GAME INFO / HOW TO WATCH:
Who? Indiana Hoosiers (21-6 (11-3), #21 KenPom) vs. Purdue Boilermakers (21-6 (9-5), #18 KenPom)
When? Saturday, February 20th, 8:30 PM, ESPN
Vegas? INDIANA -4.5
Pomeroy? INDIANA by 3, 64% chance of Indiana victory
RIVALRY TIME OH HELL YEAH
On February 19, 2015, the Purdue Boilermakers infiltrated Assembly Hall, winners of six of their last seven, including a 16-point beatdown of the Hoosiers in Mackey Arena, and were looking to keep up momentum on a season that had been resurrected after being left for dead in early January. On the other hand, Indiana was seeking some consistency after a 5-1 conference start had dissolved into alternating victories and losses for weeks. It was remarked, by some of the more intrepid and charming sportswriters of the time, that this game represented a shot in the arm for a rivalry that so desperately needed one. For the first time in years, both teams were at least playing for seeding in the NCAA Tournament, but a juggernaut Wisconsin team ensured the outcome of the game wouldn't have any impact on the conference title race.
Purdue would go on to sweep Indiana with a four-point victory in Bloomington, delivering the first of what would be six losses in Indiana's final eight games. Neither team would make it through their first game in the Big Dance but if a couple personnel decisions broke their way (AJ Hammons and Yogi Ferrell, in particular) both teams could come back ready to challenge for the conference title in 2016.
Before last night, you wouldn't have been able to say they both managed to do so. The inability to beat Iowa and an unfortunate hiccup in Champaign slammed the door to the throne room in Purdue's face, but once Penn State dispatched of the Hawkeyes in one of the more shocking results from the conference season, the door has become improbably, but unmistakably, left ajar for the Boilermakers (and others) to lay claim to the Big Ten throne.
Saturday's tilt between Indiana's most ferocious rivalry won't unilaterally decide the Big Ten title, but it's a must-win for Purdue to remain even in the periphery of contention, and an Indiana loss would likely prevent them from claiming it outright without a lot of far-fetched help. For the first time since 2008, the teams will meet with that all-important little number next to their name, signifying them as among the Top 25 teams in America. They've been assigned a primetime slot on a Saturday on ESPN, and the fanbases of every contending Big Ten team will be tuning in with various impact scenarios playing out in their heads. The matchup of Indiana's lethal offense against Purdue's suffocating defense will surely be enough to draw plenty of neutral eyes to a rivalry that has finally pulled itself off the mat.
HERE WOULD YOU LIKE SOME FACTORS?
|INDIANA (#15 Adj. Offense)
|PURDUE (#6 Adj. Defense)
|INDIANA (#60 Adj. Defense)
|PURDUE (#62 Adj. Offense)
All stats courtesy of kenpom.com
It should be noted that both squads have spent the majority of their seasons within the Top 25 of Ken Pomeroy's statistical rankings. I know the opinions of a collection of writers gets more fanfare, but while the polls tend to operate exclusively on "what have you done lately" the holistic approach of Ken Pomeroy has always provided a better idea of how talented an individual team is. And while Indiana and Purdue tend to excel at wildly different things, their complete profiles portray two teams that aren't all that far apart.
Purdue returns largely the same squad that swept the Hoosiers last season as AJ Hammons eschewed professional opportunities to return for his senior season and remains the focus for all of Purdue's opponents. Hammons is taking more shots and using more possessions on a rate basis than ever before, and he's rewarding the Boilermakers with career bests in eFG%, FT%, OR%, DR%, fouls drawn and the lowest TORate since his freshman campaign. Quite frankly, Thomas Bryant has seen nothing like AJ Hammons and the freshman will have his hands full on both ends of the court for as long as the officials allow him to stay out there.
