Purdue still remains uncertain

Purdue remains a mystery to its loyal fan base. This team's potential has yet to be seen.

WEST LAFAYETTE - Whether it's at the AT&T store, the local grocery or in the concourse of Mackey Arena, Purdue basketball fans are trying to get a handle on this team's potential.

After using 14-0, 11-0 and 10-2 runs in the opening half to put a serious 79-50 beatdown on overmatched Maryland Eastern Shore on Tuesday night, the players and coach Matt Painter essentially acknowledged that they are trying to determine the same things the fan base would like to know.

With Sunday's game at West Virginia still to play, the Boilermakers are 9-3, including a perfect 8-0 in Mackey Arena.

But are they Big Ten Conference pretenders or contenders? Their most impressive victories are against Siena and Boston College, which really isn't impressive at all.

Certainly, this team is an upgrade from the 2012-2013 version that struggled to a 16-18 finish. But just how good is Purdue? Maybe the better question is how good can this team be?

Neither senior and leading scorer Terone Johnson nor Painter, who has seen his past five teams post 12-0, 11-1, 9-3, 6-6 and now 9-3 records through 12 games, really are positioned to answer that question eight days before Christmas.

A victory at West Virginia would push the Boilermakers to 10-3, which would be a three-game improvement over last season's 7-6 non-league mark, which included a thrashing of West Virginia on Keady Court. A loss in Morgantown would leave Purdue 9-4 heading into the Big Ten opener on New Year's Eve Day against unbeaten Ohio State.

Right now, these Boilermakers appear to be equal parts potential and uncertainty. Really impressive one minute, and then really out of sync the next.

"I think we're pretty good, but we still have a problem playing full games," said Terone Johnson, who scored a team-leading 14 points in Tuesday's lopsided victory. "I don't know if that is youth, or us not keeping our composure.

"We go certain possessions and look like a team that can win the Big Ten, and then we will have a couple possessions when we look like we are last in the Big Ten. Sometimes, it's ridiculous. If we can take away those lulls, I think we can be pretty good. We're definitely a work in progress."

For Painter, that is a double-edged sword. He enjoys grooming young players into a cohesive unit, but through 12 games, the only cohesive thing about this team is that it is undefeated at home against an extremely soft schedule. The time is near for this team to beat someone of substance.

"I think we have guys with talent to be really good, but to be honest with you, we haven't beaten anybody on our schedule that is going to help us in terms of trying to get an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament," Painter said. "We've had a lot of home games, but you have to be able to go on the road at some neutral sites and win some games. "This West Virginia game is a huge game for us. We have mixed and matched, and a lot of people put too much stock in who you start. But we're trying.

We're trying some rotations to do certain things, but the most important thing is your quality of play, and we are too inconsistent right now. We are inconsistent within a game, within halves, and we have to find some consistency. In my opinion, you are only as good as your guards. Our decision-making right now is not very good. It's too sloppy. We have to get good guard play if we expect to be good."

With Chris Kramer, Keaton Grant, E'Twaun Moore, Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith, Purdue had good guard play and was good.

What Painter was saying Tuesday night, essentially, is that if this team intends to answer the question centered on its potential, its collective guard play must begin to play with consistency.

We shall see.

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