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COLUMN

For Purdue, without NCAA or NIT, shut it down

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Tipoff: Purdue vs. Ohio State, 2:30 p.m., Thursday, Big Ten tourney
Radio: 1380-AM
TV: BTN

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Big Ten honors Hammons, Stephens

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 9:24 am

WEST LAFAYETTE – It's time to end Purdue's basketball misery.

Really. It is.

As soon as the Boilers' Big Ten tourney experience is over, which will come Thursday against Ohio State, shut it down. Don't play again until next season.

The NCAA and NIT events ain't happening. Not without a breakthrough Big Ten tourney performance, which is as likely as Notre Dame joining the Big Ten.

Yes, Purdue (15-16) could finally stop treating basketball as if it was Rubik's cube on steroids and upset its way to the finals, or maybe even to a title (and earn the automatic NCAA tourney bid), but if you've seen its down-the-stretch play, you know how likely that is.

And if calls come from the College Basketball Invitational or College Insider or, heck, Gus Macker, don't answer. Put the season to rest. Take spring break as a much needed time away from the sport and each other. Come back refreshed, renewed and recommitted to getting the program back to the powerhouse it should be.

And speaking of the CBI, you have to pay to play in that not-close-to-prime event. Plus, Purdue is hosting women's NCAA tourney opening-round games, which will tie up Mackey Arena from March 21 to 23. The Boilers would have to travel that weekend, adding to the expense.

What would you get out of it? Figure a couple of meaningless games against mediocre competition, and probably more reason to get frustrated over disappointing performance.

Is that really going to help 10 months from now in Big Ten play?

Of course not.

Plus, with two players already finished -- forward Jay Simpson for his career because of a heart condition, guard Sterling Carter because of a knee injury -- why push a depleted roster that plays without chemistry?

Purdue tried the CBI last year. It was, in fact, the first Big Ten team to play in the event. The Boilers went 1-1, beating Western Illinois, losing to Santa Clara and finishing 16-18.

Coach Matt Painter has been noncommittal about a postseason beyond the Big Ten tourney. The focus is on this week at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Boilers, who lost twice to Ohio State (23-8) this year, have to win four games to earn the automatic NCAA tourney bid. They'd have to go 2-1 (losing in the semifinals) to finish at .500 and make the minimum NIT requirement, although 3-1 (losing in the finals) might be necessary to get a bid.

For the record, Purdue is 6-7 in the Big Ten tourney under Painter, including going 3-0 while winning the 2009 championship.

In the meantime, consecutive losing season fuels discontent. Purdue is 31-33 in that stretch, 13-23 in the Big Ten. For a program that has won 22 Big Ten titles, this is really not cool.

“We've been inconsistent,” Painter said. “You have to be able to do basic things to win. When you don't take care of the ball, when you don't take good shots, when you have defensive breakdowns, it's not a good recipe for success.

“The struggling part for me as a coach is we've had stretches where we were good. Then we'd revert back to where you didn't know the identity of your team. You have to learn to play organized ball.”

Painter has to rebuild the culture. He did it once after Purdue faded in Gene Keady's final seasons.

For six years Painter had it going as well as any coach ever at Purdue (including a Big Ten title, a conference tourney championship and consecutive Sweet 16s) and only a bad break with Robbie Hummel's knee injury prevented a Final Four run.

That was in 2010, but it might as well have been the days of ancient Sparta for as much relevance as it has now.

There are plenty of reasons for the decline. Start with recruiting. Specifically, not getting in-state standouts Gary Harris (Michigan State), Brandon Dawson (Michigan State), Glenn Robinson III (Michigan) and Mitch McGary (Michigan) hurt.

Dawson, Robinson and McGary are from northwest Indiana, which was once a Boiler recruiting hotbed. E'Twaun Moore was from there. So were Hummel and Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson, among others.

Painter says he doesn't focus on guys who don't want to be at Purdue, but on guys who do. Fine, but the sooner he lands elite in-state players again, the better. And that goes way beyond just talent. The Boilers were at their best when they had tough-minded guys such as Brian Cardinal and Chris Kramer.

“We have to recruit a tougher player, a more unselfish player,” Painter said. “We have some of those guys in our program. Some we don't. We have to get that out of them or maybe this isn't their place. That's my fault.

“This isn't a high school district (where players attend schools based on where they live). I recruited those guys. This position we're in is my fault.”

For the record, Painter just offered Indianapolis Brebeuf senior point guard P.J. Thompson. The 5-10 Thompson isn't considered a top prospect, but he is tough and unselfish.

Much more was expected from this group. There is talent with center A.J. Hammons (who made the Big Ten's all-defense team and honorable mention ); guards Ronnie and Terone Johnson, Bryson Scott and Kendall Stephens (who made the conference's all-freshman team); and forwards Basil Smotherman, Rapheal Davis and Errick Peck.

Hammons averages 10.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks. It was 12.4 points and 7.7 rebounds in Big Ten play.

Stephens averages 8.0 points. He has 63 three-pointers.

With all this, a winning record was the minimum goal, but a six-game losing streak to end the regular season ruined that. Inconsistency happened at the worst times.

“These are things happen last year, and just continued,” Painter said. “Each guy made improvements, but you find out about guys when adversity sets in. You have to be able to swallow pride, show more patience, follow a scouting report. Then you own the problems. That's hard to do.

“When you own them, you correct them. When you don't and play the blame game, that's just a vicious cycle. Its what losing teams do instead of owning what's going on.

I try to do that. ... You hope it trickles to the guys, and they own their behavior. When you do that, you can make corrections. Then you're moving in the right direction. That's what we have to do.”

In an ideal world, it starts Thursday against Ohio State, and continues through Sunday. In a realistic world, it ends Thursday.

Yes, that means the season.

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.