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COLUMN

Is Purdue now a NCAA tourney lock?

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Tipoff: Penn State at Purdue, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday
RADIO: 1250-AM
TV: BTN

Online: For more on Purdue athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

Boilers peaking at the right time

Monday, February 27, 2012 - 5:24 am

To understand if Purdue is finally -- finally! -- a NCAA tourney lock, consider this selection committee guideline courtesy of selection chairman Jeff Hathaway:

Who did you play?

Where did you play?

How did you do?

Then consider on Saturday night Purdue went to No. 11 Michigan, which had won four straight and owned a 15-0 home court record this season. Wisconsin had gone to Crisler Arena and gotten hammered. Michigan State, Ohio State and Indiana had lost there.

Those four top-25 teams, by the way, are a combined 5-0 against Purdue this season.

The Boilers' tough-minded 75-61 victory over the Wolverines ended the no-wins-over-a-ranked-team albatross that marred their NCAA tourney resume. That makes them 19-10 overall and 9-7 in the Big Ten.

Is that enough? It is for senior guard Lewis Jackson, and if he has a little bias, well, do you blame him?

“People kept saying we needed a top-25 win,” he says. “Ohio State loses here. Michigan State loses here. We win here and do it on their Senior Night, when you know they have a little bit extra to make sure they send their seniors off right.

“I think the tournament committee will look at that. It's great to finally have a resume win.”

Senior forward Robbie Hummel likes Purdue's chances, although with two more regular season games remaining -- Penn State at Mackey Arena on Wednesday's Senior Night and at Indiana on Sunday -- he takes no chances.

“We finally beat a ranked team. That's been a monkey on our backs. It's nice to have that. It's a huge road win for us. Hopefully we can build that into a tournament resume and do what we need to do to get in.”

In other words, keep winning.

“We have to avoid what the committee would consider a bad loss,” Hummel says. “We can learn from this ...”

He refers to winning on Purdue's Senior Night as the Wolverines couldn't do on theirs.

“It's incredibly difficult to play on Senior Night with the emotion and everything that goes into it. It's hard. We have to come out ready to play. We didn't play very well against Penn State the last time. We will be ready to go.”

In case you've forgotten, the Boilers lost at Penn State 65-45 in early January.

Coach Matt Painter hasn't. He's determined to keep his guys intense despite the big victory and wins in four of the last five games. He wants no distractions, no softening of purpose. So he treats selection talk as if he was being asked to defuse a time bomb.

“It's better for us to keep our focus on playing well and our next opponent,” he says. “Our next opponent beat us by 20. That's enough for us. We need to worry about them. We don't decide who gets selected. No matter what I say, it doesn't matter.”

Here's what does matter. Purdue is peaking at the right time. Its offense is clicking, its defense is, well, getting better. The dismissal of Kelsey Barlow has given Terone Johnson more of an opportunity, and he's thriving at it, highlighted by his career-high 22-point effort at Michigan.

“It's just playing harder,” Johnson says. “After we lost Kelsey, and even before, we weren't playing as hard as we should as a team. We're doing that now and it's helping us.”

Adds Hummel: “We're coming together at the right time. We're really clicking. We're running our offense the best we have all year.”

Case in point -- the Michigan victory.

Purdue followed the perfect win-on-the-road scenario. It jumped to an early lead to quiet the crowd, withstood a Michigan rally, thrived at the end.

Consider that Purdue, one of the Big Ten's worst free-throw shooting teams, goes 14-for-16 from the line, in part because one of the conference's worst free throw shooters -- Johnson -- takes a tip from Painter and goes 4-for-4.

This is among the reasons why the Boilers have emerged as a NCAA tourney regular -- five straight appearances and counting. It's something the selection committee won't miss.

In this who-did-you-play, where-did-you-play, how-did-you-do March Madness drama, Purdue will do just fine.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.