Court Report: Formula that won Kansas a national title might also help Purdue win 2023 NCAA Tournament


A starting five of players who ranked 36th, 53rd, 94th, 130th and 132nd in their respective recruiting classes. No five-stars to be found in that group. 

But a lock First Team All-American at a program that makes the NCAA Tournament practically on an every-year basis? Not just that, but a squad led by an elite coach and with a high-octane offense? That kind of team can win the national title. 

That kind of team just did win the national title. 

I’m not talking about Purdue — I’m talking about Kansas. Those five starters were David McCormack (36th), Jalen Wilson (53rd), Dajuan Harris (94th), Christian Braun (130th) and Ochai Agbaji (132nd). Last April, they hopped on ladders and cut down nets in New Orleans. 

Purdue could do the same this April in Houston. 

Despite Purdue’s star-crossed luck in the NCAAs over the years, 2023 can be different. The Boilermakers, unranked to begin the season, have been sitting in the top five of the polls for more than a month. Many factors brought Purdue to this point, this year, the biggest being a decision Matt Painter made almost nine years ago. Purdue finished 15-17 in 2013-14. Those 17 losses left a stench he couldn’t avoid.

“You hate for failure to confirm what you believe,” Painter told me this week. He believed he wasn’t recruiting the right players — some players he wanted — because maybe weren’t as highly ranked, or others he begrudgingly opted not to pursue for whatever reasons. In 2014, that changed. Painter went into deeper statistical analysis and took more stock in personality testing. 

“Let’s ignore rankings, let’s ignore who’s recruiting them, let’s ignore some of the things that don’t matter,” Painter said. 

That 2013-14 team was the last time Purdue was mediocre. The Boilers have made every NCAA Tournament since. 

“When I got right down to it, it was like, man, why aren’t we butting heads with the best guy at Davidson, the best player at Belmont, because I love watching those guys play,” Painter said. “Rick Byrd and Bob McKillop, they’re finding the best guys. And don’t look at it like the best players in the MAC can’t play in the Big Ten.”

Painter’s coaching acumen has been held in high regard for a long time. But it’s how he recruits to his style — with unwavering conviction in guys he target — that’s made him a top-10 coach in the eyes of many. Third-ranked Purdue is 15-1, tracking toward a top seed, and Painter’s threaded a needle that is wowing others in the profession.

Here’s how Painter and his assistants built one of the sport’s best teams. Below:Purdue’s six biggest minutes-getters, none of them five-stars, and only one of them a four-star prospect in high school.

Mason Gillis (220th in Class of 2019)

The fit: “He had so many intangibles that affected winning. He had to blossom into someone that was on the perimeter pretty exclusively when he got to college. He was really wired from a competitive standpoint.” 

Painter didn’t know anything of Gillis’ game until he saw him play in high school — not even on the grassroots circuit. Gillis played at New Castle High, the school of former legends Kent Benson and Steve Alford. He played the 5 then. After Ohio State offered, Indiana recruited him but decided not to offer him, and Purdue eventually beat out Butler for Gillis. 

Zach Edey (440th in Class of 2020)

The fit: “He looked really good in workouts to me, I liked his hands. His ability to move wasn’t great, but it was great for his size.” 

The frontrunner for national player of the year now, but once upon a time Edey played backup to former five-star center Mark Williams at IMG Academy. Before that, he was on the B team. Painter didn’t even see Edey play until October of his senior year. Aside from his height, Painter said he recruited Edey on account of striking out on Hunter Dickinson (Michigan) and Ryan Kalkbrenner (Creighton). When Matt Haarms opted not to come back, it left a spot available for Edey to play right away, something Painter sold Edey on in recruiting. Edey, only in his third year of organized basketball to that point, picked Purdue over Baylor. Painter knew it would take years, but eventually “the light would turn on.” 

Now it’s blinding.

Ethan Morton (103rd in Class of 2020)

The fit: “Ethan’s passing, understanding of the game is just what we were looking for.”

The staff was in by the time Morton was a sophomore and offered almost immediately. Painter was intentional about scouting him solo multiple times. Purdue beat out Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, Pitt and others to get him. He’s been an ideal role player since, and in many ways is the cog for the program, helping keep the locker room steady and positive.

Caleb Furst (65th in Class of 2021)

The fit: The relative superstar of all the guys on the list. A local talent and one Purdue prioritized early.

Furst had no shortage of suitors by the time he was a freshman. One thing that helped: Furst’s high school coach was the late Mark Davidson, who played at Illinois. Painter got to know him well after the two of them went on a European trip in the early 1990s as part of the Big Ten All-Star team, a now-defunct endeavor.

“Mark was someone you could trust, who you could talk to,” Painter said.

Davidson’s word was enough for Painter. Furst was aggressively recruited, and in the end, Purdue beat out North Carolina, Virginia and many in the Big Ten. He’s been exceedingly selfless in his role, which has been crucial to the program’s fluidity the past two seasons.

Fletcher Loyer (95th in Class of 2022)

The fit: “Great feel. Needed to get bigger, but a guy who really understands angles and knows what’s going on out there at all times. You can see it in front of your eyes in terms of how confident and good he was.” 

