NEW ORLEANS -- No coach has had a bridge like Carl Landry and David Teague. No one has been able to come into a program and wait out a dismal season while two All-Big Ten fifth-year seniors got healthy.
Matt Painter didn't plan it this way. But he couldn't have been more fortunate. And he knows it and preaches it to his players and his staff.
If Landry and Teague didn't get hurt, the Boilermakers wouldn't be playing Florida in the second round Sunday. They'd have finished their eligibility. Purdue and Painter would be in the throes of rebuilding. Instead, Teague tore the ACL in his left knee Nov. 14, 2005, and Landry tore the ACL in his right knee during the 2004-05 season and then reinjured the knee in 2005-06, limiting him to five games.
Landry and Teague led the Boilermakers in scoring with 18.9 points and 14.3 points per game, respectively. In the 10 games prior to Selection Sunday, in which Purdue went 7-3, Landry averaged 18.2 points and 8.1 rebounds while Teague averaged 17.2 points and 6.2 rebounds. The pair combined to produce 53.8 percent of Purdue's scoring and 43.6 percent of the rebounding in that 10-game stretch.
The two combined for 36 of the Boilermakers' points in their 72-63 first-round win over Arizona on Friday.
"We're in this position because of two seniors that coach [Gene] Keady recruited," Painter said after Purdue beat Arizona. "There's no doubt they were the bridge. So many guys take a job and say, 'Wait until I get my guys in here,' while it was the opposite for me. I couldn't wait to get these guys. Hopefully, five or six years down the road we'll look back and someone will say, 'How did they get it going?' And it will be because of David Teague and Carl Landry."
We have written and discussed many times before on this Web site the tactical move made by Purdue to continue the tradition. Purdue hired Painter in 2004 to be Keady's top assistant to take over after one season. Painter made the rare move of leaving Southern Illinois after one year as head coach (the 2003-04 season), a year in which he was the Missouri Valley Coach of the Year, to be an assistant for his former coach. Two years after that move, Painter has taken the Boilermakers to the NCAA Tournament with a 12-win turnaround from '05-06 to '06-07.
As he watched his successor at SIU, former assistant Chris Lowery, succeed, Painter said he lived vicariously through him. Lowery led Southern Illinois to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and 2006.
"It stinks to lose," Painter said. "Getting to the NCAA Tournament is great for our program, winning a game is great for our program. We're just trying to make coach Keady proud. He's still a Purdue guy. This will always be his program through my eyes."
But a change was needed, according to Teague.
"The defensive intensity, maybe guys weren't buying into it, maybe coach Keady wasn't as tough on guys as he was in the past," Teague said. "Purdue needed a breath of fresh air. That's nothing to take away from coach Keady, because he did an awesome job, but he couldn't get the guys to buy into the system again. Purdue needed a new approach."
Purdue assistant Cuonzo Martin, who straddled both staffs, disagrees.
"I can't comment on that since both coaches are very similar," Martin said. "I could have played for both."
The one thing everyone agrees on is that a win in the tournament adds quite an exclamation point. No one is counting out beating Florida, but this far exceeds expectations. The players and staff felt that wins against Virginia, Michigan State and Illinois were enough to convince the committee that Purdue deserved an invitation to the tournament, but Painter said he thought the Boilermakers would be a No. 11 seed, not a 9.
"We're back to being a team that Purdue has always been," Landry said. "We're back to being that defensive team that Purdue was known for after getting away from it the last few years. We're playing together, winning ballgames, and we got to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. No one thought we'd be in the second round at the beginning of the season. But we want to keep the train rolling."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.