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December 26, 2013

Where Purdue stands

Purdue's non-conference schedule set the Boilermakers up for early success, or so it appeared coming into a season in which one of their obvious goals was to return to the NCAA Tournament.

At 10-3 heading into Big Ten play, Purdue probably isn't quite where it wanted to ideally be, particularly in light of a confounding loss to Washington State in Florida and a frustrating setback vs. Butler in Indianapolis.

But coming off a win at West Virginia as the New Year's Eve Big Ten opener against top-five Ohio State approaches, Purdue hopes it is trending upward.

Below, GoldandBlack.com takes an analytical look back at the non-conference portion of the Boilermakers' season.

Consistently inconsistent: A huge issue for Purdue has been consistency, a maddening trend that's seen the Boilermakers waver from game to game, half to half and series to series.

There was no greater display of such unevenness imaginable than the Old Spice Classic, where the Boilermakers played three very good halves and three dreadful ones, losing to Oklahoma State and Washington State before needing a second-half rally to beat Siena for the second time in roughly a week.

Some encouragement can probably be taken, though, from the fact that two of Purdue's best, most complete games have come against notable opponents Boston College and West Virginia in wins, the win in Morgantown coming in the Boilermakers' one and only out-of-conference road game.

Composure has been an issue as well, that being the greatest issue in the loss to Butler, but Purdue did do its best job of the season at West Virginia in a situation where such an attribute was needed.

Surviving at home: The Boilermakers are 8-0 in Mackey Arena, but not without some harrowing escapes.

In the season opener, Purdue trailed Northern Kentucky by four with 58 seconds left before winning 77-76. The Boilermakers trailed Rider at home as late as the 5:30 mark. And while Purdue was never over-taken by Eastern Michigan at home, the Boilermakers did lead by just one with 5:44 left.

Shooting coming on: Purdue hoped to be a significantly improved long-range shooting team this season and it has been, while still trending upward.

Purdue is shooting 35.4 percent from three-point range, not an overwhelming percentage by any means, but you know it when you see it.

Kendall Stephens has given Purdue a legitimate long-range weapon who'll be prominently featured on opponents' scouting reports all season. The freshman has shot 38 percent on 69 long-ball attempts this season.

Senior transfer Sterling Carter, meanwhile, is shooting just 30 percent, but that number's watered down by the early season slump he's since broken out of. Since Dec. 4, Carter is 9-of-19 from three-point range, good for 47 percent.

Terone Johnson's shooting a team-best 38.1 percent from three-point range, a robust jump from last season and also on the upswing after a slow start.

After making only two of 12 to open the season, the senior's 14-of-31 since Purdue tipped off its Old Spice games in Orlando, good for 45 percent.

Point guard Ronnie Johnson isn't a player who'll want to be relying too much on long jumpers, but through 13 games he's 7-of-18 (39 percent) after going 7-of-36 all of last season.

Work in progress: Center A.J. Hammons, Purdue's most influential player in so many areas, has been a dominant figure as a rim-protector and at times - like at West Virginia - as a rebounder, but hasn't gotten going offensively and hasn't been able to stay on the floor.

For those reasons, so much of Purdue's up-side from here on out may lie in the 7-footer getting more established and involved.

Due to what seems like constant foul trouble, Hammons is averaging just 19.8 minutes, averaging eight points and shooting 61 percent in the opportunities he has gotten. But those chances have been limited; he's attempted an average of just 4.5 shots per game, and committed a team-high 25 turnovers in one fewer game than his teammates, after being suspended for the opener.

Moving parts: Purdue has started seven different starting fives this season and has now gone seven games in a row with a different grouping.

There have been extenuating circumstances - Hammons' suspension, Ronnie Johnson being late for a practice and Jay Simpson falling ill - that have impacted such things, but regardless, it's been a carousel of starters for the Boilermakers, who to this point have gone very deep.

Ten Purdue players are logging at least 13 minutes per game.

It will be interesting to see now to what extent that continues.

Revelation: Freshman forward Basil Smotherman has been the pleasant surprise of the season to date from a personnel perspective and entrenched himself as a starter on a team that's had a lot of moving parts in its lineups.

The athletic rookie has brought distinct energy to the floor, made Purdue better with his athleticism, worked the boards and been efficient.

Smotherman's averaging the sixth-most points for Purdue on the 10th-most shots, shooting 67.3 percent, so many of his baskets this season coming on tip-ins or dunks.

Freshman impact: As impressive as Smotherman's been, the impression he's made comes in the context of him being the freshman the least could probably have been expected from, because it's been long-known Purdue would need contributions from classmates Bryson Scott and Stephens.

The two guards have delivered also.

Scott's twice been named Big Ten Freshman-of-the-Week and is Purdue's third-leading scorer, averaging just under 10 points per game. He's brought doses of aggressiveness and scoring punch, mostly off the bench, with a no-holds-barred mentality that's lent itself toward runs of productivity.

The freshman's come out firing; his shots-per-minute quotient of one every 2.45 minutes makes him the Boilermakers' quickest trigger by a wide margin statistically.

(Leading scorer Terone Johnson is second-quickest at 2.65 and Ronnie Johnson third at 2.74.)

Problems continue: Purdue's shooting just 65.4 percent from the foul line, worst among Big Ten teams and barely better than last season's maddening 65.3 percent for the entire season.

Give it up!: Purdue's assisted on only 42 percent of its field goals this season, speaking to the over-eagerness and decision-making and judgment issues on offense that have plagued it at times.

Purdue has many more scoring threats this season than it did last season, and perhaps too many who've wanted to be at times this season. Cohesion would seem like a work in progress.

The Boilermakers have posted their 178 assists against 154 turnovers, a ratio Matt Painter would like to be much, much higher.

Bottom line: In the context of Purdue making the NCAA Tournament, the Boilermakers clearly have work to do, an up-hill climb from here on out.

It was important to get to double-digit wins, from a cosmetic standpoint as much as anything else, and the West Virginia game was huge since it was a road game. But Purdue lacks quality wins - barring Boston College or West Virginia going on to have great seasons - and has incurred at least one likely bad loss, the Washington State game.

But at this time a year ago, Purdue had already eliminated itself from the NCAA mix with a .500 pre-conference record; this year, it's at least put itself in position to play its way into the Dance with a strong Big Ten season.

Easier said than done, obviously, but opportunities will be plenty, starting next week with the unbeaten Buckeyes in Mackey Arena.

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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