When? 7:00 PM, ESPN
Vegas? INDIANA -3.5
Pomeroy? INDIANA by 5, 68% chance of Indiana victory
OH IT'S ON NOW.
After a road loss to Illinois on January 24th, the Boilers were 11-8 (3-3) and ranked 79th in KenPom's ratings. They were not playing well and seemed destined to miss the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. Since that low-point, Purdue has won six of seven and raised their KenPom profile an astonishing 29 spots in less than a month. Prior to the last meeting between these teams, I opined about how the rivalry was on life support, that it had been too long since the teams met with anything really on the line, or where both squads were any good; but less than a month later, the rivalry has a completely different feel to it. Not quite the Knight-Keady square-offs of yesteryear, but finally some positive movement from both teams towards that end.
A handful of our friends at Purdue took exception to my post-game comments following the Boilermakers 16 point victory in West Lafayette, in which I referred to Purdue as a "bad team" but, at the time, it was true. Teams in the lower 70s of KenPom's ratings and being projected to miss the NCAA Tournament by every single bracketologist will be referred to as "bad" by me. My evaluations are based on objective criteria, and Purdue's résumé, while getting better, was still not sniffing the Big Dance.
THAT SAID, evaluations of teams can change as you get more games and more data to get a better picture. The Boilers flipped their engine's switch from broken to fixed (and if you get that reference, I love you) and are now on the threshold of a postseason berth, in control of their own destiny once again as they capitalized on their momentum and a renewed sense of urgency and passion from their enigmatic big man, AJ Hammons. The skilled obelisk has had consistency issues throughout his career that have often been linked to a lack of, pardon my French, "give-a-shitness." And you can't help but wonder where Purdue might be if the AJ Hammons of the past month had been with them from the start of the season.
Regardless, the rivalry seems to be trending up for the first time in years. Perhaps the blowout streak will finally end, as these teams haven't played a close game since 2010, but at least it's nice to see a game that will have a tangible effect on the upper half of the standings. Speaking of which:
RACE TO THE TOP OF THE TABLE
As it stands now, Purdue is tied for second in the conference with Indiana only a game back of them. Wisconsin has all-but-officially wrapped up the title, with a 3-game lead and only five games left, but the other three "double-bye" spots are all up for grabs, and the best way to get one would be to beat the teams currently occupying those spots, especially when those teams come into your place. Granted, nothing will actually get decided when these two teams meet on Thursday night, but it's certainly worth taking a look at the race for the Top 4 in the B1G, as it pertains to these two. (Side note: how very Premier League of us, trying to get into the top 4 of the table.)
|TEAM (B1G Record)||B1G SoS||Remaining Games|
|Wisconsin (11-1)||14th||39-39 (.500) - 2 Home, 4 Away|
|Maryland (9-4)||7th||29-35 (.453) - 3 Home, 2 Away|
|Purdue (9-4)||12th||33-31(.516) - 2 Home, 3 Away|
|Michigan State (9-4)||13th||40-23 (.635) - 2 Home, 3 Away|
|Ohio State (8-5)||10th||34-30 (.513) - 3 Home, 2 Away|
|Indiana (8-5)||3rd||28-35 (.444) - 3 Home, 2 Away|
So not only is IU in the thick of the "top 4" discussion in a year where most projected them closer to (or in) the bottom four, but they've done so with the 3rd-toughest strength of schedule. Their efforts are handsomely rewarded by the scheduling gods, with the easiest schedule of the "contenders" to close out the year, including three of the five in Assembly Hall. Meanwhile, Purdue, who has taken full advantage of the third-easiest schedule in the conference, has the second hardest path to the postseason, including road games to Michigan State and Ohio State along with Indiana, of course.
HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?
|INDIANA (Offense)||55.9% (12th)||17.4% (56th)||35.7% (41st)||34.1% (259th)|
|PURDUE (Defense)||45.4% (47th)||18.8% (202nd)||31.0% (163rd)||36.9% (173rd)|
|INDIANA (Defense)||50.7% (245th)||16.0% (330th)||31.1% (175th)||29.4% (31st)|
|PURDUE (Offense)||50.7% (98th)||19.7% (198th)||36.6% (25th)||43.0% (46th)
Now, AJ Hammons isn't the only one responsible for the Boilermakers resurgence. Part of what has made the Boilermakers a legitimate threat in the Big Ten is their versatility. While Indiana typically leans on the usual suspects, Yogi Ferrell / Troy Williams / James Blackmon Jr. / etc., Purdue hardly misses a beat with their second unit on the floor. The only guy that I think lacks a reliable backup, Jon Octeus, was replaced by Bryson Scott against Indiana and he was arguably Purdue's best player that night. Some nights, Dakota Mathias lights it up from deep, on others, it's Kendall Stephens, and every now and then, it's both.