Of course Painter remembers the first time he saw Fletcher — it was because he was recruiting his older brother, Foster, who’d eventually commit to Michigan State. They were working out in a gym, and Fletcher was a middle-schooler. Former Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry recruited the younger Loyer, and did so during the peak of COVID. Once Loyer moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, he committed as a junior, choosing Purdue over Michigan. It was destiny. Loyer’s mother was a volleyball coach at Purdue and his grandparents were longtime residents of the area. At the time, Shrewsberry was months away from leaving for the Penn State job. Jameel Brown was also committed to Purdue (without ever having taken a visit). When Shrewsberry took the Penn State job, Brown went with, opening an opportunity for …

Braden Smith (196th in Class of 2022)

The fit: “Looked great on film. Instincts, a sixth sense on offense and defense. Leadership, competitiveness.”

Painter needed another guard after losing Brown. He fielded a lot of calls from people in Indianapolis who stumped for Smith. After watching five prospects in a three-day window, Painter put Smith, the lowest-ranked of the five, at the top of his list. He trusted his eyes, but he called coaches at all levels to confirm. Everything checked out. Smith was off the charts. He reminded Painter of guys who’d play for Byrd and McKillop. In fact, Smith was leaning toward committing to Belmont at the time.

“One college coach called him a basketball savant,” Painter said. “Elite talent, elite feel, elite IQ. He just understands it.”

Purdue offered in April 2021. Less than 48 hours later, Smith committed. Now he’s the head of a Boilermaker train barreling down the tracks, an unlikely collective of players who would have fit in a lot of places but seem to have found the right place and their best possible fit at Purdue.

Painter makes it look easy, but to do what he’s done in recruiting + on-court success is something few other coaches have the capacity to pull off.

Texas won’t move swiftly to replace Beard

Travis Branham reported Monday, on 247Sports’ Texas message board, that UT “has contacted John Calipari already through back channels.” This was expectedly refuted by Calipari and Texas’ AD hours later.  

Yes, Texas officials will contact agents privately to gauge interest. That is likely happening at other schools now, too, for jobs likely to open in two months. But there won’t be movement on Texas’ next coach until March. I’m told interim coach Rodney Terry will certainly have a chance to win the job, should he continue to keep UT ranked and near the top of the Big 12 for the next two months. Do I think Texas will kick the tires on Calipari? Sure, but Calipari’s in PR hell right now. Do I think he’s Texas’ top target? No. Calipari (who’s recruited 2023’s No. 1 class to UK) will be 64 in February and has seemingly lost his fastball. While he’d be on the short list of top candidates, guys like Royal IveyEric Musselman, Nate Oats, Scott Drew and Bruce Pearl seem more likely than Cal to head to Austin — if Terry isn’t the guy. 

Jerome Tang, my leading candidate for coach of the year, turned heads with this quote Monday.

My read on that: Tang is not using a presser for leverage. He’s a humble man of faith. Tang was being honest about how God guides him every day, and this has led some K-State fans to panic a bit. If anything, his honesty is refreshing. I expect Tang to be at Kansas State next season.

Texas, with its sparkling-new arena and SEC future, will swing big. UT’s huge money will command attention of outside coaches. It’s a top-10 job in the sport, and the irony/rarity of it all is that a top-10 job has come open at the same school for a second time in three seasons.

Bizarre anomaly: Most preseason favs floundering

Scope the standings in Big Six leagues. You know who’s not competing at the top in all but one of them? The forecasted favorites from two months ago. We almost never see this many high-major champion picks this far behind by mid-January. The only league going to plan at the top: the Pac-12. UCLA was the preseason pick, garnering 26 out of 33 first-place votes. That remains true; the Bruins are 5-0 and atop the Pac-12 standings. 

Elsewhere, it’s messy.

ACC — North Carolina: The Tar Heels are 11-6, unranked and coming off a loss at Virginia on Tuesday, dropping them to 3-3 in the ACC. The preseason No. 1 team in the land has been erratic and disappointing. Carolina might be fated to a similar seed as the No. 8 it got a year ago.

Big East — Creighton: Once a top-10 team, the 9-7 Bluejays are in a worse spot than UNC due to a six-game losing streak from Nov. 23-Dec. 16. Unranked Creighton (3-2 in league play) would do wonders for its résumé if it could steal a win at Xavier Wednesday night.

Big 12 — Baylor: The Bears were narrow favorites over Kansas in the fall. Whereas the Jayhawks (15-1) are typically great again, 10-5 Baylor is unranked, shockingly winless in the Big 12 and on its first three-game skid since 2019. 

Big Ten — Indiana: The Big Ten is the only league without a formal preseason poll, but when The Athletic ran its annual October litmus test, the Hoosiers received 19 out of 27 first-place media votes. Since then, it’s been rickety and injury-plagued. The unranked Hoosiers are 10-5 (1-3 in B1G), having lost five of their last eight, and play a good Penn State team on Wednesday.

