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February 14, 2014
Purdue gets its one and only crack (at least in the regular season) at its foremost rival Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., when Indiana visits Mackey Arena for the lone meeting between the two teams.
The storylines are strangely similar, as the Boilermakers and Hoosiers come in with identical 14-10 records, each with four Big Ten wins and each coming off games in which the term "implosion" fits best, Purdue falling apart in the final 10 minutes at Ohio State last weekend and IU blowing a late double-digit lead and losing at home to Penn State Wednesday night.
The Boilermakers have had the week off - or at least, without games - since losing in Columbus.
Making any projections on this game would seem like a very difficult endeavor.
"Any time you have the records these two teams do, there's inconsistency there and it's awful hard to gauge inconsistent teams and that's what both teams have been," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "We've both played well in spurts and we've both had our struggles. If you get both teams taking care of the basketball, you can see a really good college basketball game, a hard-fought college basketball game. But both teams have struggled taking care of the basketball."
Both teams' inconsistency can make this game really interesting.
"We're going to see who can think better because at times, we let games go and at times, they let games go," Purdue guard Terone Johnson said. "... If they get a 10-point lead or if we get a 10-point lead, the game isn't over. We know the slumps we've went through."
It's been a series of runs between Purdue and Indiana in recent years, with the Boilermakers winning five in a row while IU was down and the Hoosiers winning the past four meetings - convincingly - with its last two teams, led by two eventual top-five NBA draft picks.
Indiana is young and is having a rough season by its recent standards. Purdue's in no different a position, with a team Painter believes should be playing better than it is.
Purdue hasn't played particularly well at home; IU has had a hard time on the road and been prone to second-half collapses no matter the venue.
It would seem like a prime opportunity for the Boilermakers to snap their losing streak to their intrastate rival and start another run of their own.
"I don't look at it that way," Painter said. "I'm more focused on trying to take care of the basketball, making good decisions and being more consistent on the defensive end, more of the things you can control."
About Purdue:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats
Projected starters (last game): C - A.J. Hammons; F - Errick Peck; G- Sterling Carter; G - Ronnie Johnson; G - Terone Johnson
About Indiana:: Roster | Schedule/Results | Stats
Broadcast info:: Radio: Purdue Sports Network | TV: ESPN | LIVE: Join GoldandBlack.com tonight for our 30-minute pre-game 'Game Day Live' chat session, then our Twitter account, @GoldandBlackcom, for in-game updates.
Purdue hasn't exactly played exceptionally well at home this season, but Indiana has struggled on the road, particularly in second halves, losing a 16-point first-half lead in a loss at Nebraska and a 13-point first-half lead in a loss at Minnesota.
(IU showed a similar pattern in its loss at Penn State at home Wednesday, but it has finished off major wins over Wisconsin and Michigan in Bloomington.)
The Hoosiers are one of the most turnover-prone teams in all of major-level college basketball, averaging 15.4 per game, worst among high-major programs nationally.
"It makes me feel like if we can get after some of their guys - I think they have three or four freshmen (playing) - that's always a green light for me, being an aggressive defender," guard Sterling Carter said. "I've been playing for five years and I know what it was like playing as a freshman. I'm always going to be in attack mode that way."
Yogi Ferrell, IU's point guard, leading scorer and most influential player, has turned the ball over 65 times while star freshman big man Noah Vonleh has turned it over 55 times, making Saturday's matchup one between two standout big men who have struggled some with turning the ball over, Purdue's being A.J. Hammons (61 turnovers).
Indiana's youth - like Purdue, it's dominated by first- and second-year players - has contributed to the turnover problems, as have its reliance on driving and slashing and the sheer volume of responsibilities Ferrell has for his team.
Link: Purdue point guards talk about Ferrell matchup
Vonleh, soon to be the Big Ten's Freshman-of-the-Year and a lottery pick, leads the conference in rebounding at 9.6 per game, while averaging 11.5 points.
Purdue's emphasis will be keeping him off the glass, as two of the Big Ten's best rebounding teams square off.
But Vonleh is a tricky matchup away from the basket, too.
"He rebounds the basketball and that concerns you, keeping him off the glass and not letting him dominate there and not letting him get the ball deep (on offense)," Painter said. "And the thing with him is he can do other things. He can shoot the ball, drive on the perimeter. He's a good player, a really good player.
"It's just about not letting him steal points by getting out on the break or getting on the glass. Good players are going to score. He's going to score some, but it's about not letting him get those easy ones."
Vonleh doesn't shoot often, but on his 19 three-point attempts this season, he's made 11, which should command Purdue's respect at the top of the arc, where big men who can shoot have long been problematic for the Boilermakers.
Behind Vonleh, IU could be down an option after forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea's arrest early Friday morning. If the sophomore doesn't play, Indiana will be down a player who's not a pivotal contributor - he only plays eight minutes per game on average - but is at least an option in the paint behind Vonleh, whose initial backup at center, Luke Fischer, left the program earlier in the season.
Jeff Howard, then, might project as IU's backup center, unless it goes really small when Vonleh, who averages about 26 minutes per game, is on the bench.
Indiana's an entirely different team than the ones that have dominated the series against Purdue the past two seasons, teams that enjoyed the luxury of having shooters all over the floor to surround star big man Cody Zeller.
This Hoosier team shoots 34.3 percent from three-point range and has made the fewest threes of anyone in the conference for the entire season to this point, just 125.
(Indiana, though, is shooting 37.9 percent from long range in Big Ten games on 161 attempts, the second-fewest in the conference. Ferrell leads the league with 2.7 makes per game in conference play.)
IU is much more dependent on athleticism and penetration than it is perimeter shooting, a transition-oriented team built to get out and run and generate easy baskets, as freshmen Troy Williams and Stanford Robinson have brought athleticism to the Hoosier lineup, while Ferrell's up-tempo nature fits well into a faster pace.
Of note: IU's two wins over Purdue last season came by an average of 32.5 points, its last four by an average of 23.3 Indiana's shooting 75 percent from the foul line in Big Ten games; Purdue's shooting a league-worst 65. In Big Ten games, IU is turning the ball over at a -.355 margin, nearly double 11th-place Minnesota in the league standings. If Indiana wins, it would mark the first time the Hoosiers won three in a row in Mackey Arena. Hammons scored 30 against IU last season at Purdue, but the nature of that game - a Mackey-record 37-point Boilermaker loss - rendered it largely irrelevant. IU coach Tom Crean went out of his way to mention after the game that Indiana never double-teamed the post.
Prediction: Again, this is a tough call, picking a game between two teams that can be so erratic. We can see Purdue struggling to score against whatever form of defense IU throws at them, but also give the home team the benefit of the doubt that it'll be good enough on the boards to offset one of Indiana's main strengths. And this is the rare game in which Purdue is the team that can be expected to take better care of the ball. Chances are, this game comes down to the last 10 minutes. We'll see which team collapses less. Purdue 70, Indiana 67
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