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Game Preview: Purdue Boilermakers

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A mismatch made in heaven.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

GAME INFO:

Who? Purdue Boilermakers (12-8, #75 KenPom)  v. Indiana Hoosiers (15-5 #42 KenPom)

When? 9:00 PM, Big Ten Network

Vegas? PURDUE -3

Pomeroy? PURDUE by 1, 46% chance of Indiana victory

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A Rivalry on Life Support

It's an understatement to say that the Purdue / Indiana rivalry hasn't registered in the national picture of college basketball for quite some time, with only one game since 2005 that saw both squads take the floor ranked in the Top-25 (2008). In fact, the rivalry has hardly factored into the Big Ten title race with, again, the exception of that single meeting in 2008, but even then neither team finished in first place. After that game, Indiana plummeted into NCAA-sanctioned hell and Purdue enjoyed its greatest run of success in recent memory, sweeping every game against the Hoosiers as Tom Crean navigated the Hoosiers through 6, 10, and 12 win seasons as he rebuilt a program left for dead.

When the Purdue players largely responsible for that run left, Indiana's renaissance surged forward and Matt Painter struggled to replace all he had lost when his famed "Baby Boilers" left. As a result, Indiana returned the favor and swept all four meetings the next two years before Purdue blew out Indiana last season in their lone meeting at Mackey Arena. For some time now, the rivalry just can't get the timing right, as the teams can't seem to both be up at the same time. Which likely contributes to the fact that, since 2005, only 4 of the 17 meetings between the two schools have been decided by single digits.

Unfortunately, as Purdue continues down the road of sacrificing athletic resources for big-ticket sports like basketball and football to better their university elsewhere, a result of a university president who has gone on record that he won't be taking part in the never-ending arms race of collegiate athletics and an athletic director who refuses to acknowledge that collegiate sports simply are not created equal, it is increasingly likely that this trend is the new normal. At the same time, Indiana has yet to attain the consistent championship-caliber rosters that the fan base has been craving since the eighties, leaving more questions than answers about how this rivalry will play out going forward. And as a kid born and raised exactly halfway between both schools, it really sucks to see a once-great rivalry slowly fading away.

As for this meeting, both teams are trying to fight their way back into the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season, Indiana's first absence since 2011 and Purdue's second straight missed bid. Currently Indiana finds themselves projected to make the field by every relevant bracketologist while Purdue has a lot of work to do just to get back onto the bubble, but with plenty of time left to do so.

A Completely New Look

Both teams are hardly recognizable after last season's lone matchup. Of the players to play double-digit minutes in that game, Indiana will have 3 of 9 play Wednesday and Purdue will have 4 of 10, both Devin Davis and Bryson Scott played 10+ minutes last season, but Davis will certainly not play and Scott has been indefinitely suspended / benched with no end in sight.

The matchup that has been discussed ad nauseam has been Purdue's gigantic bigs (7-0 AJ Hammons and 7-2 Isaac Haas) against Indiana's lack of typical Big Ten size. As they have in every other game of this type, the Hoosiers will have to neutralize this size advantage by bombing away from the perimeter and using their quickness to get by Purdue's larger players. The Boilermakers are 277th in the country at defending the three point line and that number is not likely to improve when either of their seven-footers will be tasked with following Collin Hartman et. al. out to the perimeter, assuming Indiana attacks with the same five-out look they've been giving teams since Hanner Mosquera-Perea went out with a knee injury. Drawing the big man away from the hoop works two-fold, as it also allows Indiana's smaller guards / Troy Williams to take their defender one-on-one with a drive without worrying about the rim protector. If the center cheats up to be in better position, he'll have already surrendered too much space to a red-hot Collin Hartman.

At least, that's what happens ideally.

HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?

