Purdue presents unique challenge for small IU

Other teams have gone small to match Indiana, but Purdue is unlikely to do so on Wednesday. The Boilers' two 7-footers present a unique challenge for the undersized Hoosiers.

Two seasons ago, A.J. Hammons went for 30 points on 10-of-14 shooting in a 97-60 loss to then-No. 1 Indiana.

That was a much bigger Indiana squad than the one it will take into Mackey Arena on Wednesday night, and yet, Purdue has gotten even bigger. The 7-foot Hammons doesn't even start for the Boilermakers now.

It will be a unique challenge for the No. 22 Hoosiers (15-5, 5-2 Big Ten) in West Lafayette. They've played very small for four games now, and they've successfully forced all four teams to downsize and match them. That's not going to happen against Purdue, which features not one, but two 7-footers that are talented scorers.

In addition to Hammons, who leads Purdue in scoring (10.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg) even though he doesn't start, Matt Painter has added 7-foot-2 freshman Isaac Haas this season. Haas is an equally effective scorer on the low block, averaging 9.5 points in 16.6 minutes per game while shooting 61.7 percent from the field.

Can quickness and shooting beat size in this matchup, Crean was asked Tuesday.

"I don't know. They're really big," Crean responded. "We're gonna find out. It'll be a fun game. I'm looking forward to it myself. They pose a lot of challenges, and they always do."

Either way, a mismatch will exist on both ends of the floor, especially if Crean continues to start Collin Hartman at the five. Hartman may have a hard time guarding Haas and Hammons inside, but they will have no chance of defending him in a 1-on-1 situation, especially if he continues making shots. Purdue's best option would be to put the big man on Troy Williams and have him play way off near the paint, daring Williams to shoot.

Another factor to keep in mind: Haas is shooting only 38 percent from the foul line in Big Ten games. If all else fails, Indiana can foul him and put him on the line.

"Teams are always gonna try and play bigger against us," said junior guard Yogi Ferrell. "That's what I would do, personally, if I was a coach. Try and pound it inside. They're really big inside. We've played against length this season. I feel like at times we've handled it well and it times, we haven't.

"We have to front those guys and not let them catch it where they want to. When any 7-footer gets the ball in the paint or on the block, they're gonna easily shoot it right over us."

Painter hasn't used Hammons and Haas together at any point this season, and it seems unlikely he would do so Wednesday night. But Indiana is preparing as if they will.

"You know that it's certainly a possibility that he could put them on the floor together," Crean said. "You have to have a plan for everything."

Added freshman guard James Blackmon Jr.: "We're gonna expect them to play two big men."

While Purdue's size -- and Indiana's lack of size -- is a popular storyline, Crean warned Tuesday that the Boilermakers (12-8, 4-3) are much more than just that. Guards Kendall Stephens and Raphael Davis both score in double figures, and Vince Edwards and Jon Octeus have been positive additions to the roster this season.

Only Stephens shoots better than 36 percent from beyond the arc, but Crean says those percentages are deceiving.

"We're not preparing for those guys off of percentages," he said. "We're getting ready to prepared for those guys based off what we think they can do and off what they've done. It would be like a team getting ready for us after the first couple games, looking at our percentages thinking, 'Well, maybe they don't shoot so well.' No, we can shoot pretty good. Well, so can Purdue. There's not much help you can give because pretty much everybody he's putting on the floor can make plays."

Octeus, a transfer from Colorado State, has been a very important piece for the Boilers because he's proven to be a capable floor general at the point guard spot. Octeus is averaging 8.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, while turning it over just 1.3 times per contest.

Purdue has been one of the nation's most consistent teams to this point. When its good, like it has been for much of conference play, its capable of beating nearly any team. When its bad, like it was in non-conference losses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida, it could lose to any team in the conference.

That inconsistency might ultimately keep the Boilers out of the NCAA Tournament, but it makes them a scary matchup, especially on the road. Purdue is fresh off a win over Iowa, a game it won on a 3-pointer by Davis, who shoots just 27 percent from deep. Like I said, hard to figure out.

Purdue figures to be fired up on Wednesday, though, considering the rivalry. The Indiana-Purdue games haven't been particularly close in recent years, but this one very well could be. Mackey Arena is sold out for the 48th straight time in this rivalry, every meeting in the history of the building.

"There always is gonna be in Indiana vs. Purdue," Ferrell said. "Every year, I know what we're gonna get. Maybe these young guys haven't seen it yet, but I've been in their ear about what this rivalry means. It's just about going out there and showing people that you're the best in the state."

Added Blackmon: "It's gonna be a hostile environment. We're gonna go up there, and bring it home."


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