Purdue heads into NCAAs consistently inconsistent with its play

Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, right, pulls down a rebound against Purdue guard P.J. Thompson (11) during the second half of a recent game in the Big Ten Conference Tournament in New York. (By The Associated Press)

It is pretty simplistic as to what Purdue University men’s basketball coach Matt Painter wants from his players.

“The three constants that I always talk about,” Painter said recently, “are run, rebound and defend.”

The Boilermakers have been OK at each of those aspects of play of late, but not tremendous and certainly not consistent, both of which may come into play quickly for this team.

The Boilermakers (28-6) will open the NCAA Tournament Friday in Detroit (12:40 p.m., TruTV) against Cal State Fullerton (20-11) and better and consistent play will be needed from this squad if it hopes to meet its potential and advance deep into the tournament.

“You’re going to play people that are going to run ball screen motion,” Painter said following his team’s last game, a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament. “Ninety percent of the country runs ball screen motion. So for us I think it’s more of a concentration thing than anything, not one actual aspect of the game. We have to do a better job of defending and concentrating.”

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The Boilermakers have done a good job of “defending and concentrating” in recent games, but not consistently, despite having won five of their last six games.

A glance at Purdue’s last nine games and the only constant is inconsistency from a defensive perspective.

The Boilermakers held a talented Ohio State squad to just 42.1 percent shooting, only to then allow Michigan State to hit at a 48.3 percent rate, both of which were defeats.

Purdue bounced back to stymie Wisconsin (39.2 percent shooting), but then Penn State and Illinois both shot 50 percent against the Boilers.

The maddening trend continued with a 40.4 percent performance against Minnesota, but a 47.1 percent game given up to Rutgers to open the Big Ten Tournament.

Last weekend, Purdue stifled Penn State (33.9 percent shooting), but then Michigan made half of its shots in beating the Boilermakers in the tournament championship.

Such inconsistency could prove fatal over the next few weeks of one-and-done play.

“I don’t think it’s as much as playing hard,” Painter said. “I thought it was more concentration. We have to do a better job on the basketball. We’ve got to do a better job in ball-screen defense. But good teams will expose you.”

In terms of rebounding the basketball, Purdue hasn’t been exemplary this season, but the Boilers are showing some degree of improvement.

After not outrebounding an opponent over a 10-game stretch late in the regular season, the Boilermakers have figured out a way to do so in three of their past five games, including clobbering Michigan 38-26 on the glass, despite the loss.

“There are always opportunities to improve,” Painter said. “There’s always a silver lining. So hopefully this can help us concentrate better and play better on the defensive end.”

Purdue is in the midst of an 11-day break without a game, which Painter said would be put to effective use by doing some work, but a lot of learning from all of the previous performances, both good and bad.

“I’m not a guy that throws the tape away,” Painter said. “I’m a guy that when you have struggles, look in the mirror, face, take those struggles so they don’t happen again. So we’ll talk about it. We’ll watch (the Michigan) tape. We’ll watch all three of (the Big Ten Tournament games) and we’ll try to learn from some of our successes and learn from some of our failures and just kind of stick with it.

“You’ve got to know who you are. You’ve got to know who you are and you’ve just got to go back to the drawing board. We have enough successes together to be able to reflect on those also. I think it’s kind of a two-way street sometimes when you lose.”

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