Tonight could be the springboard to Indiana playing in the Big Dance.
At the same time if Purdue found a way to win at Assembly Hall a loss could put a lot of people on pins and needles moving forward over the next week or so.
This is a huge game tonight for Indiana basketball. IU is 18-8 overall, 8-5 in Big Ten play and 15-1 overall at Assembly Hall this season and 6-0 in conference games.
And the Hoosiers are just 22 days removed from a disappointing effort in a 83-67 loss to Purdue on Jan. 28 in Mackey Arena.
Indiana never led in that game. In fact, there were few times in that game where you really thought Indiana had a chance to win. The Boilermakers played with the intensity and passion required to be successful. They fed off their crowd. They manhandled IU inside.
The final score was predictable. In fact, it almost didn’t feel as if it reflected how badly IU had gotten beat. A.J. Hammons blocked eight shots. The Boilers hit 58.7 percent from the field including 63 percent in the first half.
The list goes on and on.
So what happens tonight? Despite all of those negative statistics from the first game, the Hoosiers are a 4 and a half point favorite tonight at home against the Boilermakers. Purdue is 17-9 overall and 9-4 in conference play. A Purdue win could very easy vault the Boilers into consideration for finishing second in the conference. An IU win would put the Hoosiers and Boilers at both 9-5 in B1G play with four to go.
The keys for Indiana tonight are simple. Here is what I think are the top three keys to the game from an Indiana perspective:
1. Plug up the middle on defenseIndiana needs to do a better job both of denying the pass to the post and also of help side defense when it gets there. The first time these teams played Hanner Mosquera-Perea was not available. Either was Jordan Fuchs. Not sure how much he’ll play tonight but he is another big body that IU coach Tom Crean will have at his disposal. But the first time these teams played, Purdue was able to do whatever it wanted on the interior. The Boilers scored 46 points in the paint. Compare that to the 30 points Minnesota scored in the paint with a huge front line on Sunday and it’s easy to see how the two games were different.
2. Do not challenge A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas at the rimThis doesn’t mean that the Hoosiers can’t drive and dish to a cutter for a dunk like they have had a lot of success with this year. No, that’s not the issue. The issue is believing they can take the ball to the basket at will and make driving shots over the top of Purdue’s big men. Purdue had 10 blocks the first time they played. Hammons had eight of those. Indiana needs to do what it does best. Drive and dish. Make the extra pass. But it also needs to get some points on the interior, too, with the idea of potentially getting Purdue’s bigs in foul trouble. The first time they played Hammons had one foul and Haas had two. In other words, neither player ever thought they were in danger of getting in foul trouble.
3. Establish the 3-point shot and have success there earlyIndiana has averaged 10 3-point field goals made at home in conference play at Assembly Hall. In those six games, IU is shooting 47.3 percent from beyond the arc. In the last five home games, Indiana is shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the 3-point line. That Indiana team has to show up tonight. Not the one that hit 4-of-19 from 3-point range when these teams played in West Lafayette. If Indiana can make 3’s early that will also raise the level of intensity with the crowd in Assembly Hall, too. That can be a deadly combination for opposing teams in the Hall.
If IU can win it can definitely be a springboard game for the Hoosiers. But if Purdue finds a way to get the series sweep, those next two road games in particular are going to loom large for the Hoosiers.