1. Purdue flat-out dominated the Hoosiers in Mackey Arena three weeks ago. Since then, the Boilers have stormed through the conference, winning four of their last five. Is this team coming together at just the right time, and how have they been able to keep up their winning ways?
T-Mill: There is no doubt they are playing better than at any point since Hummel and Co. left. I think part of it is realizing that they can only win if they play selfless team-oriented basketball on both ends and part of it is a run of opponents that are less than stellar like Rutgers and Nebraska. Purdue does not boast a leading scorer that is going to drop 15-20 per night regardless of what happens. They are going to get it done by sharing the scoring load and it shows when you look at the stats and see the top six scorers all average between 8 and 11 points per game. The benefit of that is that you never know who is going to be the main guy. One night it is going to be Hammons. The next night Rapheal Davis might score 20. Another time Kendall Stephens might get hot. So far they have done a good job of having at least one of the main six have a good game with the others supporting.
It also helps that Hammons has been engaged and has been protecting the rim with reckless abandon. Both he and Davis are playing excellent defense with Davis harassing perimeter players and Hammons swatting everything within five feet of the rim. Since the game in West Lafayette Hammons has had games of 8, 1, 7, 5, 4, and 1 blocks. He is also rebounding at a rate higher than at any other time in his career. It just feels like he has a monster game coming where he goes for something like 25-15-10 with points, rebounds, and blocks. Combined with Davis, who has really come on offensively and defensively, Purdue looks like it has figured some things out.
2. Last time the two teams met, AJ Hammons dominated the glass with 8 blocks. With Hanner Mosquera-Perea back in the lineup for the Hoosiers this time, should we expect a similar performance from AJ this time?
T-Mill: It will be interesting. Perea has always impressed me because I thought he was an athletic freak of nature coming out of high school, but was still raw in that he was a lot like Dallas Lauderdale. All Lauderdale could do was rebound and dunk in his career, but he was damn good at it. Can Perea do enough offensively to keep Hammons from being the rim protector he was in the first time any time IU drove the lane. That's been Hammons' largest area of contribution. His scoring comes and goes, but when he is engaged defensively Purdue is a lot better.
3. One guy on the Boilers who's impressed me this year is Vince Edwards. The 6-7 freshman has a knack for getting offensive rebounds and often seems to be in the right place at the right time. Could Edwards be Purdue's answer for IU's own Troy Williams?
T-Mill: I am really impressed by Edwards and if he starts hitting the three with a little more consistency I think he can be like a more athletic Robbie Hummel. Vince is really good at picking up at least 1-2 garbage baskets off of offensive rebounds per game. He can shoot the three and is starting to be able to take guys off the dribble. He is probably Purdue's most talented scorer because he can do it in a variety of ways, unlike Hammons (primarily inside) Davis (mostly off the dribble) or Stephens (jump shooter). He can do a little of all three and once he figures it all out he is going to be a really special player.
4. Bryson Scott did not play in Purdue's win over Nebraska on Sunday. Is Matt Painter saving him for Thursday night, or does he seem to be back in the doghouse again?
T-Mill: I honestly have no idea what is going on with Scott. It is not like he has played poorly, but he has a single point since the last IU game and has not even played in two games. Maybe coach Painter is using him in matchups and he is planning on releasing him from his cage on Thursday. Maybe he is moonlighting for his brother, Brenton, at Indiana State and is too tired to play. Maybe he knocked up Matt Painter's cheerleader mistress and it pissed Painter off. At this points every theory is in play.
5. Bracketology talk: Right now Jerry Palm has the Boilers as one of his last four in the NCAA Tourney, while Joe Lunardi has them in his first four out. With three tough away games in their last five, do you think Purdue will play their way into the tourney before the conference tournament begins, or will they need a B1G tourney win or two to clinch a berth?
T-Mill: I have said since before the season started that 20 wins would be the magic number, as it usually is for a major conference team. By playing in Maui, getting an ACC/B1G Challenge game, a neutral site game against Notre Dame and a road game at Vanderbilt I knew the schedule strength would be there. I figures 10 wins each in the non-conference and conference seasons would do it.