Caleb Swanigan was the crown jewel of Matt Painter's recruiting class, but a promising start to the season has deteriorated as the year has worn on. Swanigan's Offensive Rating has dropped to 91.8 (average is 100) on the year, is only 83.8 in conference play, and a dismal 76.5 against Tier A opponents. Part of the problem seems to be an identity crisis, as Swanigan fashions himself to be a far better three point shooter than he actually he is. He's averaging more than two attempts per game, but is making only 29.5% of them. He is the conference's best defensive rebounder and stays out of foul trouble and has all the pieces to become a tremendous player for the Boilermakers, but he's not there yet.
UT-Arlington transfer Johnny Hill is Painter's best attempt to recapture the lightning in a bottle he got when he brought in Jon Octeus from Colordao State to play out his final year of eligibility in West Lafayette. Unlike Octeus, Hill has no jumpshot to speak of, but has good assist numbers that are completely undone by a turnover rate that would lead the team if not for Caleb Swanigan. He showcases a good steal percentage for a team that, on the whole, struggles to turn their opponents over. He's been in and out of the lineup, often replaced by the nation's leader in Offensive Rating: PJ THOMPSON. The diminutive point guard out of Brebuf Jesuit can't really create his own shot, but will knock down a wide open three pointer and never turns the ball over while being third on the team in assist rate.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH FOR
- Indiana's 3PT% (6th) vs. Purdue's d3PT% (16th): This game is likely to be decided out on the arc. Thomas Bryant is a tremendous freshman, but a gameplan centered on him taking AJ Hammons to the bucket a bunch of times will probably not work out. The Boilermakers' perimeter defense has been leakier in conference play, but the Hoosiers are still going to have to work to get looks and be sure to cash them in when they present themselves. Bryant's growing ability as a passer (three assists against Nebraska) will be a huge factor. Otherwise, expect a lot of dribble penetration and kickouts by Yogi, Robert Johnson, and Troy Williams.
- Indiana's TO% (291st) vs. Purdue's dTO% (341st): There are only ten teams worse at forcing turnovers than Purdue. Any ball Indiana coughs up will be a complete bailout for a Purdue team that can't make that happen on their own. I said something similar before the Michigan State game and, to Indiana's credit, they only gave up the ball eleven times (well under their season average). Granted, that didn't end up making a difference, so maybe the key is to turn it over a bunch. Who knows?
- Max Bielfeldt / Juwan Morgan / OG Anunoby vs. Hammons / Isaac Haas: Big Ten officials have shown in recent games that they're not a big fan of Thomas Bryant being on the court, and he's being whistled for some truly ridiculous things as of late. Unless the Hall of Calls makes a triumphant reappearance (and literally nothing would be funnier than Purdue getting blatantly and nakedly hosed on Saturday) Bryant is likely going to have to spend some time on the bench and / or away from Hammons and Haas with foul issues. While OG, Juwan, and Max are giving up some size in the matchup, all three have shown the ability to use wingspan, technique, and old guy at the Y savviness (in that order) to level the playing field.
- Troy Williams vs. Troy Williams: Assuming Yogi's shot eventually comes back (and I remain confident it will), no one is more important to Indiana's success in the postseason than Troy Williams. While the calls for more minutes for OG aren't completely unfounded, Troy remains the only guy on the team that can do what he can do. When Troy Williams is on, there are few like him in college basketball, and that's what makes him worth starting him night-in and night-out, hoping to create some desperately needed consistency for the junior wing. Against Nebraska, Troy found himself with the ball behind the arc and a shot clock under five seconds. Instead of settling for a contested three pointer, Troy recognized he had enough time to pass on the long jumper and go to his strength, splitting the defenders and creating contact at the rim, getting fouled and getting the layup to drop. That has the potential to be a watershed moment for the kid, and I'm not kidding. That's twice in the past few games he's been in a waning shot clock and trusted himself to put the ball on the deck and either pull-up from 16 feet or continue toward the rim, both far better options for his game than a contested three.