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Indiana prepares to host rival Purdue in pivotal matchup

On the precipice of the second half of its schedule, Indiana has a monumental matchup Thursday in Bloomington that could swing the momentum of the season tremendously upward or send it spiraling downward.

NCAA Tournament resume strength, conference standing, Archie Miller’s record, the program’s perception and recruiting implications are all on the line.

You guessed it. Indiana will host its rival, the Purdue Boilermakers on Thursday.

Rob Phinisee is guarded by Purdue's Eric Hunter in Indiana and Purdue's last meeting on February 27, 2020. (Kurt Spitler Photo/HN)

Direction of the season 

Beyond any preconceived energy that the rivalry matchup entails, this game is an important one for Indiana’s hopes of making the NCAA Tournament in March.

It might be weird to say that statement at the halfway mark of the season, but with how Indiana’s remaining schedule shapes up with the difficulty of the Big Ten, this game could have impact down the road.

Including Thursday’s contest, Indiana has 14 remaining games in the regular season. Of those 14 games, seven are at home and seven are on the road, with a total of seven of those games being against teams who are currently ranked.

The immediate stretch after the Purdue game is particularly difficult, too. It is a six-game swing that includes four road games and four ranked teams. Three of the games are against top-10 teams, including home and away games against No. 5 Iowa and a trip to No. 7 Michigan.

A potential win against Purdue on Thursday could provide Indiana with some momentum moving into that difficult stretch. It would also be Indiana’s fourth win in five games while boosting the team to a possible 4-3 Big Ten record.

A win over Purdue would give extra importance to Indiana’s season resume strength as well. While Indiana is 3-3 in the Big Ten, all three of its wins come from the conference’s bottom three teams right now. Maryland, Penn State and Nebraska are Nos. 12-14 in the Big Ten standings, respectively.

Purdue, like Indiana, is 3-3 in conference and is in a four-way tie for fifth in the league along with Indiana, Ohio State and Northwestern.

Archie Miller and the program’s perception

When solely looking at Indiana’s rivalry with Purdue in the past few years, it isn’t pretty.

The Hoosiers have not beaten Purdue since Tom Crean was the head coach in Bloomington, back on Feb. 20, 2016. Since then, Indiana is 0-7 against the Boilermakers.

In the Archie Miller era alone, Indiana is 0-5 against Purdue.

Being winless against Purdue and not making the NCAA Tournament have been Miller’s two biggest complaints from the fanbase in his four years at IU.

The NCAA Tournament complaint is a little bit unfair considering they were a practical lock to make it last season before COVID-19 shut down the sport, but Miller can start wiping away one of his two major struggles if he can beat Purdue on Thursday.

For the sake of gaining ground for the season’s momentum as well as eliminating the losing streak against the program’s biggest rival, the Purdue game is a practical must-win for Miller and the team.

A win would do wonders in giving Miller more support the fanbase as it would remove the “can’t beat Purdue” label from Miller’s resume at Indiana.

Scouting Purdue

Al Durham, guarded by Purdue's Sasha Stefanovic, looks to pass on Thursday in West Lafayette. (Kurt Spitler/HN)sket

On paper, the Boilermakers look similar to Indiana.

Both teams share an 8-5 record with a 3-3 conference mark. The Boilermakers lacked any big nonconference wins but have beaten some good Big Ten teams.

Purdue’s conference wins include one similar win to Indiana, in Maryland, but Purdue also beat formerly No. 23 Michigan State in East Lansing and No. 21 Ohio State in West Lafayette.

In their conference losses to No. 5 Iowa, Rutgers and No. 14 Illinois — all of which were on the road — the Boilermakers were competitive for most of the game, but could not execute down the stretch.

Also, like Indiana, Purdue’s strength tends to be defensive play with an offense that isn’t going to score an absurd number of points.

Purdue is holding opponents to 66.2 points per game, while scoring 70.3 points per contest.

Per usual, Purdue’s team is anchored by its post play. Trevion Williams, a 6-foot-9 center, has emerged as the team’s definitive best player this season. He is a threat on offense and defense, scoring a team-high 15.0 points per game while leading in rebounding too, with 9.5 boards per game. The junior is also an excellent passer for a post player, having 31 assists this season, tied for second-most on the team.

Backing up Williams in the post is freshman center Zach Edey who is also a load to handle. The freshman is still adjusting to Big Ten play and is very raw, but he is 7-foot-4, scores 8.8 points per game and makes 62.3% of his shots. He is a strong rim protector and makes working in the paint extremely difficult for opponents.

The Boilermakers also have a slew of talented guards. Sasha Stefanovic, Eric Hunter and Brandon Newman make up for the rest of the majority of Purdue’s scoring. Each average between nine and 10 points per game.

While Purdue has great ability with its post players, the guards and wings can really beat teams with their ability to shoot. Purdue shoots 35.8% from the 3-point line. Stefanovic, Newman and sophomore Isaiah Thompson require particular defensive attention as all of them are 40% or better from 3-point range.

Stefanovic is the best sharpshooter of the group, making 49.3% of his looks from deep.

While Purdue has the ability to shoot well, seemingly every time these two teams meet in the Miller era it’s a low-scoring dogfight of a game.

It wouldn’t be shocking to see something like that again as both teams are fighting for a win to separate themselves into the upper tier of the Big Ten.

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