Little more can be said about the way Purdue has steadily shown improvement throughout the season so far. It has been the Zach Edey show from the first game and rightfully so as the big man is averaging 22 points, 13 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 2.1 blocks per game and is the frontrunner for National Player of the Year. However, it has been the freshman back court that has been the surprise of the season with Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith being one of the most efficient tandems in the country. Beyond that, it has been a litany of support in the recent weeks from other players that has made Purdue difficult to matchup with, none so much as what Mason Gillis provided against the Nittany Lions. Gillis set a Mackey Arena Purdue record with 9 made three pointers on his way to a career high 29 points in the 80-60 win against Penn State.
For the Hoosiers, it is a similar story to that of the Boilermakers. Trayce Jackson-Davis is again having a great season where he is averaging 19.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 3.1 blocks per game. If it not for Edey’s season, TJD would be the frontrunner for B1G Player of the Year and right in the conversation for National Player of the Year. Supporting Jackson-Davis this year is a freshman, like Purdue’s duo, in Jalen Hood-Schifino who is averaging 12.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. When he struggles though, Indiana tends to struggle as well.
Let’s get to the important matchups!
1 | Zach Edey vs. Trayce Jackson-Davis
This is going to be the first of the two biggest matchups on the interior in the entire country this season. Both players are having first team All American type seasons and if it weren’t for Edey’s gaudy season numbers up to this point, Jackson-Davis would have an argument for being National Player of the Year. Both are dominant in the low post but for distinctly different reasons as Edey is big, powerful, and buries opponents deep in the post whereas Jackson-Davis is much more smooth, fluid, and uses a repertoire of fakes, up-and-unders, and pivots to get to his spots. This is going to be so good that I could have put this as all three matchups and given a different statistic as to why.
The battle down low may end up coming down to a couple of factors: who establishes control down low early in the game, who can rebound on the offensive glass better, and who stays out of foul trouble. I am not expecting the referees to interject themselves into this matchup at all and both palyers may end up getting away with a lot of what might have usually been called but if either of them get called for one or even two early fouls, it will be a hard hurdle to overcome for either team. Purdue seems better prepared to do so with Trey Kaufman-Renn, Mason Gillis, and Caleb Furst all showing throughout the season to be high level backups but you can’t replace Edey from an offensive and defensive standpoint. The same could be said for Indiana but losing TJD would be an even bigger issue as they just don’t have anyone else who could realistically provide any defense in the post or provide the rebounding threat he does.
In the end, I think both of these guys cancel each other out a bit but if Edey can get going in that dominant way he did against Michigan, Indiana will have a difficult time scoring enough points to keep up with Purdue.
2 | Ethan Morton vs. Jalen Hood-Schifino
Hood-Schifino is undoubtedly Indiana’s second most important player as he provide a legitimate scoring threat at all three levels on offense. IU just doesn’t have anyone else capable of scoring on a consistent basis and when other guys from IU are forced into providing that second scoring option outside of Jackson-Davis, the Hoosiers have tended to struggle. Insert Ethan Morton.
Ethan Morton is one of the best wing defenders in the B1G and has shown his capabilities to defend wings and guards alike this season. Against PSU, Morton was primarily used to defend likely All American Jalen Pickett and he limited him to 12 points but on 5-11 shooting. Consistently, Morton has shown this season tobe effective using his length and size to harass and make it difficult for high level scorers to make a bigger impact than expected and that is sometimes the best you can do against players like Hood-Schifino. However, Hood-Schifino isn’t immune to some poor games like many freshman throughout the country.
Hood-Schifino has had some wonderful games scoring 33 against Northwestern, 24 against Ohio State, and 21 at Iowa but two of those games came in losing efforts. He has also had games scoring 2 (Michigan State) and 3 (Xavier, Maryland). In fact, he has had more games scoring under ten points (7) than he has scoring 15 or more (5). He is also susceptible to foul trouble as he has had 11 games with 3 or more fouls.
Morton is likely not going to totally shut down a player of that capability but if he can force tough shots, frustrate him into poor decisions both offensively and defensively, and grab a couple buckets of his own, it goes a long way to Purdue getting a victory.
3 | The Turnover Battle
Neither of these teams really try to turn an opponent over by pressing, trapping, or playing in your face defense so the team that simply makes the least amount of bad decisions is going to have the best chance to win. I nearly went with three point shooting but Purdue has proven so far this year that they are capable of winning games when they aren’t shooting well from beyond the arc by simply taking care of the basketball, playing good defense, and getting the ball inside to Edey. That means the turnover margin is going to be incredibly important for the Boilermakers.
Coach Painter has been consistent over the years about two major factors playing in the B1G, especially when going on the road: rebounding and turnovers. Those two keys lead to more possessions and if you get more chances to score, you simply have a higher likelihood to win. When you include in that in a game that features the most efficient offense in Purdue and the 5th most efficient offense in Indiana, turnovers become an important part of the game. Coach Painter wants Purdue to be at or below 10 turnovers per game and they are right at that mark averaging just 10.7 per game (ranks 6th in the B1G) while Indiana is at 12.2 (10th in the B1G).
The other intriguing factor here is that neither team really has a perimeter defender that generates a lot of steals as Braden Smith ranks just 23rd in the conference averaging 1.1 per game and Jalen Hood-Schifino ranks 25th at 1.0 per game. What that means is Purdue isn’t going to face a lot of pressure to generate turnovers and if they don’t make bad post entry passes, they make sound decisions when they get fast break opportunities, and they simply take care of the basketball, that will go a long way to winning in Bloomington.
An extra matchup just because it is the biggest away game of the year for Purdue. Who defends Braden Smith when Purdue goes to their high ball screen action with Edey could very well be a determining factor down the stretch in this game. Against PSU, Purdue again trusted their freshman point guard to make good decisions and he was able to not only find Edey on lobs at the rim but he showed an ability to stop and hit mid-range jump shots as well. That will put TJD in a bind and force a lot of backside help which could leave Mason Gillis, David Jenkins, Fletcher Loyer, and Brandon Newman open more often times than not.
I don’t care what the records are or where either team is ranked. This is a game where it largely doesn’t matter how good or bad a season is leading up to this game every year because you are going to get each other’s best shot. The fact is Purdue has been in that exact situation for every game for two seasons now and the freshman have had to deal with charged atmospheres on the road in the B1G every game because of the ranking associated with their season. Will Indiana be even more so because it is the Boilers coming into Assembly Hall? Of course, but the freshman have shown a steadiness and maturity to them the belies their experience. We’ll see if that can hold up against the Hoosiers on the road.
Best guess here is that Edey and TJD battle back and forth but TJD has struggled a bit historically when he matches up against other high level centers like Cliff Omoruyi from Rutgers, Hunter Dickinson from Michigan, and Zach Edey/Trevion Williams. Edey grabs another 15 and 12 double-double and another perimeter player steps up to his big shots from the outside. I think it is finally Brandon Newman’s time to step into the spotlight a little bit with some big shots and big defensive plays.