Purdue is getting consistent contributions from Rapheal Davis, as well, who enjoyed a great night against Indiana in the first meeting and has become a defensive stalwart to go along with an offensive game predicated on getting to the line (99th in the country in free throw rate). Davis and the guards ended up having a much bigger impact on the first game, offensively, than Hammons or Haas, as Indiana's backcourt was thoroughly unable to stop their dribble penetration, something that has plagued this team all year, which isn't a surprise considering the Hoosiers still possess the 257th most efficient defense in the country.
Vince Edwards is probably Purdue's most dynamic player, as he's been the only one to consistently threaten from both sides of the arc (58.3% from 2, 35.8% from 3). Jon Octeus is close, but doesn't shoot from distance all that much, and everyone else is pretty settled in as an "at-the-rim" guy or a shooter. Edwards' 6-7 frame and great athleticism kind of earmarks him for Troy Williams, which would certainly be interesting to watch, given their similarities in physical makeup, but Williams has shown weaknesses in his defensive technique (as has everyone on the roster not named Yogi Ferrell). Which leaves us one final thing to talk about (again):
We've talked Purdue and Indiana's obvious mismatches to death, but in case you're just joining the human race, Purdue's massive size in the paint creates a big advantage for them against the tiny, agile Hoosiers that, for whatever reason, Indiana tried to neutralize in the first meeting by driving directly at the rim and attempting layups time and time again. Perhaps they were rattled by the atmosphere, or maybe it was the physicality of Purdue's defense, but the Hoosiers shooting wilted (4-19 3PT) and the offense devolved into the same one-on-one AAU malarkey that plagued this roster last season. There's no mystery here for Indiana: they have to hit jumpshots to win this game. It's imperative that the drivers find the open guys along the perimeter, something they've been masterful at most of the year.
STUFF TO WATCH FOR:
- Will Bryson Scott play? Matt Painter seemed to lock away his sophomore point guard in some sort of basketball purgatory before unleashing him against Indiana, where he played 22 minutes, and chipped 11 points, 6 boards, and 2 assists while also injecting some palpable energy and tenacity on defense. He's played 21 minutes since and hasn't appeared in either of Purdue's last two games. Painter mentioned that playing too many guys earlier in the year likely cost his squad a couple of wins, so it doesn't seem like Scott will be getting another shot at the Hoosiers this season, as PJ Thompson seems to be the guy Painter turns to for the rare times that Jon Octeus sits.
- Can Troy Williams hit the jumpshots that Purdue gives him? Troy Williams has long-been considered the x-factor for IU's performances, as they tend to go as he goes. Against Purdue, Troy often found himself being given space to shoot midrange jumpers and responded by going 4-12 and getting to the line zero times. Williams showed a sweet stroke against Minnesota and while that should not be considered carte blanche to fire away from deep, it will hopefully give him the confidence to bury the 15 footers he will be dared to hit. His jumper is still an overall work in progress, but seems to be tied directly to his own confidence, and a couple early buckets from that range could transform Purdue's defensive strategy entirely.
- How does Hanner Mosquera-Perea change the game? Indiana's starting center for most of the season, Perea missed the first game against Purdue due to a knee injury, but has since returned to game action and played 14 minutes against Minnesota. This game has long been targeted as the one that Indiana would need HMP to play his usual minutes to help neutralize AJ Hammons and Isaac Haas, and he very well could be physically ready for 25 minutes on Thursday. But, as has been the case all season, what kind of impact is Perea going to have? He's looked more confident and fluid in the small sample of minutes since his return but inconsistency has plagued the forward in all three of his seasons in Bloomington. At the very least, you'd hope he can win more one-on-one battles in the paint defensively than Collin Hartman would be able to do. A true rim protector can also make life easy for Indiana's guards, who were routinely beaten off the dribble in West Lafayette.
- How does Purdue handle the atmosphere? There's no doubt Purdue faithful brought it during the first meeting, and it's time for Hoosier fans to return the favor. Only AJ Hammons and Raphael Davis have any experience playing in this rivalry at Assembly Hall, a venue often described as one of the toughest atmospheres in college hoops. For all the hullabaloo about attendance this week, I should certainly hope the crowd fills in early and brings it all night. Purdue hasn't beaten a single team with a pulse away from Mackey Arena since Thanksgiving, and there may very well be a reason for that.