A challenge awaits untested Boilermakers

Purdue is about to learn what it's really made of, with the competition becoming much more challenging.

WEST LAFAYETTE - Undefeated. Somewhat untested. And certainly uninspired in three of its first five regular-season games.

Including Sunday afternoon's 81-73 victory against Siena in Mackey Arena, the Purdue basketball team is 5-0, which is an obvious improvement over the start to the 2013-2014 season, when the Boilermakers lost three of their first four and never got untracked in a 16-18 campaign.

We will find out just how good this team is, or could be, this week when Purdue travels to Orlando, Fla. for the eight-team Old Spice Classic, opening Thanksgiving Day against seventh-ranked Oklahoma State and it's terrific backcourt headed by Marcus Smart, who dropped 39 points on Memphis in a recent Cowboys' victory.

Then win or lose Thursday, the Boilermakers will get either Butler or Washington State on Friday and could see either Memphis, LSU, St. Joseph's or Siena again on Sunday.

Purdue is better, but this team has sent us mixed signals in beating Northern Kentucky, Central Connecticut State, Rider, Eastern Illinois and now Siena.

Entering Sunday's game, the Boilermakers were third in Big Ten scoring and second in field goal percentage but were 11th in scoring defense and dead last in free throw percentage, which took another hit Sunday when they made only 22 of 37, which created a much closer final margin than should have been based on overall talent and depth.

Purdue is 5-0, but it should be 5-0 against a schedule that was assembled to build confidence and provide lots of playing team for what still is a young group. Of the 10 who are playing big minutes, nine are in their first or second year in Matt Painter's program.

The good news for fans is that the players and coaches realize that in order to beat really good teams on the road or at neutral sites, which the Old Spice is, there must be improvement in several facets. We will see what strides can be made when the Boilermakers play in the shadow of Disney World.

"I think we are playing too soft at times," said senior Terone Johnson, who reached the 1,000-point milestone in his Boilermaker career with 15 on Sunday. "We can not turn it on and turn it off against good teams. That is not going to work. "We are a work in progress. We have to keep getting better and better, starting now."

If they don't, the Boilermakers could suffer at least a pair of losses on this important three-game trip to Florida.

While defense continues to be a problem - Siena made getting to 73 look relatively easy Sunday - the free-throw shooting issue has to improve as Purdue likely will begin being involved in even more close games in the next stretch of this schedule. Shooting just a bit better than 60 percent from the line will not continue to cut it.

"That is something that needs to be solved right away," said freshman guard Bryson Scott, who led Purdue on Sunday with 16 points, including 5 of 8 from the line. "We are in the gum, and we are practicing them. We work on our free throws every day.

"We have to get better at that. I feel like we are decent free throw shooters, but we just have to concentrate more when we are at the line."

As Purdue heads to the Old Spice Classic, Painter noted after the Sunday game that a coach wants players who always are ready to play, regardless if those players are getting ready to travel for Thanksgiving, Christmas or a special tournament. He said the Boilermakers did not have that edge on Sunday, and that concerns him.

"We were careless," Painter said. "Eventually, when you keep doing that, someone is going to get you. Hopefully, we now are ready to step up and make the plays that are necessary to win a game.

"Any time you can play quality opponents on neutral courts, that's what you want to give them because it's a setting like the NCAA tournament. There are a lot of things that you would like to see. But does that come out until we face high-level people with size, speed and athleticism? We just want to get better each game and keep our focus. We lost our focus a little bit in playing some of these games when our guys were not totally ready to play."

Beginning with the Old Spice Classic and then facing Boston College, Butler and West Virginia before Christmas will show fans what kind of team this can be.

"This is a big stretch for us," Painter said. "Last year, this is where we struggled. Hopefully, we can do a better job."

That big stretch begins Thursday against an Oklahoma State team that certainly will test a Purdue team that is undefeated but also somewhat unimpressive and uninspired in compiling this 5-0 start.

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