Matt Painter is going to win a national title
There is no such thing as a coach who can't win in March
On Wednesday, Rob Dauster, Jeff Goodman and Robbie Hummel hosted a live show at the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony. It was, per the usual, a a very good hoops discussion. The highlight was the following segment with Matt Painter, cued up in the YouTube link here, in which Painter — also per the usual — was incredibly forthcoming about his program, about his teams’ habit of NCAA Tournament upsets, about how it all makes him feel.
“Like, it’s borderline — you don’t like to say how you feel because you don’t want to take anything away from your opponent,” Painter said. “I have a lot of respect for anybody that laces them up to come compete, and we got beat straight up. But it is. It’s embarrassing.
“You’ve got to understand how hard it is to do shit straight up and be a No. 1 seed. Do you know how hard it is to win the Big Ten by three games? Anybody that’s competed at that level understands that. We fought to get in the best position, and then we squander it.
“I don’t like talking about it because I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Painter said. “But it eats at you. That’s the bad part of coaching. You should enjoy (everything you accomplished), but you just think about that. And you should — because it’s accurate! If people are saying something about you that’s not true, it’s like, whatever, come on man. But people are saying, ‘Hey man, you keep getting knocked out of the tournament.’ And it’s true. And we need to do something about it.”
It’s almost astonishing, this level of emotional candor, though for Painter it’s not exactly unusual. Purdue’s coach is widely respected not just for the stylistic tendencies of his teams or his long track record of success, but because of how he handles himself, because — at least for media folks like me — when you ask him a question he gives you a real answer.
Like, extremely real. Maybe a little too real. At one point Wednesday, Painter said that in addition to the Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Peter’s shockers you can also include Purdue’s 2021 loss to No. 13-seed North Texas in any consideration of what’s ostensibly wrong with Purdue men’s basketball, and that this inclusion does not paint a flattering portrait of him personally.
“The guys on this team didn’t play North Texas,” Painter said. “I’m the common denominator.”
Brutal. Painter has been doing some soul-searching, needless to say, and anyone who has suffered a crisis of professional confidence, or even a hint of imposter syndrome, can relate. (Wait: Am I actually any good at this? Maybe I actually just suck at this. Been there, man.)
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Indeed, you can almost hear Painter giving in to an idea that forever permeates college basketball discussions, that is as potent and permanent as any totem of annual sports argument, the tired old trope brought out to bludgeon some new unfortunate every spring: This coach can’t win in March. Painter is now the poster-boy for this argument. He knows it. And worst of all is that he has at least considered the possibility that it is correct — that, for some reason, there is something wrong with his teams in the tournament. That he really can’t win in March.
Good news, Matt: This is a myth. A fallacy. It’s fiction. Pure fiction. Painter — like Jay Wright and Tony Bennett and Mark Few and even Bill Self before him — is merely the next in line to prove it wrong.
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