In consecutive seasons, Boiler Nation thought it had visions of the Final Fours dancing in their heads...only to have their hearts ripped out.
Things are different this year. Expectations from the outside world are down. It could be Purdue that sneaks up on the unsuspecting giant in 2011-12.
Any personnel discussion of the Boilers 2011-12 campaign begins and ends with one player; Robbie Hummel.
It's not that Hummel is all Purdue has to work with. There are other weapons. The fifth-year senior returning on a twice surgically-repaired knee is just the biggest, most beloved and possibly most fragile gun in the cabinet.
Few in the basketball community, even rivals, want to see the Valparaiso, Ind. native do anything but succeed. And word is Hummel has looked good in early practices. Assuming he stays healthy, all indications are that the two-time All Big Ten forward will again play at a very high level.
The biggest question mark on this squad is probably scoring. Losing E'Twaun Moore (18 ppg) and JaJuan Johnson (20.5 ppg) leaves a gaping hole in the offense. Aside from Hummel, guards Ryne Smith and Lewis Jackson will be expected help alleviate that problem. But the team as a whole will have to contribute more offensively.
Defense is always a major focus of coach Matt Painter and he has said this season's Boilermakers could very good on the opposing end of the court.
This year's jack of all trades will be 6-5 junior D.J. Byrd. He'll be expected to play at least four positions at some point on both ends of the floor.
Kelsey Barlow is back after off-court issues led to his suspension from the 2011 NCAA tournament. Barlow will be the first guard off the bench and needs to get to the bucket and make things happen offensively. Redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson will also play a significant role in the front court. He's a former four-star recruit out of the basketball factory that is Whitney Young in Chicago who can reportedly shoot the lights out. Terone Johnson and John Hart will also figure into the mix once they fully recover from injuries.
Travis Carrol and Sandi Marcius return down low. One of the two 6-9 sophomores will probably have to start early. Carroll's jumper and motor improved as last year went on while Marcius (pronounced Mar-Chew-Ch) seemed to see less playing time as the games became more important.
A pair of newcomers --Donnie Hale and Jacob Lawson-- will help out on the block. Hale, a 6-8 New Albany, Ind. native, spent a year at Bridgton Academy refining his skills. He's a lefty whose defensive game is ahead of his offensive one. Lawson is the more talented of the two and could see major minutes by season's end.
Purdue is dealing with several health issues right now. Jackson is nursing a foot injury but is practicing. Terone Johnson went under the knife for a torn meniscus during the offseason and redshirt junior Hart is dealing with a fracture in his foot and may miss some time.
Overall, the Boilers are a team that could surprise some people. If Hummel can play like his old self and others improve in key areas, this could be a darkhorse conference champion candidate.