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Indiana men’s basketball: Previewing Purdue

oh boy, here they come

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

After its winning streak came to an end Tuesday at Maryland, Indiana will host the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers in Assembly Hall tomorrow. The Boilermakers enter the game on the country’s fourth longest winning streak, having won nine straight.

Purdue started the year unranked, but became the first unanimous No. 1 of the season earlier this week, largely behind a NPOY-type season from Zach Edey. Edey took a massive leap from last year, going from 14 to 22 points per game and averaging 12 more minutes per contest.

Behind the unbelievable play of Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana is now the best bet to hand Purdue its second loss of the season, per Kenpom, Bart Torvik, and ESPN analytics.

Here’s what you need to know about the Boilermakers:

The Wins

At 22-1, there sure is a lot to talk about here, starting in mid November, when the Boilermakers hosted then unranked Marquette. The win didn’t move the needle much at the time, as neither Purdue nor Marquette were ranked, but it now looks like Purdue’s best win of the year (which says more about the Big Ten than anything if we’re being honest).

The Golden Eagles now have the most efficient offense in the country, per Kenpom, so the fact that Purdue held them to their fourth-lowest point total on the season should not be overlooked. The win was also part of a five-game winning streak against high major opponents, including neutral site victories over West Virginia and Duke and a road win against Florida State in the Big Ten ACC invitational.

The beginning of Big Ten play was the first time the Boilermakers started to face some real adversity, with Nebraska taking them to overtime in Lincoln on December 10th. Purdue won by a score of 65-62, giving it the first of four one-possession victories on the season.

In most of these one-score games, Purdue has struggled to score from deep. Maryland and Nebraska each kept Purdue to under 30% from 3-point range, while Michigan State allowed just four made threes in their close games with the Boilermakers.

The Loss

Purdue’s lone loss of the year came at home against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights by a score of 65-64. It became the second time in the last two years that Rutgers handed Purdue its first loss of the season.

Like the other teams who have been able to play a close game with Purdue, Rutgers made it difficult for the Boilermakers to score from deep. Purdue went 7 of 23 from behind the arc that game, getting its biggest boost from junior guard Brandon Newman off the bench.

The Scarlet Knights didn’t take many threes themselves in that game, but hit six of their 14 attempts to finish well above their team percentage from deep on the year. If Indiana doesn’t have any single player heating up, it may need to force a few more attempts than normal to match that number.

The Team

As I mentioned above, the Boilermakers have a bonafide player of the year candidate in Zach Edey, who’s averaging 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. He’s going to get his, and very few teams this season have been able to stop that.

Purdue’s next best scorer is freshman guard Fletcher Loyer, who is averaging 12.4 points and 2.5 assists per game. He’s also the Boilermakers’ biggest three-point threat, hitting 36% of his 130 attempts this year.

No other player on Purdue has more than 72 three-point attempts this year, which is indicative of its heavy reliance on inside scoring. As a team, the Boilermakers are hitting just 33.9 of its threes this year, getting 49.7% of their offense on 2-pointers.

That said, Mason Gillis is coming off a career night against Penn State, when he hit a program-record nine threes to finish with 29 points. Between him, Loyer, Braden Smith, and Brandon Newman, Purdue has enough guys that are a threat to get hot if left undefended on the perimeter.

The Hoosiers would probably be best served in this matchup by putting one of their bigger bodies, like Malik Reneau, Race Thompson or even Logan Duncomb (who, if you believe the message boards, is training specifically for this), against Edey instead of TJD. It’s not entirely clear that anyone can stop Edey’s 7’4” frame in the post, so there’s no use in having Trayce waste his energy on that.

Indiana should also try to resist the urge to send too much help or double against Edey and focus on making life difficult for the guards and wings who will have to try to get him the ball and provide some secondary scoring. Indiana has an athletic advantage over Purdue’s backcourt, so they should be able to put the pressure on guys like Loyer and Smith so long as they don’t get sucked into defending the paint.

No matter what the game plan is, this is going to be a battle. Indiana has a shot, but it will take a tough, focused 40 minutes to make it happen.

Kenpom gives Indiana a 42% chance of victory, compared to 36% from Bart Torvik and 51.1% from ESPN analytics.