And despite having four freshmen and a pair of sophomores in his top seven in scoring, Painter isn’t exactly complaining either.
The Buckeyes (12-3, 3-0 Big Ten) take to the road tomorrow afternoon against a team just as young, if not more inexperienced than they are. But it’s also against a Purdue team (10-5, 1-1 Big Ten) that could provide as tough a road game as Ohio State’s faced yet this season.
Riding an 8-game win streak since losing December 1 at Butler, ironically a road test in the state of Indiana, Ohio State is showing signs of boasting confidence for the first time all season. Ohio State is flying high from a 79-48 victory against Iowa on Wednesday, easily the most impressive win of the season for Matta’s youthful Buckeyes.
But when the season ends for Painter, he’ll have just as many tales to tell of a team going through plenty of growing pains. With a rookie class that essentially rivaled that of Matta’s freshmen, if Painter is bothered by his team’s growth, he’s not showing it.
“I think we’re in a good place,” the third-year coach said Thursday in a morning teleconference. “I think we’ve lost a couple of games that we put ourselves in a position to win, so that’s very frustrating. We’ve also won a couple of games that I think we were fortunate to win, so I think sometimes those things balance themselves out.”
While Ohio State is coming off a 35-4 season and an appearance in the NCAA Championship game, the best days may yet be ahead for Purdue. The Boilermakers have eight players averaging between 10.5 and 6.1 points per game. Painter’s freshman class: Scott Martin, Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson are combining on 37.3 points and 18 rebounds.
The group, which has bordered on stellar in stretches and stupefying in others, has dropped understandable road games against Clemson, Missouri and most recently, Michigan State but also lost less-respectable games against Wofford in West Lafayette and Iowa State in Las Vegas.
To an extent, Purdue’s losses have come in crunch time with guys that have been unable to step up as a primary scorer.
For instance – Ohio State’s 6-1 senior guard Jamar Butler.
“Butler’s been there before…they have that guy with the ball that’s been there before,” Painter said. “We don’t have that where last year we knew (Carl) Landry was going to get it and if Landry didn’t get it, then Teague got it.”
His loaded class finished No. 5 in the ScoutHoops.com final class rankings for 2007. But listening to Painter, you wouldn’t know it.
To say Painter couldn’t care less about his class ranking or Ohio State’s No. 7 mark is an understatement.
“I don’t even know if our guys know where they were ranked to be honest with you,” he added.
While most of the talk has centered on the seven freshmen likely to see major minutes Saturday between the two teams, Painter was eager to focus on Butler.
“He was probably the best point guard in the league as a sophomore in my opinion,” Painter said of OSU’s second-leading scorer at 14.0 points per game.
“I think first and foremost Jamar Butler is a very good leader,” Painter added. “He’s calm, cool and collected. I’ve always been impressed with how he’s handled himself and what he’s been able to do for Ohio State.”
Purdue’s leader thus far has been 6-8 forward Martin, who averaged 22 points per game as a senior in high school. Martin leads the Boilermakers in scoring at 10.5 points per game.
However, not everything has been easy-going for Painter’s prize freshman.
Despite scoring in double-figures, Martin is just 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) from 3-point range this season.
“He’s just not getting his shots to fall,” Painter explains. “We’re positive with him and we encourage him to shoot. We’ve seen his ability to score with the basketball.”
Ironically enough, it’s been a similar issue with an Ohio State freshman guard.
Painter points to 6-5 Jon Diebler as having the same kind of problems as Martin. Diebler started off slow for the Buckeyes, before coming on in recent weeks.
“I don’t care what anybody says,” Painter said, “that guy can shoot.
“He’s going to prove that at Ohio State through his career,” Painter adds. “It’s not going to happen this week, or I hope it doesn’t happen this week, but we’ll show them the numbers of Diebler and we’ll say, ‘you might as well look at him as a 50 percent 3-point shooter,’ because that’s what I feel he’s going to be.”
Diebler has started a slow ascent from his 11 percent from behind the arc after the first few weeks of the season. He’s now 26-of-84 (31 percent) after hitting nearly 50 percent over the course of the last six games.
“That’s how I feel on Scott Martin,” Painter said. “Even though his percentages aren’t where he wants them to be and where we want them to be right now, in the long run, they’re going to be there.”
Just don’t expect a sympathy trip on Saturday.