WEST LAFAYETTE — The Big Ten race is rocking now and Matt Painter pushes blinders.
See nothing but what’s right in front.
That’s Michigan State.
Forget the big-picture buzz and perceived NCAA tourney projection wrongs. Purdue has a championship within reach, but it will only happen by winning and not speculating.
That’s Painter’s bottom-line message.
Now that Wisconsin has lost two straight, the Badgers, Boilers and Maryland are tied for the Big Ten lead with 10-3 records.
Beat Michigan State on Saturday, take care of Penn State, Michigan, Indiana and Northwestern and Purdue will have at least a share of its record 23rd Big Ten title.
But that’s looking way too far ahead for Painter, who is locked into the moment.
“We have to take care of our business,” he said. “We can’t control anything else. We have to keep our focus on the next game and learn from the last game.
“There were some things we didn’t do well at Indiana. There were some things we didn’t do well (against Rutgers). Just try to keep improving. That’s more important than anything.”
The No. 16 Boilers (21-5 overall) are poised to take advantage of Wisconsin’s sudden vulnerability, caused in part from guard Bronson Koenig’s leg injury. He didn’t play in Thursday’s loss at Michigan, a big blow given he averages 13.4 points.
That’s irrelevant to the Boilers, who have won four straight and seven of eight.
“It’s like the bracket comes out in the top 16,” Painter said, referring the recent top-16 NCAA tourney seeds released by the selection committee that didn’t include a Big Ten team. “If you don’t like it, win. That cures everything. Keeping your focus on what you need to do to help us be successful is more important than talking about the big picture. If you don’t realize that (Wisconsin) lost, you’re probably in the wrong locker room.”
In other words, beat Michigan State.
Purdue has already done that, winning last month in East Lansing, 84-73. Forward Caleb Swanigan was in beast mode, as usual, with 25 points and 17 rebounds. The Boilers are looking for their first season sweep of Michigan State since 1997.
However, the Spartans come in hot with wins in four of their last five games.
In coach Tom Izzo’s view, Michigan State has become a “grinder” team that wins ugly. It is 16-10 overall, 8-5 in the Big Ten.
Freshman forward Miles Bridges leads the Spartans in scoring (16.2) and rebounding (8.4). Nick Ward averages 13.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. Eron Harris averages 11.1 points and 3.0 rebounds.
Izzo has had more than basketball on his mind. He got into a public spat with ESPN announcer Dan Dakich, who irritated the veteran coach with tweets that criticized Michigan State students as “whiners” who weren’t smart enough to get accepted to Michigan, which is where Dakich’s son Andrew plays.
“Calling us whiners is kind of unprofessional," Izzo said after Michigan State beat Ohio State on Tuesday. "But saying our students couldn’t get in there? And he’s doing games for Michigan when his son’s there? That is a disappointment and that is ridiculous."
Izzo also called for Dakich to apologize.
Dakich tried to make amends by tweeting, “Always had unreal respect for Coach Izzo MSU hoops+its fans! Reached out to Tom this AM to clear the air.Look forward 2 that conversation.”
He then said on his Indianapolis radio show on Thursday that the controversy was, “much ado about nothing.”
“Tom Izzo went after me,” Dakich said. “And hey, if I’m gonna spew it, I gotta take it. You know what? Tom felt like he needed to protect his program. My problem is I don’t think he really understood who I was tweeting at. I wasn’t tweeting at a school or a student body, I was tweeting at individuals.
“In my opinion, there’s differences — maybe not to anybody else, but in my opinion, there’s differences.”
Dakich will help call Saturday’s game for ESPN, so there could be more interaction with Izzo.
We shall see.
Finally, Swanigan’s bid for national player of the year honors has generated so much attention — including a major story in the Feb. 13 issue of Sports Illustrated — that Purdue has launched a website to help promote him — Biggie4NPOY.com.
It features his stats, a video story and more.
Swanigan, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball out of Homestead, basically averages 19 points and 13 rebounds a game, and leads the nation with 22 double-doubles, including eight straight. If the Boilers make a big run in the NCAA tourney, he could break the NCAA record for double-doubles in a season — 31 by Navy’s David Robinson.
His 337 rebounds rank third in school single-season history, behind Joe Barry Carroll (352) and Glenn Robinson (344).
Swanigan is on pace to score more than 650 points, grab more than 450 rebounds and total more than 100 assists. Only three other players have done that in the last 25 years – Tim Duncan, Blake Griffin and Andrew Bogut. All three won national-player-of-the-year honors.
UP NEXT: Michigan State at Purdue
TIPOFF; 4 p.m., Saturday
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