An in-state rivalry from the Big Ten highlights Thursday’s college basketball schedule with the Indiana Hoosiers playing host to the No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers. Both teams already have multiple losses in conference play in what looks like a loaded and wide-open Big Ten.
The Boilermakers head to Bloomington at 15-2 and fresh off a double-overtime road win over Illinois. Disappointing losses to Rutgers and Wisconsin are the only blemishes on Purdue’s record thus far. They also have wins over the likes of North Carolina, Villanova, and Florida State on their resume, making Purdue a serious contender for a Big Ten title and a Final Four run.
The Boilermakers are one of the few Big Ten teams that can counter Indiana’s big man with a legitimate big man of their own with 7’4’’ sophomore Zach Edey. The sophomore has made a huge lead this season, averaging 15.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. He’s also scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games. Purdue gets even more size from 6’10’’ forward Trevion Williams. In addition to providing plenty of muscle in the paint, Williams is one of the most skilled forwards in the Big Ten, averaging 13.4 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game. His role changes a little with Edey having a breakout season, although that just gives Purdue two big bodies in the paint for opposing teams to contain.
Purdue’s backcourt is also a force to be reckoned with thanks to Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic. Both average double figures and both shoot better than 40% from three-point range. Neither is a pure point guard, although both are high-volume scorers and can create for other players. The Purdue backcourt does have a little bit of a drop-off in talent beyond Ivey and Stefanovic. However, Brandon Newman, Isaiah Thompson, and Eric Hunter all bring experience to the table with Newman and Thompson being capable three-point shooters who shouldn’t be ignored. The same is true of Mason Gillis, who has had some standout performances for Purdue this season.
The Hoosiers aren’t among the obvious favorites in the Big Ten, although they’ve come on strong lately with six wins in their last eight games. That stretch includes a convincing home win over Ohio State, helping Indiana get to 13-4 overall and 4-3 in conference play, albeit with six teams ahead of them.
Indiana is led by Trayce Jackson-Davis, who is a serious Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. Jackson-Davis is one of the most dynamic post players in the country and is close to unstoppable near the basket, making over 60% of his field goals while averaging 19.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. He’s also one of the most influential defensive players in the conference with 2.9 blocks per game. The sophomore has put together four straight double-doubles and has done surprisingly well at staying out of foul trouble and staying on the floor this year. The Indiana frontcourt is further reinforced by Race Thompson, the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, and Northwestern transfer Miller Klopp, who adds some size and helps the Hoosiers spread the floor.
However, the Indiana backcourt needs to produce more. Pitt transfer Xavier Johnson is having a fine season at point guard but is averaging a modest 9.5 points and 4.2 assists per game. Rob Phinisee is an experienced backup at point guard and Parker Stewart gives Indiana an elite outside shooter. But Stewart is the team’s fourth-leading scorer with a mere 7.6 points per game. The hope is that Trey Galloway, who missed all of December, and highly-rated freshman Tamar Bates can provide a spark for the Indiana backcourt. Otherwise, they’ll need more consistent scoring from Johnson and Stewart.
On paper, Purdue is undoubtedly the better team in this matchup. However, the Hoosiers are unbeaten at home this season. Plus, three of their four losses this season have come by five points or less. Even though Purdue has size, Jackson-Davis is an elite athlete who can still be a handful. If the Hoosiers can get quality performances from their guards, they’ll be able to hang around and give them a chance to pull off an upset.
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