I was going to begin with some quip about how this is no longer a big game, but I would be wrong. It is a big game because the Hoosiers wants to make their season by beating their rivals. It is a big game for us because, well, every win in Big Ten play counts the same and we need as many as we can get. There is a reason ESPN picked this game even though they knew Purdue would be good and Indiana would be NIT-worthy at best: It is historically one of the best college basketball rivalries out there.
So here we are. I have been rather cocky lately about facing the Hoosiers. I see little excuse for us to lose to them. We're deeper. We're more experienced. We're more talented. We're more proven. Yes, it is on their home court of Assembly Hall. Yes, it is a rivalry game. We're still the better team and we should win.
This is why it is a rivalry. Gene 21, Bobby 20.
As John from the Crimson Quarry pointed out on my Penn State wrap though, sometimes that doesn't matter. What can actually help Indiana is their wild inconsistency. The Hoosiers are a much better basketball team than a year ago. They still aren't great, but the diehard Hoosier fans that are already grumbling about Tom Crean and how he is turning around the program should take a look to the north. We are a prime example of how patience and building a team up can pay off. I would argue that Indiana was even further down than we were. At least in Painter's second season we had Carl Landry returning from injury to help a big turnaround. Right now Indiana does not have a similar player to the possible NBA Sixth Man of the Year. They were virtually gutted and had to start over from scratch.
So yes, I still think this should be an easy win, but strange things can happen. We could shoot poorly. Indiana could take care of the basketball (one of their major weaknesses). Their freshmen could take a big step forward. Their crowd could motivate them. JJ could get into foul trouble. A lot of these things could happen and an Indiana win could result. Unfortunately for IU, most people would agree that a victory is highly unlikely unless many of those things happen.
2009-10 Record: 9-11, 3-5 Big Ten
2008-09 Record: 6-25, 1-17 Big Ten
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 108-84
Last Purdue win 81-67 on 2/21/09 at Purdue
Last Indiana win 77-68 on 2/19/08 at Indiana
Great moments in the rivalry:
March 1, 1901: Purdue wins the first meeting 20-15 in West Lafayette. Indiana claims supremacy by pointing to Monroe County championship banners.
February 18, 1905: Indiana wins its first game of the series, 29-14, in Bloomington. This came after Purdue won the nine in the all-time series. Indiana immediately raises a banner.
February 7, 1908: Indiana wins its second in a row in the series for the first time. "We have finally turned the tide and will be a powerhouse in this series for a long time to come, just like the Cubs after they win their second World Series this year," says Indiana coach Name Notknown.
February 9, 1914: Purdue wins its 12th in a row after the two straight Indiana wins. The Boilers now lead the all-time series 22-3 just 13 years in. Indiana fans remind Purdue fans they are still the best team in Bloomington. Bloomington High School immediately issues a challenge.
February 2, 1932: Purdue wins 42-29 as Martinsville's John Wooden, after spurning nearby Indiana for Purdue, finishes his career undefeated against the Hoosiers. He finishes as a three-time All-American and National champion before winning 10 National titles as a coach. IU fans ask, "but did he throw a chair." Indiana refuses to play Purdue in 1933, searching for John's younger brother, Cletus.
February 28, 1948: With five seconds remaining, Purdue's Howie Williams dove under the basket to rebound a loose ball and shot the game winner while sitting on the floor. Purdue wins 51-49 Chris Kramer's grandfather, who was in attendance, jots the play down.
March 21, 1979: Indiana beats Purdue 53-52 in the NIT championship game. My mother, pregnant for me at the time, swears a blood oath to never let Purdue lose to Indiana in a postseason game again.
March 13, 1980: The blood oath works! Purdue defeats Indiana 76-69 in the Sweet Sixteen before going to the Final Four. Bobby Knight, in a fury, plays freshman Isaiah Thomas extensive minutes. It is the first, but not the last time that Isaiah Thomas drives a basketball entity into the ground (Yes, I am aware he played great in that game. I need an angle here).
February 23, 1985: Purdue 72, Indiana 63. Nothing else to see here in one of the most dull games ever in the rivalry's history.
January 31 and February 26, 1987: Both teams are ranked in the top ten and split their regular season meetings with each winning at home. Indiana later wins the national title when Keith Smart, using a two-handed set shot, throws the ball in the peach basket for their fifth national title. Hazy black and white footage exists of this title from a bygone era. Purdue maintains its tradition of crapping the bed with a high seed by losing in the second round as a #3 seed.
Sometime during the 1990-91 season: Simply this piece of Gold:
February 18, 1997: Chad Austin quiets a raucous Assembly Hall crowd with a buzzer-beater for an 89-87 overtime win.
February 9, 1999: Purdue wins 86-81 in overtime for their most recent win in Bloomington. God, I hate that this is true.
February 29, 2000: Indiana wins 79-65 in Bloomington for the final Gene vs. Bobby game. Depending on who you ask, each coach wins the all-time series. Gene won 21-20 on the court, but Purdue has a disputed forfeit from 1995 for using an ineligible player for one minute that did not score. Those who admit Luther Clay was a factor in that game are full of crap.
January 15, 2005: T-Mill makes multiple trips to the bathroom during the afternoon lunch before his wedding in Vegas. On one small TV in the sports book the final Gene Keady game vs. Indiana in Mackey Arena is unfolding and T-Mill abandons the fiance and wedding party for several minutes at a time. Karma is a bitch. Indiana wins 75-73 in double overtime. My wedding is ruined.
