Indiana men’s basketball is playing its best at the right time after winning two in a row and three of the past four down the stretch of the regular season.
The Hoosiers have used their recent success to improve to No. 9 in the conference standings thanks to an 8-8 Big Ten record while being 18-9 overall.
Their next opponent is one that has been of particular difficulty though and will challenge Indiana’s recent run of success — at Purdue on Thursday.
The Boilermakers have easily dominated the in-state rivalry in recent years, as Purdue has beaten IU in nine of the past 10 meetings. Additionally, Indiana has not beaten Purdue since 2016.
To make things more daunting, Indiana has not beaten Purdue in West Lafayette since 2013.
Both teams need a win
While Indiana is seeking to get the first win over the Boilermakers in years, as well as the first win over Purdue in the Archie Miller era, there is a lot on the line that extends beyond the rivalry.
With Indiana’s good string of play as of late, the Hoosiers are nearing a lock status for solidifying their spot in the NCAA Tournament. A win over Purdue on the road would be very impressive considering the rivalry status of the game and the difficulty of playing in Mackey Arena.
Moreover, Purdue is in full desperation mode to get a win after losing four in a row and their record dropping to 14-14. Purdue is not totally out of it, but the odds are looking bleak and the Boilermakers have little time to fix it.
Trying to avoid a repeat
Purdue’s last win came at Indiana on Feb. 8, beating IU 74-62 in Bob Knight’s return to Assembly Hall. That game was one of Indiana’s worst performances of the season and definitely its worst home effort.
In order to avoid a repeat of the first game, Indiana is going to need to prioritize what the team failed to do previously.
Particularly, Indiana will need a much better offensive output as a team and lock in on defending the perimeter.
Purdue owned Indiana defensively in the first game, forcing Indiana 10.5 points under its season average and limiting the guards’ efficiency. None of Indiana’s guards scored more than five points in the game.
Getting the guards to outperform that effort with a much bigger scoring output this time is going to be necessary if Indiana wants to win. Combining this with the excellent post play of Trayce Jackson-Davis will get Indiana’s offense where it needs to be.
Jackson-Davis has been playing great as of late, averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds in his past two games. The first time against Purdue he was IU’s only reliable weapon on offense as well, finishing with a team-high 16 points.
Defensively, Indiana did not do nearly enough to stop the thing that was the ultimate dagger in that game — the 3-pointer.
Purdue shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (8-for-16) which was a deciding factor in the game. What makes Purdue so difficult to defend from deep is the team’s plethora of shooters. Eric Hunter, Isaiah Thompson and Aaron Wheeler all made at least 3-point shots in that game and Wheeler was 3-for-3.
As a team, the Boilermakers shoot 34.2 percent from the 3-point line and they have four players who shoot 35 percent or better. The top two shooters for them are Hunter and fellow sophomore Sasha Stefanovic, both players make 38 percent of their threes.
Locking down the paint
The other difficulty in defending Purdue is they play a consistent rotation of nine guys who can all truly score and contribute on any given night. In the initial IU-Purdue matchup, Purdue’s nine rotation players all scored in the range of five to 12 points.
That same nine-man rotation on the season averages between four and 11 points per game. Evidently, the scoring is very balanced among the team.
In addition to guarding the perimeter better, the key thing IU must do on the defensive end is limit Purdue’s inside presence again.
Purdue’s Matt Haarms and Trevion Williams are the team’s two centers who are both effective, yet different.
Indiana did a good job of guarding the two the first time, but both are capable of being standout players from night to night. Williams is the team’s leading scorer at 11.4 points per game with 7.7 rebounds per game as well. Haarms averages 8.8 points per game while shooting a very efficient 53.7 percent from the field.
Indiana held the two in check, one of the few positives for the Hoosiers in that game, with Williams and Haarms scoring six and eight points, respectively. Also, Williams was held to 3-for-11 shooting on the day.
Indiana has the momentum as of late and there is a blueprint to win, but playing on the road is certainly a question mark. Yes, Indiana’s win at Minnesota last Wednesday was a sign of progress, but the Hoosiers are still 2-6 in true road games this year.
With it being a rivalry game on the road, in a raucous environment against a team that desperately needs a win, this should be quite the test for Indiana and its hot streak.
Regardless of Purdue’s 14-14 record, this game will be anything but easy for Indiana.