On one hand, Purdue has nothing to lose.
The Boilermakers (15-16) are the lowest seed in the Big Ten tournament as they struggled to six straight losses to end the regular season.
The 12th-seeded Boilermakers open play today against No. 24 and fifth-seeded Ohio State (23-8), which is looking for another conference tournament title.
Purdue coach Matt Painter has different goals.
When you’re in this position, you find out a lot about your people, Painter said. It gets frustrating when you lose a lot of games in a row. It’s hard to get yourself up. That’s what you have to do.
But can Purdue answer the bell?
The guys that are competitors and really want it and are going to fight, Painter said. The guys that want it over won’t. It’s a pretty good education for me because it allows me to know who to go forward with and who’s cashing it in.
Painter questioned his team’s toughness and attitude after a 74-65 home loss Sunday to Northwestern, which has the Big Ten’s worst record.
The Boilermakers certainly need an injection of passion and effort if they are to compete at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Going into the Big Ten tournament we’ve put ourselves in a tough spot, Painter said. Hopefully we can get off to a good start. Ohio State is a very tough opponent who’s been very successful in the Big Ten tournament.
The stage won’t intimidate Buckeye guards Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Aaron Craft. They have multiple titles after winning the tournament in 2011 and again last season.
Craft can conclude his career having played in four conference championship games.
Purdue, which is starting three sophomores, a freshman and one senior, is an inexperienced tournament squad.
The Boilers were knocked out in the first round last season and are facing Ohio State in the tournament for the first time since a 65-61 victory in the 2009 championship. The Buckeyes won the other meetings, in 2007 and 2012.
Ohio State swept this year’s regular season series.
But if Buckeyes coach Thad Matta is happy to see Purdue again, he isn’t letting on.
What you did yesterday has no bearing on what today is going to bring, Matta said. Their defensive physicality and pressure, Matt does a tremendous job with that. They’re a team that’s very scary.
Only if the Boilermakers show up to play. Painter is done with gimmicks, weary of speeches and is finished trying to inspire a listless team.
It’s up to the players.
Talking about it doesn’t get you anywhere, Painter said. It’s been mental the whole year.