Busting Brackets

Purdue players reach Final Four for head coach Matt Painter

Reaching the Final Four was a team goal for Purdue's players not only because they want to win a championship but because they wanted redemption for head coach Matt Painter.
Tennessee v Purdue
Tennessee v Purdue / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

As time wound down on Purdue's 72-66 win over Tennessee in the Elite 8, star Boilermaker center Zach Edey didn't stop to celebrate reaching the Final Four with his teammates. He didn't go to revel in the cheers of the massive Purdue crowd on hand in Detroit. He didn't head to shake hands with the Volunteers.

Rather, the first thing Edey did was to wrap his head coach, Matt Painter, in a huge embrace as two of the most scrutinized men in the college game together let a year's worth of frustration, embarrassment, and disappointment wash away. It was a sign that Purdue's players wanted to get to the Final Four as much for their embattled coach as they did for themselves.

Painter has become one of college basketball's biggest postseason punching bags in recent years. And for good reason.

In 14 previous trips to the NCAA Tournament as head coach of the Boilermakers, Painter had never reached the Final Four until Sunday. However, that's not why he was a college basketball punchline.

Rather, it has been several early exits and shocking losses in March that have painted Painter as a perpetual postseason disappointment.

Eight times while at Purdue, Painter has failed to get out of the Tournament's first weekend. That includes two stunning first-round losses.

Of course, everyone will forever remember last season's stunning defeat at the hands of Fairleigh Dickinson. Seeded No. 1 in its region, Painter's team fell to a No. 16 seed that didn't even win its conference tournament but had to get into the Big Dance on a technicality.

That 63-58 calamity wasn't the first time that Painter had been upended in the first round by a double-digit seed. Don't forget that in 2021, his No. 4 seeded Boilermakers were taken down by No. 13 seed North Texas in round one.

Of course, there was also the 2022 Sweet 16. That year, Painter's No. 3 seeded team couldn't get past No. 15 seeded St. Peter's to reach the Elite 8.

Those three straight early exits in particular left Painter's March reputation in shambles and rendered him nothing more than a college basketball joke in the minds of many. Now, though, he has gotten over the hump and reached the college hoops version of Valhalla.

Many around the nation have taken notice of Painter's triumph and are celebrating with the coach and his team.

There are plenty of storylines to come from Purdue's gutty win over the Volunteers. Edey had a monster day with 40 points and 16 rebounds.

Tennessee's Dalton Knecht nearly carried his team to the promised land with 37 points of his own. Meanwhile, Volunteer coach Rick Barnes has once again come up short of the National Championship that has eluded him for his entire Hall of Fame career.

All of those are overshadowed by Painter's triumph, though. Seemingly one of the good guys in the sport, he's taken more abuse over the past year than just about any coach in America.

Now, he's headed to the Final Four and he can hold his head up high after putting 2023's disaster behind him and his program. It was an emotional win for the Boilermakers and one they wanted to get for their head coach, a man who now should get the same respect in March that he gets the rest of the season.