From October through February, the icy teeth of the dance card, Matt Painter’s Purdue basketball teams are a safe bet, the kind of reliable you can set an Apple Watch to.
March? Total crapshoot.
Heads, Sweet 16.
Tails, Arkansas-Little Rock.
It’s interesting. Since 2010, Purdue’s average seed at the NCAA Tournament is a 6, yet the Boilermakers are all of four up and five down in Bracketville to show for it.
In fact, over the last six tourneys, a single-digit seed Big Ten program has been bounced by a double-digit Cinderella on six different occasions — and Painter’s Boilers account for a third of those upsets (Purdue, two; Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State, one each).
Granted, it’s a small sample size. Especially when compared to the big picture: A trio of Big Ten Coach of the Year trophies from 2008 through 2011, an average of 21.6 wins per season, a .582 career league winning percentage (or 10.5 league wins per year over an 18-game slate), and Big Dances in eight out of 11 campaigns.
The Boilers have produced five NBA Draft picks since 2007, or as many as they’d managed in the previous 17 years combined. All this on the backside of recruiting classes from 2006-15 that were rated by 247Sports, on average, as sixth-best out of 14 current (or future) Big Ten peers.
So when Painter confirmed earlier this week that he’d agreed to a three-year extension in West Lafayette through 2022, a deal expected that’s expected to be confirmed by the powers-that-be next month, your relative enthusiasm probably fell in line with where the Boilers’ ceiling sits inside your headspace.
In one corner, the news was a gesture toward continuity, a nod to the forward momentum of 47 wins over the last two winters. In the other, it might’ve been construed as settling.
In both camps, it probably depends on the buyout. Especially given that the current arrangement guarantees Painter, a Boiler alum who played under Gene Keady, a reported $2.45 million in salary, and the school is allegedly on the hook for every penny.
So “deserved” is relative. In the short-term, let’s call the announcement prudent, if nothing else, given that Painter’s current contract was up in 2019. In 2017, Purdue could have four scholarship slots to fill, and possibly more, one of those roster-defining windows that coaches don’t want to leave to chance.
Plus, it leaves athletic director Morgan Burke with one less deck chair to rearrange before shuffling off into retirement next July, especially while football is still a raging migraine.
Boiler hoops is many things. But broke, it ain’t.
In a conference with an average of 12.3 members since 2009-’10 — hello, realignment math! — Purdue under Painter usually scraps and grinds and floor-burns its way to a fifth-place finish (4.85, on average, since 2010). Over Painter’s first 11 seasons, the count is eight NCAA tournaments, one regular-season Big Ten title and one conference tourney title. In Keady’s last 11 years, the kitty was seven NCAA tourneys and two regular-season crowns.
So the Boilers remain well above irrelevance but a notch below The Izzone and The Bo Ryan Belt, take it or leave it. Painter is 1-7 in his last eight against Michigan State dating back to 2012, 3-5 versus Wisconsin, 3-5 versus Indiana.
Naysayers will invariably point to the above, if backed into a corner, as well as the fact that Painter has yet to push the Boilers past the Sweet 16 in the Big Dance.
Of late, Purdue has worn the badge of a No. 5 seed marked for death in office pools from La Jolla to Bangor, winless in Bracketville since 2012. As a 3-seed in 2011, the Boilers fell to 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in the second round.
Nor did it help this past March when the Trojans — not of Southern California, but Little Rock — plucked Purdue’s scalp in overtime as a plucky 12 seed. It’s hard to pin perception to reality when that reality is doing serpentines all over the blasted map.
In 2010, he was tied for first. In 2014, he was last. The truth about Painter probably lies in the middle there, somewhere.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler