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The Starting Five: Five Questions For Hammer And Rails On Purdue

Five questions and five answers with TMill of Hammer and Rails on Michigan's matchup against Purdue Thursday.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue was under .500 in both the overall record and the Big Ten record last year, but only lost one contributor from that team. Given the wealth of returning players and a solid freshman class, what were the expectations for Purdue coming into the season, and how do you feel about the team now that we are somewhere past the midpoint?

The expectation is what it should be every year for a program like Purdue every season: at least make the NCAA Tournament. Purdue has evolved to where it should be a regular tournament team, so every season hat is not a tournament season should be a viewed as a failure.

Purdue lost more than D.J. Byrd, however. There were four transfers out as Sandi Marcius (DePaul), Jacob Lawson (Appalachian State), Anthony Johnson (Northern Illinois), and Donnie Hale (Bellarmine) all left the program and were expected to be contributors this year. We gained a pair of 5th year transfers in Sterling Carter and Errick Peck, but overall there were a lot of moving parts and there has been a lack of consistency.

If you go by experience with the 5th year guys and star rankings of the younger players Purdue should be far better. On paper the roster has more talent than the famous Baby Boilers, but they lack any sort of consistency. They look great at times as if they can beat anyone, then look awful and capable of losing to Northern Kentucky, a team that is a provisional DI member and we were luckyo beat in the opener.

How does the all Johnson back court of Ronnie and Terone look so far this year? Both have much better offensive ratings than last year and are playing the largest share of minutes on the team. Finally, will Terone Johnson guard Nik Stauskas, and how do you see that matchup going?

The all-Johnson backcourt is a point of contention because Purdue rises and falls with them. When they are good, Purdue looks great. When they are off, Purdue looks pretty terrible and things like the Northwestern game happen. I feel like we rely on them too much to the point where other guys defer to them even when they struggle.

As for TJ on Stauskas, I don't trust Purdue defensively at all. We're a long way away from being able to play lockdown defense on anyone. There is just no edge with this team. There is no pride in playing Purdue-style basketball that we have been known for since Gene Keady started.

Purdue has a deep rotation with nine players getting 40% or more of available minutes and a 10th over 30%. Four of these players are freshmen. How has this year's freshman class performed so far, and which freshman should Michigan fans should know about before the game?

The freshmen are very promising. Jay Simpson is a redshirt that played a handful of games last season before shutting it down due to injury. Bryson Scott is one of the top scorers in Indiana high school history, but has really struggled of late. Kendall Stephens is a sharpshooter that is the son of former Purdue great Everette Stephens and serves in the "hit some wide open threes" role that suits him. Basil Smotherman has been a pleasant surprise as a dirty work player and the personification of how hard Purdue players should play. He is long, athletic, capable of making a ridiculous dunk at any time, and does a lot of good work around the basket.

They are promising and players that seem to have the right attitude. I hope it is infectious.

AJ Hammons has a size advantage over Michigan's two options at the five and he has had a strong season as a shot blocker and rebounder for Purdue. What do you expect from Hammons against Michigan's front court?

Your guess is as good as mine. He can play like the most physically dominant player in the Big Ten or he can play like a ghost. He can also play anywhere in between. He has had games where no one can stop him and he has had two games this year where he did not even attempt a field goal. No one except A.J. knows which player will show up.

What do you think the three keys to a Purdue upset on Thursday are, and what are your predictions for how the game plays out?

Good Purdue has to show up. It really is that simple. If Purdue plays to its abilities it can win. If inconsistent, free-throw-missing, Johnsons-play-hero-ball Purdue shows up Michigan wins easily.