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The Three Pointer: Purdue vs. Indiana

Led by a talented duo of sophomore big men, the Hoosiers will again look to knock off another highly ranked Purdue squad as an unranked underdog

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Purdue Boilermakers will travel to Bloomington and Assembly Hall to take on an unranked but talented Indiana Hoosiers squad looking to grab a signature victory in hopes of creating a resume for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the common theme for Purdue when they go on the road this year for a B1G Conference that is middling a little bit once you get away from Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State, and Ohio State. There are limited opportunities this year for resume building wins as those are the only B1G teams currently inside the top 50 of the NET so the Hoosiers will likely have extra motivation, if that is even needed.

The Hoosiers had one of the weaker non-conference slates and were unable to pick up any wins against their top tier games against Kansas, UCONN, and Auburn. That has left the Hoosiers behind the 8-ball right now as the B1G slate gets closer to the midway point and they need a win to establish themselves as an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers will have their toughest stretch of games starting with the Boilers as they will face the Wisconsin Badgers, Illinois Fighting Illini, and the Iowa Hawkeyes in a four game swing that could determine their season outcome.

Let’s get into ‘The Three Pointer!’

1 | Handle IU’s Length in the Front Court

Indiana is led by a talented duo of sophomores in the front court in Kel’el Ware and Malil Reneau who provide length and matchup problems for opponents. Along with that talented duo who stand 7’ and 6’9, the Hoosiers also start Mackenzie Mgbako who is 6’8 forward and with Trey Galloway, they look the part of an NBA roster in terms of their length and size. That’s something that Purdue just isn’t going to be able to matchup with unless they want to go with a lineup that features more Cam Heide, Ethan Morton, and Myles Colvin rather than Fletcher Loyer and Lance Jones.

Now, I don’t expect Purdue to start making drastic changes to their lineups because Matt Painter has long said that it is much more about leveraging your own advantages rather than trying to deal with an opponent’s. With that being said, where can Purdue take advantage of their strengths to handle IU’s length? That starts with Purdue’s trio of guards more than anything.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It will be interesting to see how IU matches up to deal with Smith’s ability to create for others, finish in the mid-range, and hit threes. Nebraska went with a longer defender and tried really hard to use that length to disrupt his effectiveness but it will be interesting to see how IU will matchup. Do the Hoosiers place their trust in freshman Gabe Cupps? Do they use veteran Trey Galloway? Will they use one of their lengthy forwards? I think any way IU tries to defend Smith will determine how everyone else is defended and if Smith can take advantage of that matchup will mean Purdue’s offense is handling IU’s length well.

2 | Control the Tempo & Pace of the Game

Neither of these teams do a very good job of turning their opponents over as both rank below the national average for turnover percentage on defense (17.7%) with IU coming in at 16.8% (235th) and Purdue at 15.3% (303rd). That means, the team that doesn’t turn the ball over and just plays closer to their style is going to have an advantage. We’ve seen Purdue struggle with turnovers against teams that don’t generally do a good job of turning their opponents over before at Northwestern and at Nebraska so this isn’t just a given that Purdue won’t have an issue. Purdue needs to be strong with the ball in their hands and not give Indiana extra possessions and easy buckets in transition.

It is more than just not turning the ball over though. The Boilers have a major advantage on the wings and at the guard position against the Hoosiers this year and should dominate that aspect of the game. What Purdue needs to do is control the pace and tempo of the game and knowing when to slow it down and when it can continue to push the issue against the Hoosiers. It will be interesting to see how Purdue wants to start this game but more than likely it’ll be similar to what we have seen from every other game: get the ball into Edey and let him make decisions on if he can go score or pass out to the perimeter for open shots.

When Purdue has been at their best, they have controlled the tempo and pace of the game in multiple ways but they’ve had explosions over short spurts to take control of the game. Against Penn State, Purdue went from being down 8-10 at 15:36 to being up twenty five (41-16) at 7:50 remaining in the first half. If Purdue can have a similar spurt and control the tempo of the game without allowing the crowd to rally the Hoosiers to make big runs, Purdue should win this game and do so in a convincing fashion. They key component is not giving the Hoosiers extra possessions and easy buckets and Purdue does that by limiting their turnovers to 12 or less.

3 | Don’t Let Indiana Dictate the Matchups

More than likely, Indiana is going to try and bring Kel’el Ware out from the post and set a ball screen on whoever Fletcher Loyer is defending. Purdue needs to help those guys out as much as possible and if Loyer is being taken advantage of, Cam Heide has shown an ability to come in and play good defense and hit open shots from behind the arc when needed. That’s been one of the biggest differences from last year to this year, in that Purdue has options in the event something is going in the wrong direction. Purdue won’t have to make wholesale changes to their scheme or concepts because they have great depth and that’s what likely will push Purdue over the top in this matchup.

