Have you been paying attention? Matt Painter has won at least 25 games in each of the past four seasons. This isn't without precedent—he also did this from 2008-2011 with the Baby Boilers. But this is different, there is no transformational recruiting class that was the catalyst for success. Ryan Cline was the only remaining member of the 2016 team, and while Cline had a heck of a career, he scored all of 17 points across 6 games in March of 2016. A nice piece for that team, but hardly the reason it was successful.
This is significant because it means that Matt Painter is winning with different players, different rosters. Even so, a style is emerging. Defensively, this is becoming an old playbook. When he first arrived at Purdue, Painter played an overplay style that resulted in a lot of turnovers. It worked especially well once JaJuan Johnson came to town to protect the rim after those overplay gambles didn't pay off.
Once Johnson left, however, there was no immediate successor at the 5. Travis Carroll and Robbie Hummel split time at the "5" in 2012, and the turnovers fell sharply as well. By the time AJ Hammons arrived, Painter had shifted his defense to be less ball deny. It's not a huge modification in that Purdue still applies plenty of ball pressure, but the passing lanes are less crowded. But Painter clearly wants to have a rim protector on the court at all times. The run of oversized humans he's brought to West Lafayette is becoming comical. From Hammons to Haas to Haarms, he's had a 7-footer on every team since the 2012-13 season. Next year, he welcomes a 7-3, 290 center. He's recruited them from Florida, Kansas (via the Netherlands), Alabama, and...OK Hammons was an Indiana kid but I think it's clear this is very intentional. This is not simply a case of something in the water sprouting a large number of extra-tall Hoosiers.
So the centerpiece for a Matt Painter team is one really tall dude. They have that this year. The rest?
Anyone that can make 3s.
Prior to this run, Painter was content to let the talent on the roster dictate the number of 3s the team attempted. Robbie Hummel is the center? Bombs away. A starting lineup that includes JaJuan Johnson, Chris Kramer, and Lewis Jackson? Maybe only a couple guys have the green light.
But I think it would be foolish to dismiss what we're seeing here as a blip. Yes, he might be adjusting style to the talent, but he's also recruiting the talent. Stasha Stefanovic was not some hotshot recruit, neither was Dakota Mathias or PJ Thompson. Painter fought off Butler for the services of Isaiah Thompson—I'm guessing he'll be a good shooter as well.
Will this trend hold true this season? I actually have some doubts, as 281 made 3-pointers walked out the door when Cline, Grady Eifert, and Carsen Edwards departed. That's a lot—that's more than any other Big Ten team made. But don't bet against Painter just yet. At the 4, Aaron Wheeler might actually improve on Eifert's output, as they were nearly 3P equals last year despite Wheeler playing about half the minutes. With sophomore leaps from Eric Hunter and Stefanovic, and the contributions from High Point transfer Jahaad Proctor, there's a path to 280+ three-pointers.
But I do think this team will fall a bit short of that, if for no other reason than there's only one Carsen Edwards. There's also the fact that Nojel Eastern will likely take an expanded role in the offense, and he isn't a shooter. He is a playmaker, however, and one that benefitted from being guarded by the other team's worst or 2nd-worst defender last year. That may change this season, and it will be interesting to see if he can still make plays off the bounce without an outside shot.
That's just bad on-ball defense, and Eastern won't always have it so easily. The good news is that he's versatile enough that if teams put quicker guards on him, he can post them up.
Eastern also has a reputation as a plus defender, and while I think that's mostly true, I think sometimes Painter shows him a little too much confidence. His long arms can be disruptive:
But quicker guards are probably going to use his length against him. If I'm Painter, I probably put someone else on Winston this year.
Finally, one of the bigger surprises from last year's team was Trevion Williams. The 6-8 freshman was extremely productive, scoring about half a point per minute he was on the floor. He made 55 percent of his 2s, and was a monster on the glass on both ends. He's a pure back-to-the-basket center, and has an elite ability to elevate through contact:
Where I think he's most dangerous, though, is in the passing game. He's a big enough threat in the interior that he figures to draw plenty of attention, and despite his youth, he's pretty adept at finding the open man:
Really, the only thing that prevents me from putting Williams on an All-Conference team is the fact that Haarms is still at Purdue, and likely will continue to get minutes ahead of Williams. Painter does, after all, like his tall centers.
After reaching the Elite 8 last year, Painter is now looking for his first trip to the Final Four. Truth be told, he probably had a better roster last year, but the blueprint is the same. I'd expect something similar as far as overall caliber.