Okay - we are still 13-2 and probably still a top ten team but two losses over the Holidays has many wondering what happened to our final Four Boilermakers? I have heard many thoughts but after watching some film I have formed what may be a completely crazy and stupid opinion. It’s coaching.
Now I am not even sure it’s bad coaching — it may even be good coaching in the long run but hear me out. The Milwaukee Bucks made a change a few years ago to focus on being ready for the playoffs. Being the best team all season long only to fall in the playoffs was deemed a bad outcome so the roster instead was built for the playoffs and players started getting more rest during the season. The outcome? A Championship and maybe more than one.
Watching the two losses it seems like Painter is still trying to learn what he has in each player. Let’s look mat each game individually.
Against Rutgers we allowed Harper to go off for 30 points. In that game Morton was the defender who allowed the most points against the hot player including a very lazy defense on the last play. Early in the game we basically didn’t cover Harper and Sasha and Furst got burned by that decision as they were way off Harper as he dropped shots from deep over them. Later in the game Painter put Morton on Harper and result was not great. Sometimes it did look like Morton played good D but still his guy scored. Seven of his last nine points were against Morton.
Against Wisconsin and Davis Painter seemed to try just about everything against Davis. Davis scored against seven different defenders and made Ivey look bad. Would be surprised if the Celtics would pick Ivey over Davis in the draft. But again Painter went with Morton late and eleven of Davis’ last 12 points were against Morton. His D was sometimes okay and sometimes horrible but it was Morton whom Painter gave the assignment to and Morton who quite frankly failed.
Had Painter been playing for ranking or for an undefeated season would he have entrusted Morton to defend the hot man late in the game? No - I believe he would have put Hunter on the man. Of the 67 points scored against us by the two starring opponents in our two losses exactly two were scored on Hunter and that was a very difficult, very well defended fade away two by Davis. Does winning these games by putting Hunter on these guys keep us undefeated? Maybe. Does getting the 6’6" Morton experience to become a better defender make us a stronger team in March? Absolutely.
I was also going to piss and moan that Matt going away from our greatest strength - our depth. Problem is this isn’t true. Through 15 games we have still had the same or more bench minutes and more bench points against every team we have played and even in the last two we had more bench minutes and points than we did in our wins against Nova and UNC.
I think that maybe Matt is tuning the team for the long run and you can’t tune the engine while it’s in the race. Maybe he is taking a page out of the Izzo play book and playing for March and fates be willing April. I hated the Rutgers loss because I felt like we got beat because we didn’t play hard enough- we left Harper wide open the whole first half. I hated the Wisconsin loss because we just looked like we didn’t try very hard at Mackey which just so disappointed me and others. But you learn from losses and not from wins and maybe just maybe Matt is using the regular season to learn and coach so he has his best team when it matters.Talents there, coaching skill is there so that’s my take and I hope it works out in the end.
Last point - I hope he plays Williams and Edey together some - let’s learn how well or poorly that works. If we don’t do that I am concerned we never have our best five on the court and that’s a gear we have that we should be able to use. Not all the time but five or ten minutes when it’s needed? I think it be be a great weapon to have tested before March.