On the bench, Purdue will bring Caleb Furst, Mason Gillis, Cam Heide, and Myles Colvin into the game and those four could all easily be starters around a lot of B1G programs. What these four also bring is more athleticism, especially on the defensive end for the Boilers if IU is having success in getting matchups to exploit some of Purdue’s weaknesses. It is unlikely Edey is pulled because of a poor matchup because they will simply slide him to the weakest outside shooters like Anthony Walker (18.2%) and Kaleb Banks (26.3%) who are both forwards.

IU will likely be getting both Payton Sparks (Ball State transfer center) and Anthony Leal back from being unavailable and that does provide some options for the Hoosiers are key positions against the Boilers. Sparks is a big body in the middle at 6’9 and 240 pounds but is not much of a threat outside of near the rim while Leal is a big guard at 6’5. Sparks was a good scorer for the Cardinals during his two seasons at Ball State but Leal has been a limited scorer in limited opportunities for the Hoosiers. Although they may not move the needle, it seems the Hoosiers have had someone randomly come up big at times over the last few seasons.

Plainly stated, Purdue has the advantage at every position but they can’t allow Mike Woodson to headhunt matchups and exploit the Boilers. That’s how he has been able to go 3-1 in his two seasons at IU against Purdue.

And 1 | Does Shooting Well Translate to a Win?

This is probably the biggest key for the Boilers in this game at Assembly Hall and when Purdue shoots better than 35% from behind the arc good things generally happen for Purdue. Over the last nine seasons, Purdue has gone 6-3 but have had games where they shot 64.7% from behind the arc in 2021 but also 11% in 2015. Both of those happen to be victories. The Boilers have also shot 47.4%, 33%, and 34.8% from behind the arc in those three losses in 2023, 2022, and 2016. So it seems that it isn’t just about shooting well from behind the arc, so what is it that Purdue needs to do? Take smart shots within the offense.

Coach Matt Painter has often preached to us in the media room after games about Purdue having guys who do the things that they need to do within their roles. Anyone outside of Braden Smith or Zach Edey shouldn’t be turning the ball over multiple times. Lance Jones needs to take smart shots within the offense and not fall back into his gunslinger days from Southern Illinois. That list can go on and on but the fact remains, when Purdue’s players play within themselves and to their roles they are a hard team to beat.

Purdue has not had a game where the bottom completely falls out from underneath it from behind the arc as Purdue’s worst shooting night was against Gonzaga at 23.5% (4-17). In Purdue’s seventeen games so far this season, they have shot under 30% from behind the arc just four times (Tennessee, Gonzaga, Northwestern, Eastern Kentucky) while they have shot 39.8% from behind the arc all season. Purdue can afford poor shootings nights but not likely against your rival when it is on their home court. It’s said to get a road victory in the B1G, you need to be 10 points better and having a night above 35% against a team that has struggled offensively (117th adjusted offense according to Kenpom) should be enough to push the Boilers to a victory.

Players to Watch:

Malik Reneau | #5 | Sophomore | 6’9 233lbs | 16.3pts, 5.8 reb, 3.1ast, 42.9% 3pt (12-28)

Reneau, a former top 30 high school ranked player, is the leading player for the Hoosiers. The power forward is having an All B1G type of season and has shown an increased ability to shoot from behind the arc. Playing alongside Kel’el Ware at center, the Hoosiers have one of the better frontlines in the B1G. He is a future NBA player, sooner rather than later.

Kel’el Ware | #1 | Sophomore | 7’ 210bs | 14.8pts, 9.6reb, 1.8ast, 1.6blk, 42.9% 3pt (9/21)

Ware is a transfer from Oregon where he didn’t get a lot of playing opportunities for the Ducks and has had an immediate impact for the Hoosiers. An athletic 7’ who was also a top 10 high school player nationally is having a really good season. He tends to fly into drives to be a shot blocker and although he does average 1.6 per game, he can be drawn into bad situations for fouls or giving up dump passes to a backside big.

Trey Galloway | #32 | Senior | Guard | 6’4 210lbs | 10.3pts, 2.2reb, 3.9ast, 26.9% (14-52)

Galloway has been thrust a bit into a point guard role over the last few games because of Xavier Johnson’s ineffectiveness overall, something Mike Woodson has been rather vocal about. Galloway has responded by playing relatively well with 19 assists and 3 turnovers over the last three games.

Prediction:

This is a game that you just want the Boilers to win and it doesn’t really matter in terms of style points. Just get into Bloomington, get a victory, get on the bus, and get back to campus to get ready for the next game. If Purdue can dominate and win, all the better, but a rivalry means there are very few dominating wins. This is a game where big time players can make big time statements and this is a chance to Edey to solidify his NPOY campaign even more. Where Purdue wins this game, though, is how well the guards will play and respond in a hostile environment.

Purdue: 78
Indiana: 72