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January 24, 2013
Matt Painter said of his team prior to the season, "We're going to be a good team. I just don't know when."
Well, the Boilermakers have won three straight and looked good doing it, for the most part, so the question can be asked whether Purdue has reached that point its coach expected it to.
"I'd say the process is on-going," Painter said. "We still have to be able to do some basic things. Our free throw shooting, our attention to detail at times, especially when we get a lead, and just carrying out our assignments. We haven't been as consistent as we need be in some of those areas. And we need to be a better defensive group."
But Purdue has shown distinct progress the past three games, looking like a vastly different team than the one that struggled to find any sort of consistency or close out winnable games a matter of just weeks ago.
"It's still a process, but we're almost there," freshman Rapheal Davis said. "We're finding our groove and coming together."
Lately, Purdue's been playing more like people are accustomed to seeing Purdue play: More fundamentally sound, stingier on defense and simply tougher.
"Before break, Coach (Micah) Shrewsberry sat us down in the locker room and we just had a long talk with us about who we are and what our identity is," Davis said. "I think we've figured that out. We're starting to click now.
"We're coming together and starting to play blue-collar and tough, like Purdue's traditions have always been. We're headed in the right direction and it's all coming together right now. We're at a good part in our schedule to go out and prove it."
On paper, Purdue's Thursday trip to second-ranked Michigan is its most daunting challenge to date, with the Wolverines being so hot right now it hardly seems to matter that the Boilermakers have won their past two trips to Crisler Arena and three of the last four.
When it tips off at 7 p.m., Michigan will be playing to move up to No. 1 in next week's polls after Duke got rolled by Miami (Fla.) Wednesday night.
But now more so than any other point this season, Purdue at least looks up to the challenge.
"We've made a lot of improvements the past few games, but we're going to be playing against good teams, too," senior D.J. Byrd said. "The Big Ten's a great league. You've seen a lot of wins already that you wouldn't (expect). We just have to keep focusing on what we do: Play hard and keep defending the way we've been defending."
After Purdue's blowout win over West Virginia, Byrd cautioned of the perils of over-confidence for the young Boilermakers now that they've experienced a run of success, albeit against three struggling teams.
Over-confidence should be the last thing Purdue should worry about in Ann Arbor against the 17-1 Wolverines, whose only loss came in a narrow decision at Ohio State after a furious rally from a huge first-half deficit.
Michigan's loaded, with an outstanding and experienced backcourt of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway and an impressive crop of freshmen in sharp-shooter Nik Stauskas, dynamic forward Glenn Robinson III and big man Mitch McGary.
It all starts with Burke, maybe the best point guard in the country.
"He's considered one of the best P-Gs in college basketball right now. That's my goal, to see how I can match up with him," Purdue freshman point guard Ronnie Johnson said.
"He can get his guys open and score the ball really whenever he wants to. ... You have to be locked in on him and not let him get as many touches or let him have as much room as he might want. That's my goal, to try to make him shoot some bad shots."
Easier said than done.
Nothing will be easy against Michigan.
But Purdue will head north with confidence.
"We're playing at their place and they'll have their crowd, so it'll be like we're playing against all of them," Davis said. "But as long as we take care of the ball, rebound the ball and play D the way Coach Painter wants us too, I think we can beat anybody."
G: Terone Johnson
G: Ronnie Johnson
F: D.J. Byrd
F: Rapheal Davis
C: A.J. Hammons
G: Trey Burke (6-0, 190, So.)
G: Tim Hardaway Jr. (6-6, 205, Jr.)
G: Nik Stauskas (6-6, 190, Fr.)
F: Glenn Robinson III (6-6, 210, Fr.)
C: Jordan Morgan (6-8, 250, Jr.)
Michigan received 11 first-place votes in this week's AP poll. ... The Wolverines bounced back from their loss at Ohio State with an impressive win 83-75 win at ninth-ranked Minnesota. ... Burke leads the Wolverines, averaging 18 points and a Big Ten-best (by a mile) 7.2 assists. ... As a team, Michigan shoots 51 percent, 41 percent from three-point range, and leads the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio, led by Burke's mark of 3.8-to-1 tally. ... Michigan has four players averaging 12 or more points per game. ... Hardaway's the league's fifth-leading scorer at 16.4 points. ... Robinson, the son of former Purdue great Glenn Robinson, averages 12.1 points and 5.8 rebounds and is an elite athlete. ... Stauskas shoots 49.5 percent from long range, second in the league only to IU's Jordan Hulls (51); only Big Ten leading scorer Deshaun Thomas has attempted more threes, at least among league leaders.
About Purdue: Roster | Schedule | Statistics
About Michigan: Roster | Schedule | Statistics
Game time: 7 p.m.
Radio: Purdue Sports Network (95.7 FM locally)
Internet: GoldandBlack.com subscribers can follow along live with our in-game blog, "Game Day Live."
Things to think about
1. Playing against a great team on a hostile floor - Michigan's environment has become far more daunting than it once was - will obviously be a challenge.
How will Purdue handle it?
There are no comparisons between Michigan and Nebraska, but Painter was heartened by how his team staved off the Cornhuskers in Lincoln.
"It was good for us to face adversity at Nebraska," he said. "As a coach, you don't want to get into those situations, but after the fact, you love being in those situations and getting out of it and learning from it."
2. Michigan can go really big when it plays Morgan and McGary together, but its starting unit isn't overwhelmingly big.
When Purdue is playing with Davis at the 4, can it create enough space to get Hammons one-on-one chances on the interior. It's never easy against Michigan, which will typically vary its defenses.
3. Purdue in recent years has usually been pretty good about slowing down a great guard. But Ronnie Johnson's never guarded at this level a player of Burke's caliber. Considering the pressure Purdue will try to apply, the freshman must stay out of foul trouble. Don't be surprised to see the more physical Terone Johnson get his cracks at guarding Burke as well.
But slowing Burke is one thing; slowing Michigan as a whole is entirely another.
Considering Michigan's array of shooters, dribble penetration must be kept to a minimum.
4. How will Purdue match up with Michigan's size on the perimeter? Hardaway and Stauskas are each 6-6, giving them the ability to shoot over people. The Boilermakers aren't blessed with tremendous height or length on the perimeter.
GoldandBlack.com Prediction: At no point prior this season has Purdue looked to be in better shape and better prepared for a game against this caliber of opponent. It looks ready to compete, much more so than it did a few weeks ago. Competing and winning, though, are two distinctly different things. But the Boilermakers have tended to play pretty well in Crisler.
Michigan 79, Purdue 67
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