OSIPOFF: Inconsistent Boilers need resume-building win
And then there was one.
Purdue has a single game remaining before the start of Big Ten play, at West Virginia on Sunday. The lone road game of its nonconference schedule.
It’s not a must-win game for the Boilermakers — not with the entirety of the conference slate ahead. But, man, they sure could use it, as they attempt to return to the NCAA Tournament (not the be-all, but a definite focus).
A win against Oklahoma State at the Old Spice Classic would have been enormous for the Boilermakers, if unlikely. A win against Butler at the Crossroads Classic would have been a quality one for them. As it stands, their best win as part of an early-season schedule that didn’t exactly lend itself to an abundance of resume-builders — one obviously can’t read a ton into Tuesday’s rout of Maryland Eastern Shore, for example — has been against Boston College at Mackey Arena in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Matt Painter knows the deal.
“I think we have the guys and the talent to be really good, but we haven’t beat anybody on our schedule that’s going to help us in terms of trying to get an-large bid in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “You win a lot of home games (8-0 record), but you have to be able to go on the road, you have to be able to go to a neutral site (1-3) and win some games. This West Virginia game is a huge game for us.”
So far, Purdue’s whole hasn’t equaled the sum of its parts. It’s not a chemistry issue, but the Boilermakers have the pieces to be better than they’ve shown — more than just flashes. Painter continues to be frustrated by their inconsistency — from game to game, half to half, play to play.
Last season, A.J. Hammons clearly was Purdue’s most valuable asset, something that warranted repeating pretty much every game. This season, it’s not as clear-cut, a credit to the Boilermakers’ upgraded ability level. They still need more from him — that potential is just so tantalizing — as well as from others. But the addition of the freshmen (the energy of Bryson Scott and Basil Smotherman, and the pure shooting of Kendall Stephens) and graduate transfers (both Errick Peck and Sterling Carter had nice games against UMES) has been welcome.
“I think we’re pretty good,” senior guard Terone Johnson said. “We just have a problem with playing full games. I don’t know if it’s the youth or us not keeping our composure at times, but we’ll go certain possessions in a row where we look like a team that can win the Big Ten, and then we’ll go a couple possessions where we look like we’re last in the Big Ten. It’s ridiculous. But if we can take away those lows, and keep the highs up and not get too high off it, we can be really good.”
In interviews with Painter, one often gets the sense he’s speaking more to the players — conveying a message — than to the assembled reporters, hoping his guys will see and hear his comments. Then again, what he says to reporters doesn’t seem much different from what he tells the players anyway, part of his direct approach with them.
“Sometimes as coaches, we want to say that it’s getting better, it just makes us feel better about it,” Painter said. “But that doesn’t help you. People say you have to be positive, or you have to be positive in the media. No, you have to assess your issue and nail it head-on. You have to admit it. You have an issue here, and if you don’t admit it, you’re part of the problem. Our issue is that we have guys that are inconsistent.
“You just have to keep working and you have to keep practicing. You really just continue to harp on the same things. It’s kind of like raising kids.”