Matt Painter attended Delta High School in Muncie, Indiana and played basketball for current Athletic Director, Stan Daugherty. After high school, Painter attended Purdue University as an undergraduate, although he grew up in an Indiana family, where his father attended. He played four seasons (75-45 record) of basketball as a Boilermaker for Gene Keady, where he helped to lead the Boilermakers to three NCAA Tournaments and one NIT appearance. He started 50 of the 109 games in which he appeared. In his senior season, he was selected as a team captain and was named an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention.
After graduation from Purdue in 1993, Painter moved on to coaching basketball. His first year as a coach was an assistant coach position at Washington and Jefferson College. With his help, the team finished the season with a 22-3 record and a quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA Division III tournament. He only coached at Washington and Jefferson for one year before becoming an assistant coach at Barton College. In the 1994-95 season Barton finished with 13 wins and 13 losses. Painter then moved to Division I as an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois, where he received his master's degree.
After three years at Eastern Illinois he moved to Southern Illinois in 1998 as an assistant to head coach Bruce Weber. Painter had previously met Weber while Weber was an assistant coach at Purdue during Painter's playing days. Weber and Painter quickly turned a team that had a losing record the previous season into a successful team. Painter helped lead the Salukis to the NIT in 2000, and twice to the NCAA tournament while an assistant coach. In the 2001-02 season, they qualified for the NCAA tournament and ended their season in the Sweet Sixteen with a loss to UConn. That year, SIU beat well-established programs such as Georgia and Texas Tech. He took over the head coaching job following that 2002-2003 season when Weber left for a head coaching job at Illinois. Leading the Salukis to a 25-5 record and a berth in the NCAA tournament in 2004, the team was ranked as high as #15 in the nation by the AP poll during the season. Painter was named the 2003-2004 Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the year.
In his second season as head coach, the team had high hopes for an NCAA berth. Carl Landry and David Teague both returned to the team, combining an average of about 34 points per game and 15 rebounds per game. Painter's Boilermakers finished the preseason with an 11-3 record, which included wins over previously unbeaten and top 25 schools Virginia and Missouri. They headed deep into the regular season without a road win. The team had also not won a road game in the two prior seasons during which Painter was part of the Boilermaker's bench. That 29 road game losing streak ended on February 3rd, 2007, when Purdue beat Penn State at the Bryce Jordan Center. After winning seven of their last ten conference games during the regular season and setting a single-season school record for most home wins at 16, Painter and his Boilermakers finished the regular season with a 9-7 conference record. They received a 5th seed in the Big Ten Conference Men's Basketball Tournament, and were knocked out in the third round when they lost to number one seed Ohio State. Purdue was invited to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, Painter's second appearance as a head coach, and received a 9 seed. The team's opening round opponent was Lute Olson's Arizona. After beating the Wildcats, Purdue fell to Billy Donovan's number one seeded and defending national champions, Florida.
Coming off one of the program's biggest single season improvements, Painter returned only one senior on the roster with 6 newcomers. Painter achieved notable recruiting success, signing one of the top five recruiting classes in the nation for 2007, all coming from the state of Indiana. Painter started at least three freshmen in every game at the start of the '07-'08 season, making it the youngest starting line-up in the nation. His "baby boilers" finished the non-conference season with a 9-4 record, which included a win against Rick Pitino's #22 ranked Louisville, as well as a loss to Wofford, their only home loss of the season. During an eleven game winning streak in conference play, they swept the season series with AP Poll #8 Wisconsin and had a home win against #9 Michigan State. It was the first back-to-back wins versus top ten teams in school history. Their winning streak was ended when they lost to in-state rival, #14 Indiana. Painter and his Boilers finished the regular season in 2nd place with a 15-3 record. During the regular season and into the conference tournament, Purdue was ranked as high as #15 in both polls. Painter's team entered the Big Ten Tournament with the #2 seed. They lost in the quarterfinals to the 10th seeded Illinois. They were invited to the NCAA Tournament and given a #6 seed. Painter's team beat Baylor in the first round, giving Purdue it's 10th straight first round win in the tournament. They lost in the second round to a very experienced and senior-led Xavier team, giving Painter a 2-3 record in NCAA tourney play as a head coach. He was named the 2007-2008 Big Ten Conference Coach of The Year.
Painter's Boilermakers are projected as a pre-season top ten team in the nation, which includes a #3 rank by CBS Sports, #4 by CNNSI and a #8 by ESPN's Andy Katz. Painter has five returning starters from the prior season and lost 2 players due to graduation and a transfer. With the departure of associate head coach Cuonzo Martin, both his replacement, Paul Lusk, and Painter reunite with newly hired Jack Owens, who was also an assistant while at Southern Illinois.