February 19, 2008: Indiana wins the season's only meeting 77-68 in Bloomington. It is the first time both teams are ranked at game time since the final Gene vs. Bobby game. Cell phone service in Bloomington goes out completely for 15 minutes following the victory as Kelvin Sampson calls everyone in America to celebrate his final coaching win.
And now to today and the serious preview:
It is hard to consider 9-11 an improvement, but considering how bad Indiana was at times last season it is a huge step forward. The Hoosiers were rarely close to any of the elite teams they faced in 2009. Their best win was either against fellow Big Ten cellar-dweller Iowa or over NCAA Tournament qualifier Cornell. This year they at least have some good wins. Pittsburgh is likely going to the NCAA's and they upset the Panthers on a neutral floor back in December. Minnesota is a potential NCAA team, while they were competitive with Kentucky, Maryland, and Illinois.
On the other hand, their inconsistency has shown with losses to George Mason (who leads the CAA currently), Loyola (Md.), and Boston University. The Hoosiers also notably lost by 15 at home to Iowa. The Hawkeyes are probably worse than they were last year when the Hoosiers knocked them off in Bloomington for their only Big Ten win.
Indiana would probably be a little more consistent in conference play if Maurice Creek had not gotten injured back in December. The freshman was showing shades of being a special player before fracturing his kneecap. He is the team's leading scorer at 16.4 ppg and was a decent 3-point shooter (almost 45%). Creek gave the Hoosiers good size at the guard position, so his loss is very troublesome for their offense. He is a solid performer that stood a real chance of being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
The Hoosiers are a very young team with only Tijan Jobe, Devan Dumes, and Steven Gambles as seniors. Of those players, only Dumes at 7 points per game makes any kind of contribution. Much of the offense now centers around Verdell Jones III (13.9ppg) and Christian Watford (12.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg). These are two players that, when paired with Creek, I really like for Indiana. It is a solid core of scorers that the Hoosiers can build around for the future. Jones is a big guard while Watford is a 6'9" forward that will be able to do a few things in this league once he gains experience. Watford doesn't shoot many threes, but he is a decent shooter when he does decide to shoot from distance.
Jeremiah Rivers (6.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.1 apg) is a junior guard that leads the team in assists and helps create things. Like Indiana's other guards, he is big at 6'5". Only Dumes and Jordan Hulls (5.7 ppg) are regular rotation player that are under 6'5", so their size could give us some problems. One player that has been somewhat disappointing this year has been Tom Pritchard. He is only averaging 4.6 points per game and four rebounds. Instead of taking a projected step forward this year he has fallen behind the likes of Watford at the forward slot. His numbers are about half of what he was putting up last season.
The final two players in the regular rotation are freshman forwards in Bobby Capobianco and Derek Elston. Because of my coverage responsibilities I saw Elston play quite a bit in high school. He is a teammate of our own Kyle Coleman, and it was Coleman playing the middle that allowed Elston to be a matchup nightmare on the perimeter at the 2A level. Elston is not shooting the poorly in his first year at the Division I level, but he has been an awful free throw shooter.
There is certainly some talent here with Indiana, but as I said, it is very young. With that youth comes mistakes. Indiana leads the conference in turnovers by a wide margin at 15.8 per game. I have read some of John's work this season and the turnovers have been maddening in stretches for the Hoosiers. It is safe to say that those turnovers have cost them at least three games if not more. Since we have struggled recently at forcing turnovers this is a good opportunity to work on that issue. The Hoosiers do share the ball well, averaging almost 14 team assists per game. Jones and Rivers are usually the playmakers in that department.
The Hoosiers are right in the middle of the conference in scoring, but part of that comes from the fact that the turnover issues create more possessions per contest. Defensively their numbers are skewed somewhat by playing teams like Bryant, North Carolina Central, and USC-Upstate who are among the worst in Division I. The biggest issue seems to be their confidence. Indiana has had trouble closing out games, as noted by last week's last second loss to Illinois. They followed a two game conference winning streak, including their first road win in two years at Penn State, with an ugly home loss to Iowa. How they respond to the gut-punch of a loss at Illinois will be a key factor.
I am surprised that this game hasn't received more attention, especially since there has been only one matchup for two straight seasons. I never thought I would see the day that football in February would pass the IU-Purdue basketball rivalry, but that is where we find ourselves. During the height of the Gene vs. Bobby era the Colts were awful and struggled to sell out the lower bowl of the RCA Dome, while national signing day was something briefly mentioned on ESPN. Part of it was Purdue falling into the depths during the end of Keady's tenure and it wasn't helped by Indiana hitting rock bottom a year ago.
Indiana, especially their fans, need to learn patience. It is way to early to talk about replacing Tom Crean. Most of these players are still freshmen and sophomores. They will get better and the program will come back as a result. With a few breaks next year they can threaten for an NCAA berth, but it is important to give them time. I am actually a little afraid of this team once they get some experience. I am not too delusional to admit that national recruiting would be easier for them if they get better because they are Indiana. I am never going to be one to disrespect their five national titles because, well, they do have them. They came in four different decades too, so that is the mark of a lasting program.
This is still a rivalry though. I try not to view it with silly jokes (except for the above section), but with educated respect. We have won the battles in terms of the overall series, but they have won the war on the national scale. Until we win a title or two ourselves, it will be that way.
Keys to the Game for Purdue:
- Let your experience be a difference maker
- Don't let their guards use their size
- Get back to creating turnovers and making offense form defense
- Avoid foul trouble
- Keep the crowd out of it
Prediction: Purdue 72, Indiana 64