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Purdue’s NCAA Tournament History Under Matt Painter

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Is it really true that Purdue just faces the hot team?

Purdue v Kansas
Me too coach. Me too.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Last night did not go well. That much we can all admit. Kansas outplayed Purdue and deserved to win that game.

After the game if you venture anywhere on the internet you can find basically two schools of thought. The first is that Painter is terrible and deserves to be dragged into the street, tarred and feathered, and then hanged for his sins against Purdue basketball. The second, and I believe the more reasonable, is that Purdue simply seems to run into the hot team or the team that is a bad matchup for them. Another explanation is that Purdue never seems to find their way into the broken bracket. Rather than agree with this opinion without doing any research I went ahead and took a look at Purdue’s NCAA history under Matt Painter to make up my own mind. Let’s go year by year shall we?

2007- Purdue gets to the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Matt Painter in just his second season as head coach. This is following Gene Keady’s last year when the team went 7-21 and Painter’s first year when the team went 9-19. Purdue was a 9 seed which means after their first round victory they faced a 1 seed. They lost to Florida but gave them their closest game of the tournament. Florida would go on to win the National Title.

2008- With more experience Purdue rose to a 6 seed and after their first round victory they faced a 3rd seeded Xavier team that was simply bigger but also more athletic. Purdue lost and Xavier would go on to the Elite Eight.

2009- With more improvement Purdue would go in as a 5 seed and advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time under Painter. They would lose to 1 seed UCONN who would eventually make it to the Final Four.

2010- We all know what happened in 2010 so I’m not gonna mention it. Purdue was a 4 seed and made it to the Sweet Sixteen again. While there they faced 1 seed Duke and lost. Duke would go on to win the National Title.

2011- Purdue achieved their highest seed under Painter here with a 3 seed. They won their first round game and then faced 11 seeded VCU in what most of us thought would be a layup. Unfortunately, VCU, a first four team, was a buzzsaw and ran through everyone they faced on their way to the Final Four.

2012- Purdue was a lowly 10 seed here but was lucky to be in the tournament. The heroics of Robbie Hummel made this possible. Purdue would win their first game but fall to 2 seed Kansas in the round of 32. Kansas would be the National Runner-Up.

2015- After deciding the NCAA was cool again and they should come back Purdue was a 9 seed and lost to 8 seeded Cincinnati in overtime. Cincinnati would win only this game and lose in the round of 32.

2016- Purdue again faltered in the first round. Purdue was given a 5 seed by the committee and faced University of Arkansas Little Rock the 12 seed in the dreaded 5/12 matchup. Purdue would lose again in the first round but this time in double overtime. ALR would lose in the round of 32.

2017- Purdue was a 4 seed and B1G Champion. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen and lost to 1 seed Kansas. Obviously we don’t yet know how far Kansas is going but as of this writing they are in the Elite Eight.

So, what does all this mean. Well let’s take a look at some numbers.

  • Painter’s record in the tournament with Purdue is 10-9.
  • Of those 9 losses 4 are to 1 seeds.
  • Of those 9 losses 5 have made it to the Final Four or better. This is still pending Kansas who could very well make this 6 of 9 losses.
  • Of those 9 losses 3 are to teams that played in the title game. (Pending Kansas)
  • Of those 9 losses 2 of them are to the eventual national champion. (Pending Kansas)
  • Of those 9 losses just 3 of them have been to teams that were seeded below Purdue.
  • In the 3 Sweet Sixteen appearances Painter has led Purdue to the team has never faced anything but a 1 seed. That means Purdue has never been the beneficiary of a broken bracket under Matt Painter.

To me this proves the idea that Purdue simply has faced some very tough opposition in the NCAA Tournament. I think the numbers back that up especially the number of teams (5) that have gone on to make the Final Four after beating Purdue in just nine tries.

The counter-argument here is of course that Purdue simply needs to have a better regular season, be seeded on the 1-3 line and they would avoid the 1 seed for longer. That’s certainly true and there’s no real way to deny that. If Painter wants to have NCAA success the regular season has to be better. Purdue had such a season in 2010 until things fell apart. That injury caused their seed to drop from a likely 1 or 2 all the way to a 4.

There’s a certain element of luck involved in any run through the NCAA Tournament. It helps if your bracket is broken, if you play near your home, if you get a great seed and a favorable draw. All of these things make NCAA Tournament success more likely. Purdue, it seems to me, has been lacking in the favorable draws. Purdue seems to get the hot team or the top team more often than we would like. That matters. Sometimes, when a team loses a game it’s not because they played bad. Sometimes, and stay with me here, the opponent plays a great game. Purdue’s history in March is littered with great games by tough opponents. Last night was just one more to add to the list.