It's the first full day of the NCAA Tournament and so far things have been...um, kind of boring? The Big Ten went 1-1 today and there's been a considerable lack of upsets or crazy must see moments so far, though maybe the last set of games could change things.
1. If you think Purdue needs to fire Matt Painter you're dead wrong
Purdue fans pulled a page from the Indiana fan base, using an unexpected loss as a reason to call for their coaches head. Just like every time the Hoosiers lose a bad game and the Twitterverse brings out the pitchforks, Purdue fans took to social media to trash Matt Painter, Purdue and the direction of the program, claiming the team needs to fire Painter after the Boilermakers won the most games in a season since 2010-11.
Yes, today's tournament result was not desired. Yes, Purdue should have won this game and fell apart in the end, but to claim that Purdue needs to fire Painter now is simply foolish and these are the same people that wanted Painter gone most of last season (before the conference turnaround), wanted him gone last year and probably hold Robbie Hummel's torn ACL against Painter as well. Painter has led the Boilermakers to the NCAA Tournament eight of the last ten years and has mainly avoided any really bad upsets until today, with any talk of "underachieving" being the end result of a few untimely injuries to Hummel causing issues for Painter's best teams.
It's interesting to call for his head after another NCAA Tournament appearance as the tournament is typically illogical and these things (unfortunately) happen. Prior to Painter's arrival Purdue had made it to the NCAA Tournament one time in the five previous years and hadn't won more than 19 games in any of those seasons. As legendary and heralded as Gene Keady was for his tenure at Purdue, his level of success wasn't very different then what Painter has achieved. As good as some of Keady's teams were, they never made it past the Elite 8 in 25 seasons. In those 25 seasons and 17 tournament appearances, Keady's teams made it past the second round only five times.
The point of that last paragraph wasn't to tarnish Keady's legacy, but to bring into question what Purdue fans are referencing when they claim that the team would be better without Painter. The fact that Painter was essentially capable of getting this team to be this good this season with no point guard was an impressive feat and the reality is this: In Painter's eight tournament appearances this was the first time the team has been truly "upset."
Seriously, they've gotten beaten out by three one seeds (Florida, Connecticut, Duke), a two seed (Kansas), three seed (Xavier), eight seed (Cincinnati) and then VCU. Yes, VCU was an 11 seed, but the team was without Hummel and Kelsey Barlow and, for what it's worth, that VCU team almost made it to the title game. Upsets happen and this was the first truly bad NCAA Tournament loss under Matt Painter in eight trips. Even if you wanted more, that's not a fireable offense and if you think it is you're simply being delusional.
2. That being said, the end of the game was an absolute mess
A lot of Purdue fans took to the comments throughout the year (and preseason) to claim the team didn't need a true point guard and would make do as is. Well when the offense went south at the end of today's loss, it became painfully apparent that the Boilermakers did need a legitimate point guard. Nothing against what P.J. Thompson and Johnny Hill have done this season, as they definitely showed flashes at times, but down the stretch Little Rock wasn't even guarding Hill, who was too gun shy to shoot the ball and wasn't able to create shots for anyone else on the roster. The uneffectiveness at the point made it even harder to feed it inside to the bigs, not allowing Purdue to take advantage of their size, and with the threes not falling at the end things fell apart.
Purdue's biggest issues this season outside of some problems with inconsistency typically stemmed from turnovers and poor three point shooting. These issues would have been (mainly) remedied if they had a guard that could create shots (taking control of the offense as well) and shoot from the perimeter, something Purdue fans are hoping they will get with Carsen Edwards next season. As bad as today might have been, this team next season could still be an extremely talented unit if Caleb Swanigan returns. While the loss of Hammons will be a hit, this team could still be cemented down low with Isaac Haas and Swanigan, with Vince Edwards at the wing, Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline shooting from the perimeter, and an actual point guard in Carsen Edwards. It's not the end of the world for Purdue, even with Hammons and Rapheal Davis set to graduate.
One more note on Purdue, I'm curious as to what happened with Edwards at the end of the game? Edwards has typically been clutch and key for Purdue down the stretch, but his blunder at the end of regulation cost the team a chance to win the game, while he also started chucking up contested jumpers instead of trying to create scoring opportunities or feeding Hammons. The loss wasn't all on Edwards though, as the team refused to feed Hammons inside down the stretch, holding onto the ball and burning clock even while Painter yelled at them to pick up the pace and keep moving. Mix that with the inability to convert free throws and a few clutch Little Rock shots and the team ended up with the loss.
3. Indiana took care of business
The Hoosiers let Chattanooga hang around for a half before taking care of business in their first round outing, definitely a good thing for the team and Tom Crean as I think the fan base would have been even more upset than the Purdue fan base had they lost. It's easy enough to win when you shoot 64.9% from the field, 58.8% from three and your opponent can only hit 3 of 18 three pointers. The Hoosiers will now most likely take on Kentucky on Saturday in what will be one of the most interesting second round matchups...assuming Kentucky doesn't somehow lose to Stony Brook. It'll be interesting to see how well Indiana handles the Wildcats in the next round and even more interesting to see how their fan base will view the game, especially if they fall to Kentucky.
4. The night games are still going, but the first day was relatively uneventful
The NCAA Tournament always has an interesting start. Early on you root for the favorites, even the teams you hate, simply to keep your bracket looking good. Of course then several teams blow up your bracket, things fall apart and you root for chaos across the board. As of right now (it's about 10 PM ET) today has been kind of boring. There's only been two true upsets, with both Baylor and Purdue losing, interestingly as both teams squandered late opportunities for wins when their guards fell down driving to the rim. While UNC Wilmington tried to make things interesting early, Duke was too much down the stretch. Beyond that you've had some close games but there hasn't been any colossal upsets, crazy buzzer beaters or defining moments just yet. Hopefully that means we're going to be in for a crazy ride tomorrow, though all three of my brackets are still in the top 92% so I might still be hoping for a lack of upsets instead.