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Yes, Purdue Can Still Make the NCAA Tournament

The Boilers are going through some growing pains at the moment, but there is still reason to hope.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue has played 10 games on the young basketball. It is is 6-4. That is a rarity in recent seasons. Last year we were 8-2 after 10 games. The same was true in 2016-17. In fact, here is the 10-game record for Matt Painter’s teams and the final finish:

2005-06: 6-4, finished 9-19

2006-07: 8-2, finished 22-12, reached NCAA Second Round

2007-08: 7-3, finished 25-9, reached NCAA Second Round

2008-09: 8-2, finished 27-10, reached Sweet 16

2009-10: 10-0, finished 29-6, won Big Ten, and reached Sweet 16

2010-11: 9-1, finished 26-8, reached NCAA Second Round

2011-12: 8-2, finished 22-13, reached NCAA Second Round

2012-13: 4-6, finished 16-18, played in CBI

2013-14: 8-2, finished 15-17

2014-15: 8-2, finished 21-13, reached NCAA Tournament

2015-16: 10-0, finished 26-9, reached NCAA Tournament

2016-17: 8-2, finished 27-8, won Big Ten, reached Sweet 16

2017-18: 8-2, finished 30-7, reached Sweet 16

Purdue has reached the NCAA Tournament 10 times in the previous 13 seasons under Matt Painter, with the worst start in those 10 seasons being the 7-3 finish in 2007-08. That was the year we lost a tight game at Clemson in the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge, a road game at Missouri, and a home WTF loss to Wofford.

That team was very young, much like this year’s team. The only two seasons of an equal or worse start were in Painter’s first year of 2005-06 and in the 2012-13 season. In 2005-06 the 6-4 start had losses to Xavier, at Florida State by 40, at Evansville, and at Loyola-Chicago. This was a team pretty much devoid of talent and it got worse with Carl Landry shutting things down for the year due to his previous knee injury. The deck was stacked against this team from day one, and it won only three more times the rest of the year.

The 2012-13 season was also extremely young. D.J. Byrd was the senior leader and the A.J. Hammond/Rapheal Davis crew were precocious freshmen. That season started with a home loss to a pretty good Bucknell team, then the infamous Villanova loss in the Garden before falling to Oregon State in the consolation game there. We had a decent win at Clemson in the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge, but lost to Xavier, at Eastern Michigan and to Notre Dame in the Crossroads.

This year’s 6-4 is very different, even though the team is still young and inexperienced. Three of the four losses are in true road games. Three of the four losses are to top 15 teams as well. In 2005-06 we didn’t play a single top 25 in the first 10 games. In 2012-13 only Notre Dame, in game 10 at No. 22, was ranked. If you look at the first 10 games in each of Matt Painter’s 14 seasons to date Purdue only played the following top 25 teams:

2005-06: None (at #4 Memphis was in Game 11)

2006-07: #23 Georgia Tech in Maui (loss), #25 Virginia (win), #18 Butler at BLF (loss)

2007-08: at #18 Clemson (loss), #22 Louisville at BLF (win)

2008-09: #11 Oklahoma at MSG (loss), #4 Duke (loss)

2009-10: #9 Tennessee in the Paradise Jam (win)

2010-11: None

2011-12: #16 Alabama in Puerto Rico (loss), at #11 Xavier (loss)

2012-13: #22 Notre Dame in the Crossroads (loss)

2013-14: #5 Oklahoma State in the Old Spice Classic (loss)

2014-15: None

2015-16: None

2016-17: #3 Villanova (loss), at #14 louisville (loss)

2017-18: #2 Arizona (win), #17 Louisville (win)

In this season’s first 10 games Purdue has played four ranked teams (Michigan, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Florida State). It also has played a Texas team that has been in the top 25 and a Davidson team that is 8-1 with its only loss to Purdue. Only four games have been in Mackey Arena, by far the fewest in a season opening stretch under Painter. My pretty much every measure it is the toughest opening stretch we have seen. We have lost by 6, 1, 19, and 4. In the 6-4 start in 2005-06 we lost by 19, 40, 6, and 15. In the 4-6 start in 2012-13 we lost by 5, 8 (in overtime), 8, 6, 3, and 13.

I am saying all this mostly to put some perspective on where we are right now. I completely understand the frustration because the last few seasons have been great. I also understand how frustrating it is that we could easily be 9-1 right now. We let Virginia Tech get away due to poor defense, missed free throws and turnovers cost us against Florida State. Last night we pretty much let Carsen Edwards down.

Really, blame can be spread around. Everyone has been at fault at times. Carson was pretty bad at Florida State but was excellent last night. Ryan Cline was excellent at Florida State but struggled last night. Grady Eifert, Matt Haarms, Nojel Eastern, and Evan Boudreaux have been mercurial. and yes, Matt Painter has been up and down. He has been great at making halftime adjustments to get us back into games like FSU and Texas after poor first halves, but some other factors are on him like the bizarre screwup out of a timeout that led to a desperation heave from Cline because everyone was seemingly unaware of the shot clock.

Also on Painter is the recruiting misses. I cannot help but think of the missed opportunity we had to lock down high level guys in the last few seasons when we were highly rated, yet we entered this season with two open scholarships, knowing what we were losing. It is not just the big names like never even being close to getting Romeo Langford or Trayce Jackson-Davis. It is not taking a chance on a guy like Desmond Bane when we had the room for him to be a project. Bane is averaging 16-6-4 for a pretty good TCU team as a 6’5” scoring guard. There is also the “no point guard” thing, which is definitely an issue right now.

Fortunately, we still have time to figure things out. In 2007-08 we didn’t look anything like a tournament team after losing at home to Wofford, then falling to Iowa State in the next game to go 7-4. We then nearly won the Big Ten. I would be surprised if we won the Big Ten, but this is still a good enough team to make the NCAA Tournament. It is not like any of the losses have been crippling and the Big Ten presents ample opportunities to get quality wins.

Much of this predicates on beating Notre Dame on Saturday. Lose that, and we go 0-4 in our marquee non-conference games. Sure, none of them would be bad losses, but there is a difference between “no bad losses” and “missed opportunities”. Right now VaTech, Texas, and Florida State are all missed opportunities because we could not close out close games.

From there, we need to take care of business against Ohio and a pretty good Belmont team at home in games we should win. In the final 18 games we have nine against teams that were ranked in last week’s top 25. Again, that is opportunity. As long as we win the next three games and take at least 11 of those remaining Big Ten games we should be fine. Remember: many of those games are back at home, too. And remember, it is not like we are far off here. If we can have these close losses with some glaring (but fixable) issues on the floor the wins can be there. When we have had five straight seasons of a 7 seed or worse reaching the Final Four anything can happen as long as you just make the field, especially if you have a guy like Carsen.

This entire piece is not meant as defense of coach Painter. He has his faults and definitely deserves criticism, especially on the recruiting front. He has also shown int he past he can develop talent and correct mistakes. His halftime adjustments in recent games have shown just that. This piece is mostly meant to show that there is no reason to give up not his season as a wash already. We’ve merely dropped some close games. It happens. You win some, and you lose some. Painter has a winning record in such games over recent years, and no team is perfect.

This team is fully capable of turning it around. We have three freshmen, two sophomores, a walk-on, and a transfer playing major minutes after losing one of the most experienced rosters in the nation. They re still a close as we have been. Yes, it has issues, but we’re still a team that can make the tournament quite easily.