If Purdue does not make the 2015 NCAA Tournament Matt Painter should be let go as its head coach.
It is hard to believe we are at this point, just three seasons after he had a team ranked in the top 10 regularly for two straight seasons, but that is the nature of college basketball. It is especially true in the Big Ten, where every team is incredibly well coached and many teams have the same level of talent or better than our Boilermakers. Coach Painter is getting paid like a top coach and he has been one of the most successful coaches in this league. His 2014 recruiting class is his third straight that is rated in the top 20 nationally, making his roster next season the most talented top to bottom of his tenure. This season was also a major step back, and the youth at many positions cannot be used as an excuse any longer.
Actually, I take that back. This season was a disaster that will probably be put out of its misery some time Thursday afternoon by Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the only team in the Big Ten with an all-time winning record over Purdue and it is born out of a recent stretch where they have won 23 of the last 29 meetings. Since starting the season 13-5 and 3-2 in Big Ten play Purdue has gone a dismal 2-11 and has managed to look worse every week. It has lost in overtime on a last second shot. It has lost in double overtime. It has given up 70+points to one of the worst scoring teams in the nation in a loss. It has lost eight straight away from Mackey Arena and three in a row in Mackey. In the last three games Purdue has only looked good once: against Indiana.
There is no valid excuse for this team to look this bad. Purdue has nine players on the roster that were rated as a 4-star commit by at least one service, but it still got swept by Northwestern, which is embarrassing. It had more talent than half the league according to recruiting services and finished dead last.
Much of this lies at the feet of Matt Painter, and he knows it:
"It's my fault," said Painter bluntly when asked about restoring the momentum in the program. "It's my job to get guys to play together. It's my job to get guys to play hard. It's my job to get guys to play smart and we don't do any of those. So it's my fault.
"When you start off, people will always give you a break, but when you're somewhere for nine years, they shouldn't, they absolutely shouldn't because it is my fault that we are in this position."
"I haven't gotten them to understand playing together, and getting that and having that being contagious and moving the basketball and sharing the basketball not only helps your offensive game but also helps your defensive game because you get a better shot," said Painter. "When you get a better shot you set your defense and when you set your defense it limits their transition opportunities."
This is 100% true. It is blunt, but true. Coach Painter's first team was awful. It was short-handed and had a tight end playing minutes at power forward in Charles Davis. It still played incredibly hard and made its opponents work on every possession. This team does not do that, and it is what makes it so frustrating to watch. I know coach Painter is a good coach and is trying to push those same values, but for some reason it is not getting through:
"We have to recruit a more unselfish player. We have to recruit a tougher player," said Painter. "We have some of those guys in our program and some guys we don't-we've got to get that out of them or maybe this isn't their place.
"That's my fault. This isn't a school district. I recruited these guys, so the position that we're in is my fault."
That last statement could mean some major changes again next season, as Purdue will go through another offseason of major turnover. Four very promising freshmen are coming in, and they are hungry:
Purdue is currently at nine scholarship players with Sterling Carter and Jay Simpson already done. Terone Johnson, Travis Carroll, and Errick Peck are also gone, giving Purdue six players at most that will return. Even then, those six are not a sure thing. A.J. Hammons could bolt to the NBA, even though I think it would be ridiculously stupid for him to go right now. He needs another year and Isaac Haas kicking him in the ass for playing time to show his true potential. There are, of course, always transfer rumors too, and it seems as if Ronnie Johnson, with the graduation of his brother is at the top of that list.
I do think Basil Smotherman, Rapheal Davis, Kendall Stephens, and Bryson Scott are locks to stay. However, and they must be the core of the changed coach Painter needs to enact. I don't think there is a question that they are hard workers and unselfish players that coach Painter has alluded to. Scott has struggled, but is showing promise. Stephens is already a great shooter and will get better with more talent around him. I really liked the way Davis has finished the season and I think he fills a leadership void next season. Smotherman's athleticism is currently unmatched.
There needs to be more, however. I can tolerate a season like this if Purdue gets outplayed in losses, but so many have been from a lack of focus and general not caring. In yesterday's loss to northwestern there was no pride on defense and no one seemed to care we were getting lit up by an offense that is only better than a really bad America East team (Northwestern rated 350 of 351 teams in scoring).
It can be done too, even with new talent. Look at what Tim Miles has done at Nebraska. I watched their game against Wisconsin last night and they played like the Purdue teams of old. They were slow to gel, but once they came together after an 0-4 start to Big Ten play they got on a roll and are now likely an NCAA Tournament team. You're telling me that Purdue, with more "stars" from the last three recruiting classes can't play hard like Nebraska and come together next season and return to the tournament?
It is even a double or nothing season because with no seniors what you see is what will be on the floor for 2015-16 as well. If there isn't vast improvement there is no hope for it to come after next season.
I still believe in coach painter though. I believe in him because of what he said yesterday. He was the anti-Danny hope in that he took full responsibility for delivering a subpar product when expectations were much higher. He still knows the toughness and principles that Purdue basketball was built on and knows he has to find a way to bring that toughness back.
I have no idea why that toughness is gone. I don't know if the players simply aren't listening, if something is wrong with Painter himself after the rumors of his personal life and divorce have swirled, if Cardinal Court is cursed and we need an exorcism to get the practice court to function as an asset or what. Whatever it is, it needs to end this offseason and Purdue needs to play Purdue-style basketball next season. Coach Painter knows this as well and knows he has to find a way to bring that back.
If not, it might be time for a change, and Cuonzo Martin is my top choice.
Don't even get me started on Morgan Burke