Imagine you’re doing a puzzle. (Yes this is still a sports blog, stay with me.) Imagine it’s just a five piece puzzle. You’ve done this puzzle a thousand times and you know exactly how it’s done. You’re going into a competition against another guy to see whose puzzle is best. Now, imagine that in your previous competition one of your puzzle pieces breaks. So you’ve got to replace one of those pieces, but all the pieces you have go to other puzzles. Great pieces on their own but not any piece that fits with the puzzle you’re putting together. Now, to make matters worse, imagine that one of your puzzle pieces gets lost for about half the competition. What do you do now? THE STRESS IS UNBEARABLE! If you’re Matt Painter you just throw all the pieces on the floor and create an entirely new puzzle. And you win.
Sure, that was convoluted and a bit bloated but it illustrates my point. Matt Painter did a masterful job on Sunday against Butler. This is a team that Purdue played early in the season when things were going well for Purdue and everyone was happy and healthy for our beloved Boilermakers. This was not the case on Sunday. With the news Friday that Isaac Haas had a fractured elbow we thought all hope was lost. Sure, we wanted to stay positive but did we truly believe that Purdue would get back to the Sweet 16? I think if there was such a thing as veritaserum most of us would have said no we thought Sunday would be a disaster. And for good reason. We all remember the last time Purdue lost a key piece and how the team immediately responded. In the first full game following the Hummel injury in 2010 Purdue managed just 44 points against Michigan State. Interestingly though, that team turned things around come NCAA Tournament time and advanced to the Sweet 16 after a thriller against Texas A&M thanks to a last second layup by Chris Kramer.
It’s worth pointing out just how much Coach Painter had to overcome in order to get this team to the Sweet 16.
- Losing Isaac Hass is obviously the biggest (pun intended) blow this team has faced all season. When you lose a guy that has won over 100 games in his career, has started every game this season, shoots 65% from the floor, and averages double figures you know you’ve got a problem. So, what did Matt Painter do? Well, he just so happened to recruit a 7’3 guy who plays with the exact opposite style of Haas in order to plan for the future. Going into Sunday’s game Haarms had played a max of 27 minutes against, no joke, Butler. Sunday he played 29. In just two additional minutes against Butler this time around Haarms scored 7 points vs. 2 in game one and grabbed one additional rebound. He wound up with 6 on Sunday. Painter put Haarms in the game and adjusted the game plan to rely more on the perimeter shooters and allow Haarms to do what he does best: play with energy. This completely changes the dynamic of the offense, and the defense, and forced the team to adapt to a new game plan within one day. You could see this in the way the team defended screens for instance. Purdue adapted, and won.
- Vincent Edwards’ foul trouble is obviously something you can’t plan for. When one of your stars goes out and gets two fouls with 15:10 left in the game it’s got to be maddening for a coach. Especially if that player is a senior, a leader, and one of your best players. I’m sure Painter was tearing his hair at when that second foul happened. There’s become this ironclad rule in college basketball that if a player gets two fouls in the first half they are plastered to the bench for the remainder of the half. I was afraid that’s what Painter would do. Fortunately for us, he didn’t. When Vincent got pulled after that second foul he had 0 points. Using a substitution pattern that we should all be in awe of Vincent Edwards wound up with 12 points, in 12 minutes, at halftime in a game that Purdue was up just four. Sure, it resulted in Vincent getting his third foul with just :03 left in the half, but that’s all on Edwards and not Painter. That was a foul that your senior should know better than to commit. With three fouls Painter did sit Edwards to start the second half but due to the nature of the game Edwards didn’t get much rest. Edwards played 15 of 20 minutes in the second half and led all Purdue scorers with 20 points. He finished the game with just three fouls.
- The insertion of guys like Jacquil Taylor and Grady Eifert should eventually be turned into a master class in coaching and substitutions. Let’s take Jacquil Taylor first. Sunday was Taylor’s 7th game of 2018. The entire calendar year he had played in six games prior to Sunday. The most minutes he’d played in this calendar year was eight in the blowout against Iowa. Sunday Taylor played seven minutes total but was absolutely everything we needed him to be. He looked great on defense. Shot 1-2 from the floor and gave much needed relief to the lack of available bodies. What does that have to do with Painter you ask? In my opinion it speaks to the way in which Painter prepares his players that a guy like Taylor, rusty as can be, could come in and know his defensive assignments so thoroughly that there’s no huge disruption in the game plan. What about Grady Eifert? Eifert played an astonishing 17 minutes. I would imagine even Eifert himself didn’t expect to be playing 17 pivotal minutes in an NCAA Tournament game and that’s a testament to his hard work and effort. The guy just has forced his way onto the court by doing everything right and making the most of his minutes. He was 1-1 from the floor, he loses points for failing to convert the and one, and grabbed 5 rebounds. Only Matt Haarms grabbed more for Purdue. Incredible.
I understand that a certain part of any fanbase is always going to be disgruntled and unhappy with the coach but even the most ardent ‘Ainters have to admit that this was a maestro type performance. The ability to sub Vincent in and out to protect him in the first half, the ability to adapt without Haas, the ability to get the most out of guys like Taylor and Eifert was beautiful to behold. If Painter can create another coaching performance like this on Friday in Boston Texas Tech better watch out.