While we're in this countdown until May 8th everyone is on edge. We all know that we're on the short list of National Championship contenders if JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore both come back. We know that Michigan State is already on that list with a dynamite recruiting class and the return of Durrell Summers. We know Duke is on that list because, well, they are the defending champs until someone physically takes it from them. Kyle Singler's return will help that. I feel like We'd be robbing the Big Ten of a pair of epic regular season games against Michigan State if both JJ and Smooge don't come back. Getting both means the potential of four #1 vs. #2 games involving Purdue next year. That's a pair of regular season games against the Spartans, a trip to Durham to face the Blue Devils, and a rubber match with Michigan State at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.
That is pretty far away, however. We now have to wait until May 8th (hopefully sooner) to find out about JJ and E'Twaun. The Purdue Basketball Blog published a report this morning that JJ might be leaning toward the NBA, but that is speculation at this point. As for the man himself, we only have his latest Tweet of "No words an describe how I feel this morning...". For E'Twaun, things are even more silent. He hasn't said much since his decision to declare, so no one really know where his head is.
That brings me to the point of today's update. What if we could only get one back? With JJ, we'd be getting a proven post player that can cause all kinds of matchup problems. With E' Twaun, we'd be getting a proven assassin of a scorer. I have vacillated on which one I would want to come back the most, so here is the brief case for both.
The case for JaJuan
In college basketball, it is all about matchups. Yes, E'Twaun is a versatile slashing guard that has a knack for getting us a bucket when we absolutely need it, but we have a ton of guards right now. Anthony Johnson and Terone Johnson are very similar players to E'Twaun. When I saw Terone Johnson this past season I was impressed with his strength. He has broader shoulders than E'Twaun and seems more ready to handle the physical nature of the Big Ten. He also had a 30 point game while physically going up against Travis Carroll on both ends of the floor. What is not to like about that? I don't think he is quite there with his jumper like E'Twaun, but he is close. I haven't seen much of Anthony Johnson, but I have been told he is a scorer as well. Losing E'Twaun would hurt, but we have two guys coming in that could replace him.
Keeping JJ, however, allows us to exploit matchups against any team in the country. Let's just say for a moment that he returns, but E'Twaun goes. This is probably the least likely scenario right now, but it is still possible. Just imagine the lineups we can throw out there. We can go Carroll/Marcius at the five, JJ at the four to punish power forwards by venturing outside, and Robbie at the three to destroy opposing small forwards. We also get the added bonus of Donnie Hale, who would not have to go the prep school route because we'd have a scholarship open. We can also go with our traditional smaller 3 guard lineup of JJ, Robbie, LewJack, AJ/TJ, and a third guard in the vein of Ryne Smith (for 3-point shooting), John Hart, Kelsey Barlow, or the other half of the AJ/TJ combo. Don't forget D.J. Byrd, either. He can change the look of our lineup either as a third guard and 3-point shooter or as a small forward that scraps and drives. He has the potential to be Kramer 2.0. Finally, there is Bubba Day. Allegedly, the dude can fill it up from long range. Is there anything wrong with him playing a Bobby Buckets 3-point specialist role in this offense?
While we would miss E'Twaun's proven ability as "The Red Button" we would gain a versatility hat we have never had under coach Painter. He has never had a deep enough front line to play with multiple lineups and styles. In 2007 we had Carl Landry and that was it. In 20087 we had an inexperienced frontcourt of JJ and Nemanja Calasan along with Hummel. In 2009 JJ came into his own and Chally was a solid contributor off the bench, but we still had no depth. Then there was this season with an inexperienced Bade, JJ, and Hummel. I almost don't view Hummel as a front line guy because he moves so fluidly between the frontcourt and backcourt. With JJ back, we have two seniors (Hummel and JJ), a sophomore (Bade), and three freshmen (Marcius, Hale, and Carroll) that are 6'8" or better. Best of all, Hale is a Hummel-type to provide depth there. We'd essentially be doubling our low post depth in one season.
Also, JJ has been a bit of an assassin himself. Just look at the game against Ohio State in Columbus. He scored nearly every big basket we needed in that game. Just imagine what he can do when he is in a role where he is not the sole low post threat we have.
The case for E'Twaun
While it would be great to shift lineups like that, I don't think you can underestimate the value of having an experienced scorer that fully grasps The Moment. Yes, the AJ/TJ combo coming in has a bunch of talent, but do they have E'Twaun's intangible sense of being able to score when we absolutely need it? The best example was the end of the MSU game in East Lansing. We had let a big lead get down to three, there were four minutes left, and the crowd was going nuts. What did E'Twaun do? He delivered a huge three, had a nice inside dish to Robbie, then scored on a drive. This was over the span of three consecutive possessions and he effectively murdered one of the best crowds in college basketball single-handedly.
Some people might worry about how we are going to play against good teams without JJ, but we already know how to play. Think back to the Tennessee game in the Paradise Jam. We had No JJ in that game because of foul trouble and we made it through just fine. This team has had to figure out ways to win games without a variety of key players. Given that we will still have more low post depth than we have ever had under Painter even without JJ we can figure it out.
Remember, with no JJ and a return of E'Twaun we still get Donnie Hale. This might possibly help us a little because we would then have a more traditional banging center with Carroll/Marcius. We can still do some matchup things with Carroll/Marcius at the five and maybe Bade/Marcius/Hale at the four to move Robbie out to the three. It is far from perfect, but it still showcases our versatility.
So you've seen the evidence. We're still going to be a very good team as long as we get one back, and we might even still be a Final Four threat. The only way to settle this is the following scientific poll: