Does the Big Ten season mean it's time for Purdue to go big?
Perhaps. Rebounding is even more of a priority now that conference play begins with Tuesday night's opener at Michigan, and size can help.
“Our ability to rebound will be very important for our success,” said coach Matt Painter. “I hope we continue to make improvement in that area. We have to get better each game so it's a strength of ours.”
It's not a strength now. Purdue ranks eighth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, at plus-3.6, well behind Wisconsin's conference-leading 7.6 average.
Much of that is because Painter has used smaller lineups. Big men Patrick Bade, Sandi Marcius and Travis Carroll have played the least among scholarship players, none averaging more than 8.7 minutes.
Why? Production, winning and matchups. Many of Purdue's non-conference opponents lacked size, forcing Painter to go smaller to match up. Other Boilers have done more, although Carroll is helping himself with his passing, Marcius with his rebounding.
“Sandi always rebounds for us,” Painter said. “That's what we're going to need as we play more people with size.”
As for Bade, who started three early games, “He's got to be more productive than the other guys I mentioned,” Painter said. “If he does, he'll be back out there.”
The Boilers are 11-1 and ranked 14th. They wanted more, forward JaJuan Johnson said.
“We wanted to be undefeated, but this is the second-best thing. We have to continue to get better. There's a lot of room for improvement during the Big Ten season.”
Purdue is 44-16 against Big Ten competition in the last three years. In 2009 it won the Big Ten tourney title. Last season it was the conference tri-champion along with Michigan State and Ohio State.
Painter gave the players Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off for Christmas break. They returned for practice Saturday night.
The Big Ten is where the loss of all-conference forward Rob Hummel is likely to be most felt, but Painter said that's not the only loss for the Boilers.
“We lost Keaton Grant and he was good,” Painter said. “We lost Chris Kramer and he wasn't bad.
“Last year we played the last seven to eight games without Rob. The year before we played four games without him. We've been here before.
“Rob always stretched the defense. Not every guy who plays does that. We have to be a little more patient.”
Third-leading scorer John Hart is out for at least a couple more weeks while recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right foot.
“Without John the other guys have more opportunity,” Painter said. “Be careful what you ask for. Now you have to step up. That's what they came here for. We have to step up as a team.”
Michigan (10-2) has won seven straight games since losing consecutive contests to Syracuse and Texas-El Paso. It's 9-0 at home.
Under coach John Beilein the Wolverines have continued their three-point shooting preference. They average 24.3 three-point attempts a game. They made a school-record 16 in last week's victory over Bryant.
Guard Darius Morris runs the show. He averages 15.8 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 53.3 percent from the field. He had 26 points and 12 assists against Bryant.
Another guard, Tim Hardaway Jr., averages 11.8 points. Michigan relies on a seven-player rotation.