. Purdue does lack the offensive firepower they had the past few years though, with JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel.
Indiana is favored to win the Big Ten for a reason, and I believe they will sneak out of league play just above Michigan to take home the league crown. Purdue could very well finish in the bottom half of the conference, although the last time that happened was in 2006 (Painter's first season there).
I always seem to underestimate Purdue and could see them finishing anywhere between sixth and ninth in the league. While this could be a down year for them, expect good things for them in the future if Painter can continue to bring in strong recruiting classes.
The Hoosiers could contend for a national title this year, although I don't think they will end up getting it done. If Zeller and the rest of the underclassmen come back following this season, I could definitely see IU winning one in the near future, though.