It’s the Saturday roundtable. I had a whole other question ready to go, sent out, and I had responses, and then boom, Purdue loses to FDU. I had to change the question.
Well, that was embarrassing. Purdue has now lost to a double digit seed three years in a row and became just the second #1 seed to ever lose to a 16 seed. What does Purdue need to change to stop this troubling trend?
You’ll hear more from me on this tomorrow, a lot more, when the newest podcast drops but I want to put at least some of my thoughts here. Painter is rigid. That can be a strength because he knows who he is and how to get the most out of his team early in the year. It allows his team to be ready to play from day one. Unfortunately, that also seems to mean that is unwilling to change when things get tight. He’s allowed smaller, less athletic, and less skilled teams to dictate the pace and style of play in the NCAA Tournament for the last three years. Painter needs to figure out how to impose his will on opponents in the Tournament. We can’t keep doing this. It’s not sustainable.
The easy answer is with a new head coach but that isn’t going to happen, so let’s be a bit more realistic. Matt Painter has Purdue playing a brand of basketball that leaves itself extremely vulnerable to the teams that is has failed to beat in the tourney now on multiple occasions. In the B1G, you just don’t see teams go small ball very much because of the issues it would likely cause long term. It isn’t just the ‘use a traditional big man and surround him with shooters’ that’s the problem, it’s the style of basketball that is being played that is the problem.
It is no surprise that the other team that seems to have this same issue is Virginia. They play a very similar brand of basketball, one that relies on skill, making outside shots, and slowing a game down. The issue becomes, what happens when the shots aren’t falling and you can’t control the tempo and pace of the game? You get beat by inferior opponents. We saw it multiple times this season but Purdue was able to squeak by Davidson (3/25) and beat Austin Peay (2/19) but got beat by FDU (5/26).
Purdue is wholly un-athletic at the SG and SF position, which is fine if those guys are hitting shots. The issue is they just haven’t and aren’t able to compensate by creating shots and then playing defense in a manner that makes up for it. To make up for that, Purdue runs complex sets to generate open shots but when time winds down on the shot clock, they have nobody who is a threat to be able to generate a look on their own.
So what needs to happen? Matt Painter has got to change the way he operates as a head coach and needs to find a system that allows players to continue to develop more. It seems players get fit into a box and then struggle to develop outside of that. Trey Kaufman-Renn looks nothing like the player that appeared to be developing entering Purdue where he now seems to just be a back to the basket post. Brandon Newman was supposed to be that athletic 2/3 that could go make shots but has seemingly been forced into a ‘catch and shoot’ wing. Caleb Furst is a post that runs like a gazelle and has an obvious advantage in the athletic category in the interior and seems to be just a rebounder now.
Fitting into roles is wonderful but when it limits player development and leads to continued struggles in situations like this, the head coach has to reevaluate. Matt Painter is at another crossroads and it is probably much bigger than the one he faced after the failed seasons of 2013 and 2014. This loss to FDU is one that won’t go away and has brought up Little Rock, VCU, St. Peter’s, and North Texas to make them forever relevant to the program until he is no longer the coach. This loss also may have sealed the fate of any of his coaching tree from returning to Purdue outside of a Micah Shrewsberry.
I’m going to try and put cohesive thoughts together here. They should try scoring more points than the other team. That usually works. It’s an unfathomable loss to a team that didn’t even shoot lights out. Simply put, we need elite guards. You can have all the big men you want, but guards win in March. The only time we’ve done anything as of late is when Carsen/Cline went unconscious. Also, learn how to handle pressure and break a press. And when you do break it, make them pay for it, don’t let their defense catch up. I never understood why we didn’t do that more. None of that was cohesive but give me a break, I’m struggling after this one.
I’ll give you a sneak peak at an upcoming article.
Purdue needs to play basketball again. I’ve been calling for it for quite sometime. Basketball is a free flowing game built on athletism and improvisation on offense and aggression and toughness on defense. At one point in his career, this was Matt Painter’s specialty.
Then something changes. He fell in love with analytics and started coaching a math problem instead of a basketball team. He started valuing efficiency over everything. The motion offense is dead at Purdue. It requires everyone to be a threat. How many times last night did FDU simply ignore Purdue players on defense? It’s all so incredibly predictable. Purdue is by far the easiest scout in college basketball. Watch 10 minutes of any Purdue game and you know what you need to try and do to stop them. Granted, knowing and doing are different propositions.
I always maintain that Purdue plays better against teams that say “we’re going to play our game, and ignore what Purdue wants to do.” You saw Purdue blow out Gonzaga and Duke because they came out and tried to play their game against Purdue instead of simply doing the things teams do to beat Purdue. You don’t get that from automatic qualifier teams. They know they can’t play their game and beat Purdue (although FDU sort of played their game last night, it happens to also be Purdue’s kryptonite), instead, they focus on stopping Purdue from playing their game. It’s been stunningly effective in beating Purdue in March.
I don’t even want to talk about the defense. That’s what hurts me the most as a Purdue fan. Matt Painter’s new(ish) slavish dedication to not fouling has gutted the very soul of Purdue basketball. “Defense Lives Here” has been replaced by “Hope the Other Team Misses Shots.” FDU brought more intensity last night on defense than Purdue brought collectively all season. FDUs defensive intensity fueled them, in a way, Purdue’s intentional passivity fueled them as well, but not in a good way. Last night FDU, a #16 seed that got into the tournament on a technicality was the hunter, and the #1 seeded Purdue was the hunted...all by design.
I’ve got a few thousand words to write on this topic, but in summary, Painter has to get back to basic tennants of Purdue basketball. If that means fewer regular season wins or slower starts, so be it. Let’s play Purdue basketball again and stop playing a math problem.