Saturday afternoon Purdue and Notre Dame will renew a basketball rivalry that has been mostly dormant for almost half a century. Aside from when the teams met in South Bend for the first round of the 2004 NIT, the Boilermakers and Fighting Irish have not played since 1966. It has been an elaborate pissing contest in terms of when and where to play that neither team could settle until the Crossroads Classic came along last season.
Now Purdue goes in as the only team in the field of four not favored to make the 2013 NCAA Tournament. If the season ended today, Butler, Indiana, and Notre Dame would all be locks while Purdue would be on the outside. After a week off to stew about the demoralizing loss at Eastern Michigan Purdue is indeed at the Crossroads suggested by the name of Saturday's event at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Win, and a new life is breathed into a season that has seen a ton of struggle. Lose, and well, it was expected.
Location: South Bend, Indiana
2011-12 record: 22-12, 13-5 Big east)
2012-13 Record: 8-1
2012 Postseason: Lost to Xavier 67-63 in NCAA First Round
Blog Representation: One Foot Down
Series With Purdue: Tied 20-20
Last Purdue win: 109-92 on 1/4/1966 at Notre Dame
Last Notre Dame win: 71-59 on 3/17/2004 at Notre Dame
Digger Phelps once famously said that Purdue and Notre Dame did not play because there was no road between South Bend and West Lafayette. While Juan proves him wrong every time he goes home, this long dormant series has a number of stories behind why it hasn't been played since 1966. I once heard it was because neither school could agree on where the first game in a new contract would be. Of the last 10 meetings, five have been in South Bend and four in Indianapolis. The 1965 meeting at Purdue came after the Boilers had gone to South Bend three years in a row, and it is the only meeting of the last 10 that was played at Purdue.
The series has been dormant so long that Notre Dame is the only Division I team in Indiana that has never played in Mackey Arena (while Purdue has never played IUPUI, they played two games in the 2002 Boilermaker Invitational)
It has been a series of runs, with Purdue winning the first eight games and Notre Dame once winning 15 of 17 from 1937 to 1954. For what it is worth, Purdue has won nine of the last 13 against Notre Dame.
This is still a new experience for all of us, so I am not sure what to expect. There is some good hatred because The Traitor is still at Notre Dame for his final (alleged) year of college basketball. For the uninitiated, Scott Martin is The Traitor that left Purdue after the 2007-08 season for reasons that have been never fully clarified. After sitting out the 2008-09 season for transfer reasons (and tearing his ACL) he missed the entire 2009-10 season with a second ACL injury.
His career since then has seen him average 9.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 2010-11 and 9.5/5.7 in 2011-12. The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility due to his injuries, and so far he is averaging 8.9 points and a career high 7.5 rebounds. The frustration comes from knowing that had he stayed at Purdue and stayed healthy, the impact of the injuries to Robbie Hummel would have been lessened and who knows what happens in 2010.
We'll never know, and now Purdue fans have a chance to see Martin play again for the first time in almost five years as a bizarre epilogue to the story of the Baby Boilers. While Martin will undoubtedly be main focus of the fans, on the floor the Irish have five players averaging more points per game than The Traitor.
Notre Dame is a big team that will cause us problems with eight players at 6'8" or better. Their lone loss was 79-70 against St. Joseph's in overtime at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn. They have an impressive 64-50 win over Kentucky, but other than that their best win was 78-68 in a Catholic god vs. Mormon god matchup against BYU.
Jack Cooley, a 6'9" senior forward leads them with 14.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Jerian Grant, a 6'5" junior guard runs the show efficiently with 12.9 points and 5.1 assists per game along with 6'2" guards Eric Atkins. Atkins scores 10.9 per game and has a whopping seven assists per contest. These two will likely be the best backcourt Purdue has faced so far and could be the best they see all season in terms of merging scoring ability with ball distribution.
Atkins and Grant are hitting over 40% from long range while Martin, Cameron Biedscheid, and Pat Connaughton are all good three-pointer shooters with them. For good measure Garrick Sherman, a player we have seen before at Michigan State, anchors the middle at 6'10".
I am not going to lie. This is a very difficult matchup for Purdue. While Purdue has the size to bang inside with A.J. Hammons, Jacob Lawson, Donnie Hale, and Travis Carroll the experience is severely lacking. The Boilers will have to play night and day better than last Saturday at Eastern Michigan. In fact, we're likely going to need to see the absolute best basketball of the season.
Notre Dame shoots the ball extremely well from the field (49%) and averages 19 assists per game. They are excellent at making the extra pass for the easy basket and their roster is littered with experience. Biedscheid is the lone freshman that plays extensively. The rest of the roster is five seniors and four juniors. It is generally a seven-man rotation of Cooley, Grant, Atkins, Sherman, Biedscheid, Martin, and Connaughton, however.
That gives Purdue a very slight advantage in depth, though Painter will likely shorten the bench to just 8 or 9 guys for this game. Notre Dame is known to play a variety of defenses, so if Purdue continues its baffling struggle with the zone we can expect to see it on Saturday.
To win, Purdue is going to need to attack the basket, shoot the ball significantly better, and get someone in the post other than Hammons to produce. If D.J. Byrd can find his jump shot that was tragically lost in the return trip from Clemson it will help greatly. The Irish have the size and personnel to pack it in on Hammons and are the Boilers to shoot their way over them. If Byrd continues to struggle that is an almost certain loss.
Surprisingly Purdue is the 8th best rebounding team in the country, so continuing to control the glass is paramount, especially if Notre Dame is not hitting. With the Irish being fourth in the country in assists per game defense of the passing lanes is also key. I would like to see Purdue try to get in the passing lanes and force a few turnovers that lead to some runouts.
As much as I would love to say Purdue pulls off the upset and it spurs them to a lengthy winning streak that erases the slow start to the season I just don't see it happening. A victory could be a huge confidence boost that shows this team finally gets it. Yes, Purdue has five losses, but they are by an average of six points. That shows that they are close, but not quite there yet, especially since piss poor shooting can be attributed to at least four of those losses.
Notre Dame is too tough of a matchup though. Unless we see a team that plays at the level of the Clemson game or better we can expect a loss. Notre Dame 68, Purdue 55