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Holy War

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It is a welcome site to see Indiana and Purdue play with so much on the line even with all the surrounding storylines. In reading this morning's game preview from the Indianapolis Star the players said all the right things, but with so many guys from the state of Indiana, and the fact they have clearly chosen sides in this fight, there will be more at stake than the perceived loyalties of the little-used Chad Sutor. For the fans, we have waited and waited for this moment. There is the vociferous minority on both sides that will trash the opposition regardless of who is in uniform. For the most part, however, Indiana fans respect the way our team plays and is coached, while Purdue fans respect the athleticism and heart of D.J. White and Eric Gordon. Indeed, many Indiana fans have even been hiding out on the Purdue boards since the Kelvin Sampson mess erupted.

What I wish for tonight is a close game that comes down to the wire and, at least for a couple of hours, shuts of the noise of the Kelvin Sampson situation. Because of the frosty relationship between the two, some speculated that Kelvin vs. Matt would become the new Bobby vs. Gene, but it looks like that will not happen now. The rebirth of this rivalry will be borne on the players themselves. If this is a mere one-year blip before Indiana suffers hard under the disciplinary hand of the NCAA then hopefully it will be a game that will be remembered for a long time. If it is that blip, hopefully Indiana will use it as a goal to get back to this level, much like Purdue has had to do since the rivalry began to fade in the late 90's

Indiana so far:

The word on the street is that Indiana's coach, Kelvin Sampson, may be under some NCAA scrutiny for impermissible phone calls, but that is neither here nor there. Seriously though, the mess happening in Bloomington has overshadowed what has been a pretty good season for the Hoosiers. The Hoosiers have just four losses on the season, but they are all to teams currently ranked in the top 13 in the country. Connecticut is currently 13th, Xavier 12th, and Wisconsin 10th. While the losses have been to very impressive teams, the Hoosiers did not have a win over a ranked team until shellacking Michigan State this past Saturday night. Other than Connecticut and Xavier, the best non-conference opponent the Hoosiers have faced is either Illinois State or Kentucky.

To be fair, no one saw Kentucky falling into the abyss, so that is costing the Hoosiers of what would normally be a quality win. The same can be said for Southern Illinois, which came into the season as a top 15 team but has long since fallen apart. Had those two teams played to expectation Indiana would have had a very good non-conference schedule, and the win at Southern Illinois would certainly be considered a marquee win. Since the Salukis recently ended Drake's run at perfection in the Valley that win may gain some strength if Southern Illinois gets hot at Arch Madness. They are certainly more than capable of stealing that auto-bid and even doing some damage in the tournament itself. The same could possibly be said for Kentucky, but they have a much more difficult challenge in the SEC.

Who is dangerous for the Hoosiers:

The misconception about Indiana is that they begin and end with the duo of Gordon and White. Considering they are ranked 1-2 in the Big Ten in scoring and combine for nearly 39 points a game it's easy to focus on them. When you do, you forget about a very talented supporting cast that can contribute in key spots. Just ask Illinois. The Illini vilified Eric Gordon for 50 minutes in Champaign, but in the end it was Armon Bassett that knocked in 11 of his 16 points in the second overtime for the win. Bassett averages 10 points per game while Jordan Crawford is also in double figures at 10.2. Purdue cannot afford to forget players like Jamarcus Ellis and Lance Stemler.

I am especially leery of Stemler, as he is the type of player that gets lost for the majority of the game only to hit a crippling, back-breaker 3-pointer when Gordon dishes to him in the corner. I don't know what it is, but I hate this type of player, mostly because that's the kind of player I would be if I had any kind of consistent jump shot. It's a jealousy issue, I guess. Indiana is currently leading the Big Ten in scoring at more than 76 per game. They didn't get that high solely on the backs of Gordon and White. Players like Bassett, Crawford, Ellis, Stemler, and DeAndre Thomas are more than capable of helping those two out with the scoring load.

What not to fear from Indiana:

When my high school team was preparing to face Luke Recker and DeKalb in the 1997 Ft. Wayne Semi-State final we were very concerned with facing a scorer of Recker's caliber. In an interesting strategy, we chose to concentrate on the other four guys on the floor and didn't change our defense specifically for Recker. We got some help from a great night on the offensive end of the floor, but at the end of the night Recker had his typical 25-30 point night. It was enough that we won 69-46 to go on to the state finals. We knew he was not going to score 50 points to personally beat us against our base defense, and this is something the Boilers can carry over to tonight.

