Nothing helps stoke the flames of a good rivalry more than a great villain.
There’s a fantastic example of this in Big Ten football, and it’s both sides of The Game. Michigan fans hate Ryan Day, and hated Urban Meyer before him (the latter being much worse than the former, mind you).
Ohio State fans loathe Harbaugh and had plenty of reasons to jeer at him before what happened in Ann Arbor this past season. Now that Michigan has a win, there’s an additional hate factor to the matchup.
This is true because both coaches fully embrace the rivalry, it’s become decently clear that they don’t like each other either. Harbaugh lived it as a quarterback for the Wolverines and Day is smart enough to know what gets his fanbase riled up and it’s dunking on “that team up north” every chance he can.
And, well, Matt Painter is not that.
Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Who knows! I doubt he cares too much either way, he’s got bigger fish to fry (quite literally with all the 7-footers who’ve gone through West Lafayette).
I’ve been to a Matt Painter press conference, after the game at Purdue at the end of the regular season. Honestly, it was one of the best pressers I’ve been at.
Painter was happy to answer questions and break down what he saw in basketball terms, he wanted the media (and by extension the fans) to know what the head coach saw and was thinking.
He complimented Indiana’s players, Mike Woodson, raved about Rob Phinisee and was willing to have some fun with it.
As he left the presser and Purdue’s seniors entered, he turned toward them and said “Hey, I said some real good shit,” as he left. And he was right.
Mind you, this isn’t a diss on press conferences from Indiana’s coaches. Tom Allen is willing to do similar things and Mike Woodson has dealt with Knicks media, so he’s seen literally everything. Everyone has a particular style and Painter’s is also really good.
He doesn’t have to be like that. He’s a former player and knows what the rivalry means in the state, especially for hoops, but he’s not gonna act like a jerk for the sake of it. He had every excuse to, especially given the winning streak that ended this past season.
But no, Painter is perfectly content with taking 3-stars and turning them into strong starters who compete for Big Ten titles and go to the NCAA Tournament.
Some of Purdue’s players over the years have taken up that villain mantle, antagonizing Indiana when they get the chance and taunting the fanbase. That’ll happen at every program, but this year’s team wasn’t really like that.
Yeah, both sides wanted to win, but you could also feel the respect Indiana had for players like Jaden Ivey, who returned that to players like Trayce Jackson-Davis. And Sasha Stefanovic, for that matter, was good at shooting the ball and implying otherwise after a storied college career is very silly.
There’s still bad blood in the rivalry, that’s what a rivalry is, but Painter isn’t the kind of guy to exploit it for the sake of doing so.