Purdue has to defend better.
That much is obvious.
Part of defending better is fouling less, as big an issue for Purdue, the numbers say, as any other phase of defense.
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Through 15 games, Purdue's been called for 312 fouls.
Among major-conference peers, only Oregon (314), Rutgers (316), Georgetown (317 in just 14 games), Rhode Island (318, 16 games), Louisville (323, 16 games), Nebraska (325), Seton Hall (330, 16 games), Xavier (332, 16 games) and Penn State (335, 16 games) have been called for more fouls than Purdue.
In the Big Ten, no one fouls more per game than the two teams that'll square off in Mackey Arena Sunday: Nebraska (21.7 fouls per game) and Purdue (20.8).
It's no secret that officials' emphasis on hand-checking and the abrupt demise of the charge in college basketball haven't been kind to the Boilermakers, but much more has gone into it.
"We're just out of position, because we've backed up our pressure. We're not pressuring as much," Coach Matt Painter said. "We're trying to be more of a contain team and changed some ball-screen defense and not stayed tight with every single package we've used. We've made some adjustments, because we struggle to contain the dribble. That's still something we're getting better at but we're not consistent enough. We have to do a better job of focusing and moving laterally. I chalk it up to not being in position and not having the discipline to play with your feet and not use your hands.
"We have some young guys that just still put their hands all over people. We work on it and work on it. It's a bad habit they have. We have to continue to put in work to get that solved."
Big man A.J. Hammons has been plagued by foul trouble, an ongoing battle for the majority of this season. His 36 fouls are a team-high.
Newcomers haven't been far behind.
Freshmen Bryson Scott and Basil Smotherman and first-year senior Errick Peck have been called for 32 fouls, first-year senior Sterling Carter right behind at 31.
"That's been one of my biggest adjustments, keeping my hands off them," the ultra-aggressive Scott. "When they drive, it's kind of a natural instinct, because you don't want them to get by you. It's something I'm working on and something (coaches) are helping me out with. I'm getting better."
Obviously not all fouls are equal. Some may occur in intentional situations. Others, like offensive fouls or illegal screens, certainly aren't an indictment of defense. But the majority have come in that area, where Purdue has struggled most.
Ronnie Johnson, Purdue's point guard, said he doesn't have an answer to why the Boilermakers have been so vulnerable to whistles.
"A lot of other teams, they play more zone than us," he said. "That might be a factor. We pressure the ball more than other schools. As far as fouls, I don't know. We have to keep the ball in front of us and that'd help us keep Big A.J. out of foul trouble."
Fouling has been only part of Purdue's deficiency in the area it strives to be strongest in.
The Boilermakers allowed an average of 80 points in their first two Big Ten games, the 82 yielded at Minnesota being their second-most allowed in a game this season and the 78 Ohio State totaled being the third-most. Oklahoma State scored 97 in Orlando.
"We don't have a perimeter guy who's been consistent in terms of stopping somebody," Painter said, when asked about the Boilermakers' struggles to contain opponents' top players. "And that's everybody across the board. Our guy who's done the best job is Sterling Carter. We need to have a better effort and a better focus from all of our players in terms of stopping (people) and team defense. We've really struggled in that area.
"Sometimes with a good player, sometimes you do everything you're supposed to do and it still doesn't work. When you do everything you're supposed to do, it doesn't guarantee you success. It just gives you a chance. If you don't do what you're supposed to do, you don't have a chance against good players."
Players can decide rotation: Painter continues to play just about everyone, more or less, as it's minutes distribution in Big Ten games thus far hasn't been all that far off its non-conference breakdown, skewed slightly, though, by Jay Simpson's reduced minutes the past two games as Hammons has kept out of foul trouble and Travis Carroll returned from a knee injury at Minnesota.
Nine players have averaged at least 14.5 minutes through two conference games.
It's a reflection of Purdue's new array of options this season, but also not necessarily a good thing at this stage of the season, Painter suggested.
"That's the good and the bad of depth," Painter said. "Last year, we didn't have somebody else to go to. Now, it's good to have depth, but then the people who should be our core guys ... if you're not getting the job done, someone else is going to get those minutes and play and you're not going to get set into a rotation. That's what inconsistent play creates. It creates that indecision.
"I went four or five years where I never disputed who I should play. Now in the past couple years, especially when we struggle, that's something coaches don't talk about a lot ... you don't know who to play. You want to play somebody who's productive. You like everybody and everybody's talented, but now when your production's not consistent, it allows for inconsistent rotations and inconsistent minutes and now guys don't feel good about themselves. We've got to have more consistency and more energy across the board. We can have some breakdowns, but if we have high energy, you can get back into plays, get those long rebounds, you can scrap, and you can get those 50/50 balls.
"A lot of times it comes down to one possession. You have to understand that that one possession could be any time during the game."
Carroll healing: After injuring his knee prior to the Ohio State game, Carroll gave Purdue eight minutes against Minnesota "on one leg," as Painter put it afterward.
"It felt the best it's felt today," Carroll said after Friday's practice after taking Thursday off.
Carroll hyper-extended his knee and experienced bruising afterward after hitting the floor hard last Saturday, one of the few run-ins with injury he's experienced in his playing career at any level.
"I thought he did great (at Minnesota)," Painter said. "He went out there and battled and gave us a great effort and laid it on the line. He had a couple times he didn't have the lift to get a ball when normally he was going to get that basketball. But he's a team guy and goes out there and plays hard and does what's asked of him."
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