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Keys to a Successful Conference Ride

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The Big Ten begins tonight for the Boilermakers, and the first three games should be telling. Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State are a combined 34-6. The Illini come to Mackey Arena tonight as a 13-1 team, with its only loss coming to a ranked Missouri team.

Purdue is a surprising 6-6 entering conference action, and on paper don't appear to be an upper-division contender. I'd like to be more positive, but real scoring issues surround this team through a third of the season against competition that is much less capable than what we'll see in the next few weeks.

I'm pleased with the performances against Ball State and William & Mary, but they are average teams. You have to take baby steps, though.

Here are some keys to a successful conference ride:

Improvement and offensive output from rookies Rapheal Davis, A.J. Hammons and Ronnie Johnson. It's pretty obvious that Hammons has become a centerpiece of the offense, but he must become more aggressive. He's improving, but it must be accelerated.

Right now, the energy guys are Davis and sophomore Jacob Lawson. Both have high ceilings and can make that climb during the remainder of the season. Lawson has to channel his aggressiveness and keep from getting into foul trouble, but he's played very well to this point. Davis has a world of ability and just needs to keep improving.

Defensively, this team has surprised me a bit. It's important for Hammons to be on the floor. His presence in the paint does help some lapses in containing the dribble. He has also been able to change the flight of shots taken against him.

Finally, Terone Johnson, Anthony Johnson and D.J. Byrd have to play like veterans every time out. Coach Painter has talked about it constantly. They need to play to their strengths and do it consistently. Both Terone Johnson and Byrd should consistently average double figures.

If the Boilermakers are going to make any noise in the Big Ten this year, they will have to make strides. Purdue has lost six home games over the last two seasons, so home victories aren't a given. The league's strength is even better this season than over the last five years, so there will be plenty of challenges.

Obviously, I have no idea what will happen, but I do know this won't be an easy ride. Let the games begin.

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