Queue up the One Shining Moment — someone’s life-long dream is about to come true while the other’s crashes and burns on the doorstep of greatness.
-No. 3 Purdue Boilermakers vs No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers
- Time/TV: 8:49PM ET - TBS
- KenPom Spread: Virginia (-4.5)
Forget the Zion’s and the Ja’s of the world, when it comes to college basketball the coaches are the real stars.
And while Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams might be the NCAAs Billy Joel and Elton John (two old dudes who either love or hate each other, one can’t really be sure), tonight’s coaching matchup of Tony Bennett and Matt Painter features rockstar stand-ins for Lou Reed and Warren Zevon — or, acts never fully appreciated by the masses but no-question hall of famers in their own right.
Granted, both Bennett and Painter are fresh off being named their respective conference’s Coach of the Year — ironically the fourth such award for both — but if you asked 100 people to rank the coaches of the Big Ten and ACC, how many would have Bennett or Painter at the top of their list?
Few, if any.
But a big reason for that is, despite 24 combined years at Purdue and Virginia, both Bennett and Painter have never taken a team to the Final Four. For one of these men, that changes tonight.
In Tony Bennett’s case, a trip to Minneapolis would be the climax of a truly remarkable 10 year run in Charlottesville that’s seen the Cavaliers go from ACC also-ran to perennial National Championship contender. For reference, in the 10 years prior to Bennett taking over the program at Virginia, the Cavaliers had just two 20-win seasons, two trips to the NCAA Tournament, and a single ACC title. But in the 9-plus years he’s been in charge, Bennett has led UVA to seven 20-win seasons (including three 30-win campaigns), six NCAA Tournament appearances, and three ACC crowns.
Consistently one of college basketball’s stingiest defenses, the 2018-’19 Cavaliers are healthy (a fact people conveniently forget when referencing last year’s historic first round loss to UMBC) and led by talented offensive players De’Andre Hunter and Kyle Guy.
For Painter, the health of the Purdue program was in fine shape when he found it, but the job he’s done to continue, if not elevate, its run of quality play is nonetheless impressive.
Taking over in West Lafayette way back in 2005-’06, Painter has only failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in three seasons. In fact, despite taking over for a living-legend in Gene Keady — the dude’s name is legit written on the court — Painter has both a better regular season and Big Ten winning percentage than his predecessor.
And while winning at Purdue is nothing new for Painter and the Boilermakers, the job he’s done in 2018-’19 has been one of his best.
Carsen Edwards and his all-world talent make it easy for people to forget just how much Purdue lost from last year’s 30-win team, but Painter had to replace three high-caliber starters in Isaac Haas, Vincent Edwards, and Dakota Mathias heading into the season.
Through a number of grad transfers, former walk-ons, and underclassmen, Painter managed to piece together a puzzle that’s produced a surprising co-Big Ten regular season championship and potentially the program’s first trip to the Final Four since 1980.
All of this said about both Bennett and Painter, it’s a shame that one has to come up just short on removing a decade-plus long monkey from their respective back.
So who gets left on the door step while the other’s title chase continues?
Purdue is good and a living testament to the depth and consistency of the Big Ten — or, you know, the best conference in college basketball.
But Virginia is great and a living testament to the top-level talent of the ACC’s best.
And when it comes down to it Saturday night, great beats good as Virginia continues on.
- Pick Against The Spread: Virginia
Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 20-29