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The Journal Gazette

Friday, February 23, 2018 8:50 pm

Painter named semifinalist for Coach of the Year

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Purdue coach Matt Painter has been named one of the 10 semifinalists for Naismith Coach of the Year, joining Ohio State's Chris Holtmann as one of two Big Ten coaches on the list.

This is clearly well deserved for Painter. After Purdue won the Big Ten a year ago, most experts expected the Boilers to fall back to Earth because they lost the nation's leading rebounder in Homestead graduate Caleb Swanigan.

Instead, the Boilermakers have put together one of the best regular seasons in school history. A few highlights for those of you who are Indiana fans and have actively been trying to block this Purdue team from your mind: the Boilers equaled their highest AP ranking in program history at No. 3 in the country and were a buzzer-beating tip-in away from winning 20 games in a row and likely ascending to No. 1 in the country. With a win against Minnesota, they'll finish the Big Ten season 15-3, besting last year's conference-leading mark.

Painter has done a superb job with this group in particular. Clearly there's plenty of talent, so the success is not all about the coaching, but he's done a very good job of being flexible with his team's game plan, which has been especially important because the Boilers have seen so many different looks from upset-minded teams this season, especially when they're on offense.

Painter has also been good at managing Isaac Haas' minutes. Haas is still not a 40-minute player and the Purdue coach has done a good job of ensuring the big man is still fresh late in games. It helps that freshman Matt Haarms has done a good job in a limited role this season, supplying energy and a little scoring punch.

Of course, Painter has had help with this team. The group of four senior Boilermakers should probably share this award if their coach wins it. Vincent Edwards especially has been (cliche alert) a coach on the floor, settling his team down in tense moments and making sure the team plays together. Even though he's missed the last two games, he's still been watching from the bench and giving his teammates small pieces of advice during timeouts. Players like that are coaches' best friends and Painter has one of the country's best in Edwards.

Painter is now the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten, but he doesn't often get recognized among the conference's best. This year, with perhaps the best team in his 13 seasons, he is going to be.