The last 10 months have been far from normal, but something about an Indiana/Purdue basketball game feels right. The Boilers travel to Bloomington on Thursday evening, the first of two match-ups this season between these bitter rivals.
There’s more than just bragging rights on the line for each of these programs. Both teams come in with identical 8-5 records on the season, including identical 3-3 records in the conference. Both teams will be looking to get above .500 in conference play, while continuing to build their NCAA Tournament resume. And with this year’s entire March Madness taking place in the state of Indiana, neither team wants to be watching from home.
It’s been all Purdue in the head-to-head series of late. The Boilers have won seven straight games against the Hoosiers, with Indiana’s last victory coming in 2016. Purdue even spoiled the party when Bob Knight made his long-awaited return to Assembly Hall a year ago. Archie Miller is still looking for his first win against Matt Painter and Purdue. And if Miller wants to do something about his critics, now would be the time.
The game has evolved in the last several years, with 3-point shooting getting more and more of the emphasis. But in this match-up? It’s all about the big boys. Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis is having a monster season, averaging 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He’s one of the best in the nation at scoring in the paint. His teammate Race Thompson is also no slouch down low, averaging 9.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per night. On the other side, it’s an annual occurrence for the Boilers to have solid post play. Trevion Williams is averaging 15 points, and 9.5 rebounds per game, while seven-foot-four Zach Edey is chipping in 8.8 points and four rebounds. Williams is also riding high from hitting the game-winner over Michigan State in Purdue’s last game. Foul trouble and total touches in the paint may be deciding factors in this one.
It also remains to be seen if IU sophomore guard Armaan Franklin will play. Franklin has missed the last few games with an ankle injury, and we may not know his status until just before game-time. Archie Miller said he’s hopeful to have everyone healthy, but it’s far from a guarantee. Franklin is Indiana’s 2nd leading scorer and best 3-point shooter, so his status will be a huge development. In his absence, freshman Anthony Leal has stepped up- which looks to make the Hoosiers a little deeper.
I fully expect this game to come down to the wire. Purdue has only had one conference game decided by more than seven points, and every IU conference game has been decided by single-digits. These teams are evenly matched, and both seem to be incapable of blowing other teams out. Little things like the free-throw battle could also be the difference.
It will be different without fans, but it will still be refreshing to see these rivals battling on the court. For one day, we can leave the political arguments aside and get back to arguing over who the best team in the state of Indiana is. Enjoy the game, and a small sense of normalcy. It should be a good one.
Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosier basketball for Indy Sports Legends. Smith is also the youth pastor at New Hope Christian Church, and the varsity girls’ basketball coach at Crawfordsville High School.