Four Factors
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Offense) 56.3% (12th) 17.0% (46th) 34.1% (76th) 36.7% (188th)
PURDUE (Defense) 45.9% (74th) 19.3% (186th) 30.5% (146th) 40.5% (240th)
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Defense) 49.0% (183rd) 15.7% (337th) 32.1% (216th) 26.2% (11th)
PURDUE (Offense) 50.8% (94th) 19.2% (160th) 37.0% (24th) 40.8% (91st)

Where the size becomes a tougher issue is on defense. Collin Hartman certainly gives it his all down on the block, but simply lacks the length to prevent a guy the size of AJ Hammons from being effective. Granted, there are other reasons that can limit Hammons' effectiveness, as we've seen Purdue struggle to get him involved on offense at times, while he also has shown the capability of mentally checking out of games. Indiana's best bet may be to try and rack up fouls on Hammons and Haas and force Purdue to play smaller guys, as both are susceptible to picking up fouls in bunches. In fact, the entire team struggles to prevent teams from getting to the foul line, and Indiana should keep that in mind in their attack.

Both teams excel where the other is weak, as Indiana has been allowing opponents to convert an embarrassing percentage of their two-point attempts and Purdue is top-50 in two-point accuracy. The inverse is true for the perimeter, where Purdue is 228th in such shots and the Hoosiers are actually 68th in the nation at defending the perimeter. Outside of Kendall Stephens, who is battling a finger injury, Purdue doesn't have that consistent sniper, the kind Indiana has six of. Dakota Mathias, Jon Octeus, and Vince Edwards all possess range, but are fairly streaky. Granted, streakiness didn't prevent Sterling Carter from hitting five of six attempts from deep against Indiana last season.

So, yes, Purdue's offense is somewhat improved from last season, but this is the 4th straight season that the "DEFENSE LIVES HERE" sign in front of their student section is a blatant lie. Don't get me wrong, their 106th ranked unit is far better than Indiana, but if defense is "living" at Purdue, it's just staying there for the sake of the children.

The recipe for a Purdue victory is almost terrifyingly simple: feed the post to take advantage of easy looks over smaller defenders, allow your larger players to gobble up misses for easy second-chance looks, and run the Hoosiers off the three point line and make them hit twos. It seems like an easy game plan when you compare the team's profiles, but it's encouraging (for Indiana fans) to know that Purdue has certainly had their share of struggles when it comes to feeding the post and defending the perimeter.

Three Things to Watch For:

  • Can Indiana rack up fouls on Purdue's bigs? I touched on this above, but it's too important to overstate: AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas are more than happy to commit a foul and Indiana can make their job on defense a helluva lot easier if they get those guys on the bench in foul trouble. It doesn't hurt the cause that Big Ten refs seem very keen to call a foul on a guy for just being bigger.
  • Can Robert Johnson be replaced? There has been no definitive answer one way or the other, but the freshman guard is highly questionable for Wednesday's tilt. Tom Crean will likely turn to a combination of Nick Zeisloft and Stanford Robinson to replace the production, with Zeisloft being the most likely candidate to start the game. Robinson's role on this team has been hotly debated over the past few weeks and Zeisloft has become a useful though highly-specified role player, making neither an ideal candidate for increased minutes in a tough road environment. Especially given Robert Johnson's penchant to take over distributor duties to give Yogi Ferrell some time off the ball and help diversify the offense even further. There is a chance RoJo is fine, and Crean is playing it close to the vest to keep Purdue off-balance, which would be awesome. #analysis
  • Can Indiana fans keep it together if we lose? Losing to Purdue always sucks regardless of the context, but a second straight loss will make Twitter appointment-viewing for masochists and fans of schadenfreude. I've said it tons of times but will repeat, this is the fourth of a four-game stretch in which we knew zero wins was a possibility and Indiana has already bagged two. There are ten B1G games after this one and Indiana is currently favored in eight of them, with five games scheduled against teams currently ranked 75th or lower. If Indiana wins its remaining home games, and road dates to bottom-dwellers Northwestern and Rutgers, while losing all remaining games (including tomorrow's) they would still finish 13-5. There are a lot of ifs in that scenario, but it's mostly meant to illustrate all the good Indiana has done for its postseason résumé already, with two conference road wins along with good wins over Ohio State and Maryland. A loss on Wednesday still puts the Hoosiers in excellent shape to take on a schedule that softens up significantly over the last month of the season.

All that said, I really don't want to lose to Purdue as they are a bad team and losing to bad teams is bad. Regardless, the environment will be as hostile as this team has seen all year (they've already warned us they will urinate on our phones), so it won't be an easy out for the young Hoosiers, but a win keeps them within technical striking distance of a Big Ten title.