Last season at the Crossroads Classic really was a crossroads. Purdue lost to Notre Dame 88-80 in a game where it looked pretty disinterested throughout. Only the emergence of Trevion Williams was a good thing. It was a microcosm of “bad Purdue’ from last season. Carsen Edwards had 27, but needed 22 shots to get there. Ryan Cline had 15, but on 13 shots. Purdue missed 40 shots, only gave up 50 shots to the Irish, and generally had really poor defense all day.
That loss dropped Purdue to 6-5 and, at the time, I had my doubts as to if the Boilers would even make the NCAA Tournament. We had a single good win at the time: at home against Maryland thanks to a late Nojel Eastern block. What followed was the most fun I have had watching Purdue basketball maybe ever. The Boilers ripped off a surprise Big Ten title and Elite 8 run, coming up just short of the Final Four.
Purdue enters this year’s event in a better place overall. It is now 7-4 instead of 6-5, and it has the same 1-1 record in conference play. Losing at Michigan last season is a lot more respectable than losing at Nebraska this year, but the wins over VCU and Virginia are far, far better than anything we had at this point last season. The Big Ten is going to be a wild ride, too. It certainly looks like anyone can beat anyone else on any given night. 15-5 might be enough for a share of the conference title, too.
This year’s Crossroads game is much harder, too. Butler enters as one of the most impressive teams in America. Purdue has had missed chances so far in losses to Texas, Marquette, and Florida State out of conference. It has also banked the VCU and Virginia wins. Given the difficulty of the non-conference slate and the transition from Carsen and Cline I think anyone would have taken 8-3 against a tough slate with six difficult opponents. Getting this game secures a very good non-conference resume, and it is a great way to lead into conference play.
From: Indianapolis, Indiana
Date : Saturday, December 21, 2018
Tip Time: 2:30 p.m. ET
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Arena: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (17,923)
Online: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: No Line Yet
2018-19 Record: 16-17, 7-11 Big East (Lost to Nebraska 80-76 in NIT First Round)
2019-20 Record: 10-1, 0-0 Big East
Opponent Blog: Butler Hoops
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 39-19
Last Butler Win: 74-68 in Indianapolis on 12/19/2015
Last Purdue Win: 76-73 in Detroit, MI (NCAA Tournament) on 3/18/18
NCAA History: 16 appearances, last in 2018. 2010 and 2011 NCAA Runner-up
Coach: Lavell Jordan (47-32 in third year at Butler, 58-56 in 4th year overall)
Butler is off to a great start this season. According to the computer rankings, they are the toughest team Purdue has faced to date. That is because they have a ton of really, really good wins already. They beat Missouri and Stanford (Stanford’s only loss) on a neutral floor in Kansas City. They won at Ole Miss and comfortably beat Florida at home. They also won at home against Minnesota. The only loss was by a point at No. 10 Baylor.
We will see a similar formula to what we have already seen from many opponents this year. Butler will play a slow tempo (341st nationally on KenPom, Purdue is 343 and Virginia is 353), but stifling defense (17thnationally in adjusted defense). Their offense is very efficient, however, as they are 18th in adjusted offense (Purdue is 39th). Purdue was able to beat Virginia because their offense has struggled a bit (165th), but not enough to overcome the nation’s best defense (at least not against Purdue).
So yes, this will be a slower game with possessions at a premium, but that has been Purdue’s M.O. all season. Purdue’s magic number appears to be 60 points given up. In the four losses Purdue has given up 70, 65, 63 (overtime) and 70. The most it has given up in a win is 57, and that was in a 22-point win over Green Bay.
Where Purdue should have an advantage, especially in a game where possessions are at a premium, is in rebounding. The Boilers are 86th nationally at 39.1 rebounds per game, while Butler is at the bottom of the nation at 32.9. Of course, Purdue does have a ton of rebounds offensively where it has then missed putbacks, but generally we’re pretty good on the glass and should have an advantage.
Butler is led by Kamar Baldwin at 15.7 points per game. The senior guard is having a great season and is especially lethal at the free throw line, shooting over 95%. Sean McDermott and Bryce Nze are also averaging over 10 points per game. The Bulldogs shoot just over 48% from the floor and 72% from the free throw line. Purdue will have to work to keep them off the line or it will be death by papercuts. Aaron Thompson is also the type of facilitator that can give Purdue trouble, as he averages 7.2 points and 5.8 assists.
One of the biggest questions is Matt Haarms: will he play. Derrik Smits, son of Pacer Rik Smits, is their tallest player, but he has only played in one game for 11 minutes last week against Southern. He is a graduate transfer from Valparaiso and his addition, if he is healthy, could be a big one. With Haarms Purdue has a pretty big advantage inside. Without him, things are even.
This should be a pretty interesting game. The teams are almost mirror images of each other statistically, and there is always the familiarity of playing once every two seasons. I don’t think this is a must-win for Purdue, but it would be a great asset on selection Sunday and beyond in terms of NCAA seeding. A strong performance, especially on offense, would build confidence going back into conference play after the first of the year.