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Jeff Eisenberg

With Johnson and Moore back, Purdue is a Final Four threat

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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It's impossible to win a national championship in May, but Purdue has positioned itself to contend for one.

Stars E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson flirted with the notion of remaining in the NBA draft right up until Saturday's 5 p.m. deadline, but both juniors ultimately decided to return to school and make a run at the Final Four berth that has eluded them thus far. The springy 6-foot-10 Johnson would likely have been a second-round pick, while Moore probably would have gone undrafted.

If Kyle Singler's decision to return to Duke made the Blue Devils a near-certainty for the top spot in the preseason polls, getting both Johnson and Moore back should put Purdue in the top five at the very least. Purdue will have its vaunted "Big Three" of Johnson, Moore and Robbie Hummel back intact, point guard Lewis Jackson returning from injury and a talented recruiting class set to provide depth.

The Boilermakers were deprived of the chance to make a legitimate run at the Final Four this past season by Hummel's season-ending knee injury in February, but they'll lose only defensive-minded guards Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer off that squad. Moore's playmaking and leadership at point guard would have been difficult to replace but it would have been nearly impossible to fill the production of Johnson, the lone shot-blocker or interior scorer on the roster.

The return of Johnson and Moore pushes Purdue to the forefront of the national picture next season, but it doesn't necessarily make the Boilers the favorite in their own conference. That honor may still belong to Michigan State, which returns all but Raymar Morgan from a team that's gone to back-to-back Final Fours.

With Demetri McCamey and Mike Davis returning to Illinois and Ohio State adding a strong recruiting class to the complementary players who supported Evan Turner, the top of the Big Ten should be as strong as any conference in the nation next year.

Four preseason top 20 teams from the Big Ten next year with Wisconsin and Minnesota not far behind? Don't bet against it.

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