SEC — Kentucky: Not only was UK the preseason pick to win its league, it was a common natty pick for some of us doing this for a living. Instead: unranked at 10-6, its first 1-3 SEC start since 1986-87 and an unmitigated disaster in Lexington. 

@ me

The Court Report’s mailbag! Find me, toss a Q and I’ll answer some each week.

If “down the road” means into the 2030s, that’s conceivable. If the tourney ever expands, that will most likely mean a four-team increase. Should we ever get to 72, I think a second site gets added (Dayton remains annual). One major hurdle is reconfiguring how tournament money is distributed. I won’t get into those weeds, just know the financial blueprint of how the NCAAs rewards conferences would likely change before the tournament itself changed. (If ever.) 

One source told me that, in the past decade, the ACC pushed for significant expansion. So, there will still be pressure applied behind the scenes. But as I reported last week, there’s no momentum/desire now from the most important people involved in the tournament to grow beyond 68.

“If you expand, you’re letting in very marginal teams,” a source said. “It’s highly competitive because it’s incredibly select.”

Wouldn’t even say “fading.” The NIT has faded, carries little relevance when pitted against the behemoth that is March Madness. To your scenario, appending a 32-team NIT bracket effectively creates a 96-team field. You also can’t push the NCAAs back one week because of The Masters, so … NOPE. Plus, what you’re suggesting here is already achieved, in part, by nature of the existence of the conference tournaments. Every school is afforded the opportunity for automatic inclusion by winning their league bracket. Championship Week is a tremendous tune-up for NCAA Tournament play. It shouldn’t be tinkered with.

I’d put the chances Kelvin Sampson leaves Houston for Texas at … 3% at best. He has maybe the best team in the country — less than two years removed from bringing the Coogs to the Final Four, which was an outrageous accomplishment. Plus, I know he’s not there yet, but you have to figure Sampson is going to make around $4 million soon enough. He’ll most likely retire in the next 3-5 years, and his son, Kellen, is supposed to be next in line. If he leaves for another job, that goes away. Think about where Houston was 10 years ago: a nondescript C-USA program. Now? It’s less than six months from moving into the Big 12. Houston knows what it has and should do everything possible to ensure Sampson retires there.

Longtime followers know I cycle in different avatars of albums I like/love a few times each year. I’ve gone a decade-plus and haven’t repeated a cover art yet. It’s Daft Punk‘s turn. Mack, I’ll do you one better and rank Random Access Memories‘ tracks, from best to worst.

  1. Give Life Back to Music
  2. Instant Crush
  3. Doin’ It Right
  4. Giorgio by Moroder
  5. The Game of Love
  6. Get Lucky
  7. Fragments of Time
  8. Lose Yourself to Dance
  9. Beyond
  10. Within
  11. Motherboard
  12. Touch
  13. Contact

Final shots

Kansas State has two All-Americans right now. Markquis Nowell has been magma-hot to start Big 12 play: 27.8 points, 10.0 assists, 50% 3-point shooting, 90% from the foul line. Keyontae Johnson is averaging 18.4 points, 7.0 boards, 2.4 assists. 
• Virginia’s home win over UNC marked the eighth straight for the Wahoos over the Heels. Carolina’s eight-game road skid at UVA is its longest against any team ever. (H/T Bryan Ives.)
• A record five first-year NFL coaches qualified for the NFL Playoffs. In the Big Six leagues of college hoops, there are six first-year guys on pace to dance, per our latest Bracketology forecast: Sean Miller (Xavier), Matt McMahon (LSU), Jon Scheyer (Duke), Dennis Gates (Missouri), Jerome Tang (K-State) and Chris Jans (Miss. State). 
• I love that Charleston has been ranked the past couple of weeks, but 14-1 Florida Atlantic should have joined the Cougars in this week’s AP Top 25. Dusty May’s team has three top-60 wins and will go for its 14th straight victory tonight at FIU. If the Owls get a 15th straight W, you’ll find them in Thursday’s Hey Nineteen.
• Speaking of Charleston, the best mid-major game of the week goes down tonight: 16-1 Charleston @ 14-3 UNCW. The teams have won a combined 28 straight!
• Notable, should Purdue be in a tight spot seven weeks from now in chasing a 1-seed: The NCAA officially changed its designation of Purdue’s win over Penn State at the Palestra on Sunday. Because Penn State controlled the tickets, etc., it’s a Penn State home game/road win for Purdue. It was elevated to a Quad 1 victory, the Boilers’ sixth of the season.
Peegs.com reports IU coach Mike Woodson went to Big Ten commish Kevin Warren to log a complaint over Fran McCaffery’s sideline behavior in the Hoosiers’ loss at Iowa last Thursday. “Not only has he done it once, he’s done it twice. That’s unacceptable,” Woodson said this week on local radio. Will be monitoring when Iowa plays at Indiana in a return game on Feb. 28.
• Talk to veteran coaches in this sport, and unfortunately many of them will have a memory or two similar to the scary scene the UC Davis team endured Tuesday night. Thankfully everyone is OK. 

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