As we know, Purdue had a bad 8-5 non-conference mark with four losses (Kansas State, Vanderbilt, North Florida, and Gardner-Webb) to sub-100 RPI teams. It made things difficult, but if Purdue could win 12 Big Ten games and get to 20 wins it would at least have a chance. With a weaker bubble I think Purdue is probably in if it wins three of the next five as long as it doesn't lose to Rutgers at home. The Illinois game at home is critical too. That would also likely put Purdue in the top four in the Big Ten and give them a bye to Friday of the Big Ten Tournament. At that point another victory would seal a bid, while a loss wouldn't necessarily knock them out.
Another factor is what I wrote about on Monday in mid-major tournament chaos. Purdue is close enough to the line that something like Gonzaga needing an at larege instead of the WCC autobid or someone outside of Northern Iowa or Wichita State winning the MVC auto-bid can cause some major problems. All three of those schools are definitely locks to make it, but no one else from their respective conferences is, so if they all lose in their conference tournament it takes away some at large bids.
All Purdue can really do to get in is keep winning. If they win the last two home games they have a chance. Getting both and another road win would probably put them on the happy side. Anything more than that and they are a lock. Finishing in the top four and then making it to Saturday or even Sunday in Chicago would likely get them in too. It is definitely a better place than they were in after losing to Gardner-Webb.
6. Rivalry talk: I generally think the IU-Purdue rivalry is a good-natured one, but sometimes it takes a dark turn, as was evident when a different Purdue site made reference to the Lauren Spierer disappearance last week. I hate to play the "stay classy" card, but have we reached a point where fans of both teams need to take a step back for a bit and realize that it's just a game at the end of the day, or does the internet magnify things like this?
T-Mill: I think the Internet does blow things up. I saw the Tweet you mentioned and yeah, it was too far. This is coming from someone who has definitely been guilty of sticking his foot in his mouth too many times, too. Shoot, even after losing to Gardner-Webb I said I was envious of IU fans in all sports because at least you guys had hope.
On the other hand, things have gotten better in recent years. I feel like our two sites have always gotten along well without resorting to violence or childish name-calling. Since you're under us in the Big Ten standings though, tell me how BOFA DEEZ NUTS look. [Editor's note: Stop stealing our jokes!]
7. Crootin' talk: I heard Caleb Swanigan was at Mackey for the Nebraska game. What are the chances that the 6-8 five-star recruit from Fort Wayne ends up in West Lafayette?
They are certainly better than many people have thought for a long time. I watched him single-handedly beat my Kokomo Wildkats in the Marion regional last season and there is no question he is the real deal. I think little things like him continuing to show up at Purdue games shows we're still in the running. Many assumed that once the big names started sniffing around we would be gone, but we're still in it. He probably see how Painter has taken players like Hummel, Johnson, and Hammons and developed them into NBA players. He also might be interested because he can play more of a true four with Haas at least returning or maybe even a three with Edwards and have a way to showcase his talents with the right type of teammates around him. It seems like he would be a very good fit with the pieces around him, so that is probably part of his evaluation.
8. Prediction time: Who wins on Thursday night in Assembly Hall and by how much?
T-Mill: I would love to say Purdue continues to exploit the mismatches like it did in West Lafayette, but I am a realist. It is damn hard for us to win in Bloomington even with a great team. Look at 2010 when an all-time great Purdue team was taken to the last possession by an awful Indiana team. Nothing is ever easy there.
Also, it seems like anything can happen with these teams. Hammons could have his 25-15-10 game. Ferrell and Blackmon could go nuts for 15 threes and 53 combined points. IU could be cold. Purdue could have a turnover-prone game like it had in Minneapolis. The ghosts of Piggy Lambert and Branch McCracken could have an oil-wrestling match at halftime. Nothing would surprise me.
My head says Purdue exploits what it did in West Lafayette and wins a close one on the road. My head says it is still Assembly Hall and rarely do things work out for us there. I'll pick Indiana and hope I am wrong.
Thanks again, Travis! Purdue and Indiana renew their rivalry on Thursday night at 7pm from Assembly Hall. Coverage will be on ESPN.