Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports
Purdue faces the No. 3 Hoosiers at Mackey Arena tonight
If Purdue is going to make a surprising run to the NCAA Tournament a victory over the No. 3 rated team in the nation tonight would be extremely helpful. Despite being 4-3 and in 6th place in the tough Big Ten the Boilers continue to be dismissed because of a poor non-conference showing. Beating the Hoosiers would move Purdue to 5-3 and instead of struggling to stay out of the Big Ten cellar they would be a major player in the race for the championship.
The fact that all this would come at the expense of the hated Indiana Hoosiers, well, that is a very nice bonus.
Location: Bloomington, IN
2011-12 record: 27-9, 11-7 Big Ten
2012-13 Record: 18-2, 6-1 Big Ten
2012 Postseason: Lost to Kentucky 102-90 in NCAA Sweet 16
Series With Purdue: Purdue Leads 112-86
Last Purdue win: 72-61 at Indiana on 2/23/2011
Last Indiana win: 85-74 at Indiana on 3/4/2012
TV: Big Ten Network
Odds: Indiana by 7.5
This has been a day that has been a long time coming, mostly because the Indiana-Purdue game is always an event. When Indiana started the season ranked No. 1 overall it got even bigger, because it was entirely possible the Hoosiers would still be No. 1 and even undefeated. If not got the heroics of Alex Barlow and Bo Ryan's mastery of Tom Crean they would be undefeated.
I have gone on record as saying that Indiana was a downright terrifying team to face when everything is working. that is still true. There have been some unexpected struggles against the likes of Georgia, Georgetown, and Iowa, but they are exactly where they want to be right now: leading the Big Ten with the inside track to a No. 1 seed.
The schedule is not doing them any favors, however, and that explains for the RPI of 14. The win over North Carolina that was impressive at the time has dwindled as the Tar Heels have struggled. Indiana put together one of the best halves of basketball I have ever seen against Minnesota, but struggled to close that game out. One could argue that their best win is over Michigan State, which occurred on Sunday. the rest of the schedule has been very meh, tonight included, while it gets a lot tougher in February.
Purdue's biggest struggle will be to control the tempo, which is how you beat Indiana. Wisconsin slowed them down and was able to walk out of assembly Hall with a win. Georgia held them to 66 points and both Iowa and Northwestern kept them below 70 on the road. Purdue simply cannot run with them. We don't have the players to do so and it would be suicide anyway. The Boilers need to take care of the basketball, take smart shots, and hustle back on defense.
After seeing what Trey Burke did against Purdue last week I can see Kevin Ferrell being a major difference-maker. He is a better shooter than Ronnie Johnson and his ability to penetrate and dish out to three-point shooters like Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, and Will Sheehey is my greatest fear tonight. Purdue simply cannot lose any of those players on the perimeter like it did against Michigan. All four of them shoot 43% or better from long rang with Oladipo shooting a ridiculous 54.8%.
While Cody Zeller is the leading scorer and threat for a double-double each night, Oladipo is the player that has been the most impressive. He's shooting 66% from the field, dishing out 2.4 assists, and playing some of the best defense in the country with 2.5 steals. I am simply stumped as to who guards him because he is a big, athletic guard that will cause enormous amounts of trouble.
The one strength that I expected the Hoosiers to have, but they don't, was the bench. This is a team that relies heavily on its starters. Zeller, Oladipo, Hulls, Watford, and Sheehey all average in double figures, but injuries and suspensions have greatly shortened the bench. Austin Etherington is already out for the season. Maurice Creek missed eight more games due to injury and has only three shots in 18 minutes of the last two games. Hanner Mosquera-Perea missed nine games due to suspension and though he is an athletic freak, has only the Dallas Lauderdale skillset at the moment (he can rebound, dunk, and protect the back side of Zeller. That's it). Jeremy Hollowell is a good defender, but is probably the most overrated player in their 2012 class. Derek Elston has also only played five games due to injury.
That leaves Remy Abell as the biggest contributor off the bench. You'll remember that Abell hit the back-breaking three late in last season's game at Mackey. He's also better than 50% from long range and can be one of those guys that can get lost and hit a dagger of a shot if needed.
One of the most interesting matchups to see will be A.J.Hammons vs. Zeller. Hammons has 40 pounds on Zeller and plays a much tougher style than the sophomore. Hammons hasn't done a whole lot lately, but Purdue needs him to be able to hold his own against Zeller. Of course, the biggest factor there will be the officials. It is no secret that Zeller is well protected with 146 free throw attempts, which is only behind Bucknell's Mike Muscala, Indiana State's Jake Odum, and Iona's Lamont James nationally as far as I can tell. If the always fickle Big Ten officials let both players play this could be fun to watch. If Zeller shoots 14 free throws compared to 16 as a team that Butler had and both Hammons and Sandi Marcius foul out without a single foul being called on Zeller (and he is a master of the discreet low-back shove) Purdue is in trouble.
Hammons' ability to play against Zeller will be the key to the rest of Purdue's defense. Ferrell and RJ are very familiar with each other and should be fun to watch in eight games over the next four years. Hulls, for all his scoring ability, can't guard a chair, but Oladipo is more than capable of getting a handle on Terone Johnson. Everyone else for Purdue must get out on the perimeter and not give a single inch all night long. Indiana is second in the nation in scoring and so athletic that the Hurryin' Hoosiers is a more than apt moniker. Purdue only wins this with old-school grit, defense, and by dragging them down into a 65-60 rockfight. Purdue's own offense is far too limited to expect to simply outscore the Hoosiers in a game that reaches the 80's.
The crowd tonight should be special. Last year's crowd for the IU game seemed a little off, but there is rarely a dull night at Mackey when the Hoosiers come to town. Purdue needs to thrive off of that. As good as Indiana is, they have not been quite the same away from Assembly Hall. They are 3-0 in their true road games, but Iowa and Northwestern made it closer than expected, while more people watch games at the Co-rec than games at Penn State, so it is hardly a tough road venue. Purdue is a better team than Northwestern and pretty even with Iowa, so it has a chance.
Unfortunately, Indiana is ranked high for a reason. They have a unique mix of talent, experience, and moxie at all the right positions, so much so I said at the beginning of the year their season should be considered a failure if they do not win the National Title. I continue to stand by that statement because you only get so many chances where it all comes together like this season. They will have talent in the future, but a dominant big man, lights out shooters, and one of the best freshman point guards in the country? That is a rare mix that has to be taken advantage of because the NBA can come calling and break up that unique mix after just one year so easily. When this particular Indiana team has it all working I don't think there is a team in the country that can beat them. They are that good.
On paper, Indiana should win this game easily. Rivalries are funny things, however. I think Purdue gives them a fight, and if the Hoosiers turn it into a blowout it is a good sign for them, but a very bad one for Purdue.
Dream of the NCAAs again if:
- The refs let Hammons actually play defense on Zeller
- Purdue guards the perimeter
- Purdue's offense controls the tempo and attacks the basket
- D.J. Byrd keeps them honest on the perimeter
- RJ wins the battle defensively with Ferrell
Salute the First place Hoosiers if:
- Hammons has two fouls guarding Zeller in the first five minutes
- Ferrell masters the drive and kick for three that Burke did
- Oladipo is unstoppable
- Hulls gets lost for 3-5 threes
- Indiana is able to run
Prediction: Indiana 75, Purdue 62