Purdue’s Matt Painter is a practical coach. His Boilers are unbeaten (5-0) and unfavored against No. 5 Oklahoma State. They can rock the college basketball world or they can do what’s expected Thursday in Orlando’s Old Spice Classic:
“You hope guys are giving that maximum effort every night,” Painter said. “In reality, guys often play to the level of the competition. If that’s the case, then we’re going to play great because they’re a great team.”
Oklahoma State greatness starts with Marcus Smart, who figured to be staring in the NBA right now. But the 6-4 sophomore point guard passed on being a lottery pick for a national title shot, and prospects are promising.
Smart averages 21.0 points and 4.0 rebounds. He has a team-leading 21 steals. But those are only numbers for the leading candidate for national player of the year honors. Coach Travis Ford lets Smart have free reign to run the push-the-pace offensive show. Ford said he’s given Smart more freedom than any player he’s ever coached.
Painter saw plenty of Smart during last summer’s tryouts for the U19 World Championships. Painter was on the evaluation committee the picked the final roster.
“He’s an unselfish guy,” Painter said. “He cares about winning. He works hard.
“Leadership is an action. A lot of guys say the right thing. They don’t do them. He does them. He involves teammates. He’s a good player and a good leader. That’s contagious. He has all the intangibles you’re looking for.”
Smart is far from a one-man team. That’s a problem, Painter said.
“I wish he was the only guy they had. We’d put two to three people on him. But they’ve got a bunch of players.”
Guard Markel Brown averages 18.2 points and 3.2 rebounds. Forward Le’Bryan Nash averages 12.2 points and 7.0 rebounds. Swingman Brian Williams averages 11.6 points and 5.0 rebounds.
Guard Phil Forte might be America’s hottest shooter. He averages 14.8 points off the bench while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 63.0 percent from three-point range. He’s also 13-for-13 from the line.
“You have to give a lot of defensive attention to Smart and Brown,” Painter said. “Then they have Forte off the bench, who is a dead-eye shooter. They have a great player in Nash. He plays hard and physical.”
The Cowboys are 5-0 and average 100.2 points a game, second best in the country. They have scored at least 93 points in every game, and that includes a 101-80 win over Memphis, which is ranked 21. They shoot 51.8 percent from the field, including 47.0 percent from three-point range.
“They can play with anybody in America because their guards are so good,” Painter said. “We have to keep them out of the middle of the floor.”
Oklahoma State will be without freshman guard Stevie Clark, who is suspended for undisclosed reasons. He averages 9.8 points and a team-leading 5.0 assists.
Even without Clark, the Cowboys are formidable.
“We’re facing one of the best team in the country and probably the best guard in the country,” Painter said. “We have our hands full.
“To beat them we have to produce and execute and get them out of what they want to do. If they do what they want, they will win. We have to disrupt them. If you let great players do what they want, it will be a long night.”
Also, freshman guard Bryson Scott is coming off a big week in which he earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors. It’s the first such honor for the former Northrop standout. He had 14 points and six rebounds in a win over Eastern Illinois, then followed with 16 points and three assists against Siena.
For the season Scott averages 10.6 points. He’s first on the team in steals (seven), free throws made (20) and free throw attempts (30).
“He’s been really aggressive for us,” Painter said. “He’s able to defend the ball. He understands what he has to do to be successful.
“He’s very aggressive player on both ends of the court. He’s made strides when the ball is not in his hands and when he’s away from the ball defensively. His No. 1 thing is to attack.When he has the ball in his hands, he gets very aggressive. He’s raised our energy level.”
Depending on first-round results, Purdue would either play Butler or Washington State on Friday in the eight-team tourney. Other possible opponents include Memphis (2-1) and LSU (3-1).