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Crimson Query with Hammer & Rails

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The IU-Purdue game is not until Wednesday night, but we're starting rivalry coverage early this week. Below is a Q&A with Travis Miller, who runs the ship over at SB Nation Purdue blog Hammer & Rails. In our Q&A, we discussed the rivalry itself, Purdue's strong frontcourt against IU's strong backcourt, and Bryson Scott's disappearing act.

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

1.     Purdue currently sits with a host of other teams at 4-3 in the B1G, and is 12-8 on the season. How are you and other Purdue fans feeling about this Boilers season thus far?

T-Mill: It feels like one of missed opportunities, mostly because the losses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb are looming rather large right now. If Purdue wins those games it is in a much better position to make the NCAA Tournament than right now. The Illinois game feels like one that got away too because of them missing three starters. If Purdue is 15-5 and 5-2 right now, something that is not that far of a stretch, we would feel a lot better.

This team is just so frustrating because it is maddeningly inconsistent. Aside from the first half against Kansas State in Maui it looked like they had really turned a corner. Then North Florida happened. Purdue didn't play well that day, but it had a seven point lead with three minutes left and completely fell apart. Things haven't been the same since. There have been some moments where the Boilers have looked pretty good, then others, like the godawful second half against Notre Dame, where nothing has worked on either end.

This is a better Purdue team overall than the last two seasons, but it is still a far cry from what we want it to be. 

The offense can get way too stagnant and, as seen against Iowa, effort on defense and the glass can be seriously lacking at times. This is a better Purdue team overall than the last two seasons, but it is still a far cry from what we want it to be.

2. It's well established that defense is not IU's strong point. Can Purdue create enough offense to defeat Indiana in this game, and how so?

T-Mill: I really don't know. The Purdue offense generally consists of four plays: 1. Pass inside to Haas/Hammons 2. Kendall Stephens shoots off a screen 3. Rapheal Davis/Jon Octeus drives 4. Vince Edwards scores on an offensive board. That's the bulk of it right there. Illinois completely shut us down by sagging off our shooters and blocking passing lanes to Hammons in the second half. We're not a great shooting team at all, but we can go in spurts. It seems like everyone not named Kendall Stephens is terrified to shoot a jump shot too. Fortunately, Haas/Hammons should have a major advantage. If I were coaching I would get it to them on the block and force Indiana to stop them on every possession.

3. It's also well established that IU lacks a credible big man with Hanner Mosquera-Perea sidelined for another few weeks at least. Can Purdue's twin tower seven-footers of A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas take control of this game in the frontcourt? And which of the two is having a better season thus far?

T-Mill: Overall Hammons has been playing better. Haas started the season strong but he still can get a lot of fouls mostly because he is so much bigger than everyone else. Some officials just assume he fouls because he is so big. That has prevented him from getting into a rhythm, but he started very strong against Iowa.

They have both had moments where they have played well, but I can't say they have ever completely taken over a game. What is more troubling is that every time it appears they should have a major advantage, like the second half against Illinois, we either can't get them the ball or they can't take over. I wish I could explain it, but against Indiana they will have such a size advantage they almost have to take over.

4. What's the deal with Bryson Scott, and why hasn't he seen the court in weeks?

T-Mill: No one knows. Word is that he mouthed off to Painter in practice before the Michigan game and it led to a benching. When asked about it in the postgame press conference after Maryland coach painter deflected the question with a non-answer. Bryson had a brief interview where he said he needed to work on his attitude too. Right now he is in Painter's doghouse, but other than that, no one knows anything.

5. Jon Octeus was a late transfer to this squad, and brings experience after two years under Larry Eustachy at Colorado State. How has the addition of a veteran presence like Octeus to this young lineup helped the Boilers this season?

T-Mill: Octeus has been incredible and I would say he is the team MVP. He is an old school Purdue player that plays hard every game and makes a lot of "effort" plays, but he also brings very good athleticism. That's not something Purdue has a lot of. I wish we had Octeus for more than one year because he has been a perfect fit for us. He does so many things well that even when he screws up, like missing two free throws at Penn State, it works out with the Stephens three.

