Tipoff: Wisconsin at Purdue, 5 p.m., tonight
Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio
Matt Painter finds no satisfaction in being average.
Case in point -- Purdue's NCAA tourney prospects.
The Boilers are 3-3 in Big Ten play, 13-6 overall, entering today's game against suddenly reeling Wisconsin at Mackey Arena. They are on pace to go 9-9 in the conference, which would mean 19-12 overall entering postseason play.
Not good enough, Painter said.
“We've got to win. You can talk in theory, but that's the name of the game. We're 3-3, and if we stay on that track I don't think we'll make it. We have to improve.”
Purdue is on the cusp of improvement. Its double overtime loss at Northwestern last Tuesday ended a three-game winning streak. It lost by three at Minnesota, and by nine to then No. 3 Ohio State.
With just a little more execution -- can you say, make a layup? -- the Boilers could have at least one more victory. They could be cruising to a return to NCAA tourney participation after last year's no show.
They are not, but beating Wisconsin could boost a strong stretch drive.
There's just one thing about such big-picture thinking. Painter doesn't want his players focused on it.
“We need to be thinking about the next game. That's where the importance is. If we get caught up in all that, it doesn't help you.”
What would help? Try scoring near the rim. The Boilers were a disaster in that area against Northwestern.
"It's just poor decisions," Painter said. "It's just not making a simple play or a simple pass, then not finishing at the rim. We spend a lot of time in practice, whether it's with pads or having somebody at the rim, or mid-court, and having to finish off one foot or two feet, just going to score the basketball.
"We work all year on trying to have the right mind set when you drive. We have to do a better job of concentrating and finishing.”
Purdue has won eight of the last 12 meetings with Wisconsin, including three of the last five games at the Kohl Center, where visiting teams almost never win.
What's the secret?
“You have to beat them at their own game,” Painter said.
The Badgers have thrived under coach Bo Ryan with patient offense and solid defense. Everybody is a scoring threat. Turnovers are few, rebounds are many.
“You have to be prepared to play that style,” Painter said. “One thing they do is take care of ball, so you have to take care of ball. Bo's teams always do a good job of shot selection and being very efficient. That's always been what I've preached. Their program has had so much success. You've got to try to be a little better than them in areas they excel in.
“Against Wisconsin, if you don't take care of the ball, you don't have a chance. If you don't rebound against them, you don't have a chance. They are so good on the offensive end of being efficient and they do a good job of getting you to take the bait of taking more perimeter shots and pull-ups.
“It's important to take it inside and try to drive the ball. That requires patience. Sometimes we have had success there and sometimes we struggle.”
The No. 9 Badgers (16-3) know all about struggle. They set a school record by opening the season 16-0, but have lost three straight -- to Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan. Their scoring has dropped. They've become vulnerable to dribble penetration.
Painter, however, sees no reason to expect such vulnerability at Mackey Arena.
“You pump their positives,” he said. “When people win they are still doing bad things. When they lose, they are still doing good things.
“They lost to some pretty good teams. We have a difficult league and sometimes you get in tough stretches.
“The ball is not going in as much for them as it did earlier. We've got to get consumed with their personnel and what they do. We have to act like they'll have their best game of the year. That's how you have to handle every opponent.”
Forward Sam Dekker leads Wisconsin in scoring (14.1) and rebounding (6.3). Center Frank Kaminsky averages 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 45.8 percent from three-point range. The Badgers get plenty of production from guards Ben Brust (12.9 points), Traveon Jackson (10.9 points, team-leading 79 assists), Josh Gasser (9.1 points) and Nigel Hayes (7.1 points).
“They have a lot of guys who are skilled,” Painter said. “They are a tough matchup for a lot of people. Any of those guys can go for 20 on a given night. That makes it hard to defend.”