Both White (if he plays) and Gordon are going to get their points. When Indiana has struggled this year is when the supporting cast has not done much. Against Xavier the Hoosiers gave up 80 points and both Gordon and White only had 36. Against Wisconsin the first time the supporting cast did little of anything. The second time around Indiana was better as Bassett had 12, but other than that Indiana had little from anyone else. Against UConn it was both White and Gordon that struggled, while Bassett and Crawford still had solid games.

Across the board statistically Indiana is very good. They rank near the top of the Big Ten in nearly category, as is expected from a 21-4 team. Their defensive numbers aren't that great, and teams can rebound well against them, but these are deficiencies that are easily overshadowed when you lead the league in scoring. About the only offensive weakness is the turnover category. Indiana ranks ahead of all the conference leaders except Michigan State in this category. Since the Purdue defense thrives on creating turnovers this will be a key area. I wouldn't be too concerned about Purdue not having a good turnover day in Evanston. Despite not having won a conference game the Wildcats are actually the best team in the league at taking care of the ball.

General Outlook:

So much of this game seems to hinge on whether D.J. White will play or not. If he does not play Indiana will lose a serious advantage in the paint when it comes to both scoring and rebounding. If he does play he will likely be limited both in his minutes as well as his effectiveness on the court. Playing a hampered D.J. White could even put Indiana at even more of a disadvantage depending on how effective he is. Sampson seems to think he will play and he is a tough kid, so I would be more surprised if he did not play at this point because of how big of a game it is.

The second point is obviously the looming distraction of the Kelvin Sampson situation. All signs certainly seem to be pointing towards this game as Sampson's last on the bench for some time, if not ever for Indiana. He obviously is a good coach and his players have a great rapport with him. Though they are saying all the right things about it not being a distraction and everything, it has still been a very long week in Bloomington for all parties involved. We cannot discount the, "win one for coach," factor.

It is a testament to what we have accomplished that many feel we should be able to win this game regardless of if White plays. With the poise that Purdue has shown in every road venue this season (the final seven minutes at Missouri aside) I would be absolutely shocked if they faded in the heat of Assembly Hall. There will be heat too, as the Indiana fans and students will be ready for something other than off the court news to talk about. They are always ready when Purdue comes to town, just as we are always ready when they come to West Lafayette. It should be a fantastic atmosphere for a college basketball game tonight.

I would love to see a game much like the 1997 game won by Purdue 89-87. I want to see both teams fighting hard and leaving everything on the floor. For Indiana, they need this a little more than us. We are still in the hunt for the Big Ten title and coveted #1 seed in the Big Ten tourney if we lose. If Indiana loses, they would be two games behind us in the loss column while we would only have four games (three in which we would be heavily favored) to play. Not only that, they would be a game behind Wisconsin as well, and not have the tiebreaker with either of us. This is Indiana's game for the Big Ten, while history is against us in that we have never won six straight road conference games.

I honestly feel if we don't change our defensive philosophy to specifically counter Gordon and White we will have a chance. When Chris Kramer got hurt near the end of the Northwestern game I was scared because I knew we would be sticking him on Gordon. Ever since he eliminated Drew Neitzel in the Michigan State game I have wanted to see him against Gordon. This also frees us for help down low when D.J. White has the ball. If Kramer can just slow Gordon (he won't stop him entirely) our chances of winning will greatly increase. Everyone else must do their jobs defensively against the other players and help on White.

Offensively I expect more of the same from us. Indiana is not as stout defensively as a team like Michigan State and Wisconsin, so we should be able to score on them. Gordon is an especially good defender one-on-one, so expect him to be on whoever has the hot hand for us. We must continue to play team-oriented basketball on the offensive end, and we cannot be afraid to attack inside against White if he plays. Kramer set the tone early last year when he drove against White without fear and he got into the big man's head. Finally, I hope we have good officiating both ways. It would be a shame for this game to be decided either way by the officials. Let the kids play and decide the game.

I expect a very close, hard fought contest with neither team backing down. Purdue certainly has a very good chance to win, but many times these two teams have been evenly matched and the home team has been able to win in the end. I can see it happening tonight, but again, I hope I am proven wrong. Indiana has a lot of emotion in their corner and D.J. White looks like he will play. If he doesn't play, this prediction is officially off. Indiana 71, Purdue 70.