6. Kendall Stephens was the hero in the Penn State game, but he's been hurt recently, and thus has been in a slump ever since. Do you expect him to play through the pain, or will he eventually have to miss time?

T-Mill: Kendall has never been totally healthy. Last year it was a lingering shoulder injury. This year he originally hurt his finger against BYU in Maui and has also battled an ankle sprain. He's a tough kid and has played hurt before, but he hasn't scored at all in the last two games. That hurts because he is Purdue's most reliable shooter. It does open the door more for Dakota Mathias, who has a lot of promise as a shooter too.

7. What's your prediction for how this Purdue season turns out? And is Matt Painter's job safe right now?

T-Mill: Painter is not going anywhere because his buyout is too large and there has at least been improvement. That doesn't mean I am not questioning him. Something has been off about his teams in each of the last three seasons. There is no on court leadership, no single player we can go to when we absolutely need a basket (like E'Twaun Moore was), and the overall effort has consistently been lacking. Early this season those things were coming back, but then North Florida happened. While IU responded after their EWU loss, Purdue has not.

After the non-conference season I said Purdue needed to go 12-6 to reach the NCAAs. As someone else said, that's attainable by looking at the 18-game Big Ten season as six three-game series you need to win (like baseball). Purdue went 2-1 and 1-2 in the first two and now needs at least one three-game sweep to get toe 12-6. The Indiana game feels like a turning point. Win it and there are five pretty favorable games before the rematch in Bloomington (at NW, home for OSU, at Minny, at Rutgers, home for Nebraska). It is still possible, but I don't think this team is consistent enough to do it.

I think Purdue goes something like 9-9 or 10-8 and heads to the NIT because of the UNF and GW losses. That's a step forward from the last two years and everyone but Octeus returns for next season, but it is still not the NCAAs. Purdue has only missed three straight tourneys once since the field expanded to 64 teams and that was the last two years of Keady and first year of Painter.

8. IU and Purdue have always made for a great basketball rivalry, and this year we play each other twice. But we only played each other once last season, and with an expanded B1G, this will become more commonplace in the future. Should the teams push Jim Delany to have this be a protected home-and-home series every year, or should we schedule more special events in the future (such as the 2002 Duel in the Dome) for the years when we don't play each other twice?

T-Mill: Absolutely the teams should play twice every season as God intended. There is an easy way to do it too: If the teams only meet once in B1G play, the Crossroads Classic automatically becomes Indiana vs. Purdue and Notre Dame vs. Butler, just to mix it up. This isn't hard to figure out.

9. Football talk: The Bucket is ours again, but after two seasons with Darrell Hazell at the helm, is there hope that the Boilers will climb out of the B1G cellar in the near future? And how have Hazell's recruiting efforts gone so far this offseason?

T-Mill: Well, after sitting back and looking at things, there is no question that year two was better, but mostly because year one was historically bad. Things appear to be going in the right direction, slowly. There are some pieces that return on defense and Purdue has only 11 scholarship seniors next season. Hazell isn't exactly beating downs the doors of 5-star recruits, but the coaching staff is getting results from some diamonds in the rough like Ja'Whaun Bentley. If there can be a QB answer next season and better play from the receivers things can get better, especially with the entire offensive line back. Defensively it looks like we might actually have some real Big Ten linebackers for once. There needs to be more of a pass rush, but there are a few pieces and some hope. The non-conference of at Marshall, Virginia Tech, Indiana State, and Bowling Green is tricky though, especially for a team like us. [Editor's note: Watch out for Bowling Green. We can attest to that.]

10. Prediction: Who wins at Mackey on Wednesday night?

T-Mill: Does good Purdue or bad Purdue show up? Will the Boilers be able to get it inside regularly to Hammons/Haas? What scares me the most is that Indiana has a bunch of very good shooters who are also ridiculously quick. They can get to the basket and they also pass well. Purdue has not defended players like that well at all this season and that is probably going to be why Indiana wins.

Thanks again, Travis! Indiana and Purdue face off on Wednesday night at 9pm in Mackey Arena, and the game can be seen on BTN.