Listen, I know there’s an impulse from fans for their coach to “fight” for their team. Fight the refs who just missed two bad calls back to back for instance. Fight against the dazed way in which your team is playing. I get it. I’m a nightmare at home (at times) when I watch Purdue sports. Just ask my wife and my dog. I’m yelling, I’m cursing, I’m sitting on the edge of my seat and then suddenly rocking back and forth. Sometimes I pace. I’m sure it’s frustrating for her at times. So on that level I get it. You want the coach and the players to care just like you care. Every game this season the Hammer and Rails Twitter account, which I largely run these days during games, has been inundated with people DEMANDING that Coach Painter get a technical foul to show his team that he “gives a shit” and/or to “fight for his guys”. I don’t buy that argument and you shouldn’t either. Let’s play this out shall we?
In this increasingly analytical time in our sports world the key is to always run the play, play the players, make the adjustments, etc. that give you even the slightest statistical edge over your opponent. I’m no analytical genius but it seems to me that providing your opponent two free throws and the ball (i.e. an extra possession) is not the best recipe for success. In fact, I would make the argument that preventing your opponent from getting to the free throw line, the shot is called a free throw for a reason, and preventing them from having additional possessions, like preventing turnovers, is a good thing.
Now, I hear you arguing, BUT IT WORKS! You’ll argue that Mike Krzysdasdjasd (intentional misspelling) gets plenty of techs at Duke and so does Izzo and look at how successful they are! There’s no evidence that those are correlated, and I would point out that these two coaches get highly ranked players each and every year and therefore might be playing at a higher level than most teams. There’s also the awe factor some coaches seem to get from the refs. Whether we like it or not some coaches and some teams get the benefit of the doubt with their players. And, to attack myself, there’s no evidence of that either so maybe that isn’t the case.
As far as the H&R collective memory goes, since I can’t find a database that tracks these things, the last time Matt Painter was kicked out of a game was 2013 at Illinois. Painter did exactly what some of you wanted him to do and got a tech, and then a second one immediately afterward, because his team was playing soft. Direct from the man himself, “You get to that certain point, you want your team to play harder, you want your team to embrace the physicality of the game,” Painter said in his postgame press conference. “And they weren’t.” You may be saying to yourself that Painter agrees with your position and this sort of tactic works! You’d be wrong. The team was down 64-46 (18 points) at the time but ultimately lost 79-59 (20 points). Oddly enough the deficit grew by exactly two points, the number of free throws Illinois was handed due to the technical foul. Of course, one case isn’t enough to prove anything, but I think it’s illustrative.
Ultimately, you, me, and angry twitter fans are all just that, fans. I mean hell, I stopped playing organized basketball when I didn’t make the cut for my seventh-grade basketball team. For some reason a short kid with a not great shot and no real ability to go left didn’t make the team. Explain that one to me! My understanding of the game of basketball is likely higher than the average person but is, without question, far lower than Coach Painter’s. Just like yours is far lower than Matt Painter’s. This isn’t to say the man can’t be questioned or is always right, far from it. This is more to note that Painter knows his team, he knows each individual player, and he understands the stakes of giving a team two free throws and the ball. In a close game that could BE the game. Why give your opponent free opportunities just in the HOPE that it motivates your team, changes the way the refs are calling the game, or even results in a come from behind victory when there’s little evidence behind the theory that it will help?
Instead of that I’ll trust the man who makes millions a year to decide the best way to reach these kids he has spent years of his life with. So next time you see Purdue getting screwed by the refs or the team playing soft just remember that Coach Painter knows what he’s doing and has certainly used a technical foul as a weapon before, but don’t expect him to deploy it often in the future. And don’t expect me to retweet your plea either.