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OSIPOFF: Boilers haven’t made much progress since start of season

Purdue head coach Matt Painter reacts toward an official after foul call early first half an NCAA college basketball game

Purdue head coach Matt Painter reacts toward an official after a foul call early in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, in West Lafayette, Ind. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

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Updated: March 3, 2014 4:33PM



What’s that expression? Something about, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse?

That’s the position in which Purdue seemingly exists at the moment. The Boilermakers aren’t necessarily trending downward, but they aren’t trending upward either. They’re just sort of trudging onward.

And there’s been a palpable sense of frustration for them.

“If you have the same mistake in January that you had in November, that might be who you are,” coach Matt Painter said earlier this week. “Or maybe you don’t quite realize what’s going on, you’re young. If you have the same mistake you’re making as a freshman as a sophomore, and you’re getting into conference play, that could be a stronger statement of who you are. During your career if it keeps happening, then it is who you are. So it’s really important as a player that you evolve.”

And, collectively, the Boilermakers really haven’t done it so far this season. The themes have been recurring.

Shot selection (probably above all). Positional defense. Taking care of the ball.

Now, granted, these might be traditional staples of the Purdue program (and probably of fundamentally sound basketball in general). But they resonate more deeply with this team.

“We’re trying our best as a staff to get them to understand what wins basketball games — it’s sacrificing and playing roles and sharing the basketball,” Painter said.

There’s still time for these Boilermakers to grasp these (seemingly basic) ideas, to make those improvements. But it’s not unlimited.

And what’s more disturbing for them, the vibe and the buzzwords — just add one or two more uses of “maturity” — are starting to become eerily reminiscent of, gulp, last season.

“They all need to sit and watch when you struggle, but of course you can’t do that,” Painter said. “It’s the best learning tool for anybody. I try to stay with guys for the most part until they really force your hand; I’ve always been that way as a coach. But I do deviate from that at times when I think the bigger picture gets served a lot better, because we’re making the same mistake.”

Last season, Painter often spoke about wanting to have the team’s young players (freshmen, mostly) observe from the bench, but couldn’t because of a lack of alternatives, meaning they had to play through their growing pains. This season, the Boilermakers seemingly have depth, but …

“I’d like to see our guys play better so I know who the hell to play,” Painter said. “We have a lot of guys that are similar, and we haven’t really had guys separate themselves. I like all of them, but when you get into those positions and you have guys breaking down on defense, you’re trying to go with somebody else.”

If a .500 record in the Big Ten isn’t going to suffice for Purdue to return to that happy place of the NCAA Tournament, it has its work cut out. On paper, with their challenging remaining schedule, the Boilermakers very well could finish in the neighborhood of 8-10. If they play to their potential, they have a chance to surpass such a mark, with opportunities for significant wins.

Is there time for them to realize it? Yes. But not as much as before.

“If your issues in November are the same issues in January, it’s probably who you are at that time,” Painter had said after the loss to Wisconsin. “That’s coaching, and that’s a difficult thing. … But as a coach, you keep working and keep talking, and hope that light goes on at some point and they get it.”



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