After four straight losses including two to fellow bubble team Michigan State, Indiana is quickly fading away from the NCAA Tournament discussion.
On more and more brackets, the Hoosiers (12-13 overall, 7-11 in the Big Ten) are not only out of the field, they’re not one of the first four out either. They’re more likely to be found on the lists of next four out, meaning the distance between the Hoosiers and the field of 68 is getting larger. They’re down to No. 60 in the NET rankings and according to BracketMatrix.com, they’re only in the field in two of the 107 brackets surveyed.
It’s still possible they could get back in the picture, but that would mean beating a team that they haven’t beaten since 2016 in a building they haven’t won in since 2013. The team would be Purdue, the building would be Mackey Arena, and the next game and last of the 2020-21 regular season for Indiana is Saturday at 2 p.m. in a game that will be televised by ESPN.
The Hoosiers are still invested because they know they’re in dire straits, and they also know beating Purdue would matter whether they get in the tournament or not. Nobody on the current roster has had the experience, which includes senior guard Aljami Durham and fourth-year junior Race Thompson.
“The big thing with Al is the Purdue game,” junior guard Rob Phinisee said. “I know he hasn’t won one. He’s really been on everybody to stay locked in no matter what’s happened in the past and do everything we can to win Saturday.”
Indeed Durham is holding out hope, regardless of how Pollyannaish it might seem at this point. Despite the Hoosiers losses and the nature of them, he said he doesn’t see a team that has checked out down the stretch and believes playing an in-state rival could be just the motivation they need.
“It means more,” Durham said. “Especially because it’s my last Big Ten regular season game. It means more. In this rivalry, it means more. I feel like if there’s any time for us to break through and bring it back around, this is a golden opportunity for us to make a statement and turn it around.”
Of course, the problem with that golden opportunity is that it comes against a Purdue squad that not only has Indiana’s number, it also happens to be very good independently.
The Boilermakers come into Saturday’s game having won four straight including an impressive home victory over Wisconsin on Tuesday night. The No. 23 Boilermakers are 17-8 overall and 12-6 in the Big Ten, having won 10 of their last 13 games. They’re ranked even higher in KenPom rankings at No. 14 with the No. 18 most efficient offense (114.0 points per 100 possessions) and No. 20 most efficient defense (90.9) in the nation. Though they are one of the least experienced teams in the nation, they have made a huge turnaround from a team that was expected to miss the tournament last season to one likely to grab a No. 4 or 5 seed this season.
“They’re very good right now,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said on his radio show Thursday night. “They’re playing as well as any team in our league in my opinion.”
Miller said he was most concerned with Purdue’s post play and for obvious reasons. Trevion Williams, Purdue’s 6-foot-10, 265-pound junior center, is having his best seasons with 15.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. His usage rate is one of the highest in the nation and he takes 36.5 percent of Purdue’s shots when he’s on the floor, but he’s making the most of them, hitting 52.5 percent of his field goals.
And when he comes off the floor, the Boilermakers get even bigger at the 5 spot with 7-4 freshman Zach Edey, who has been a major surprise with 8.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game including 21 points and seven rebounds against Wisconsin on Tuesday.
“It starts with Purdue inside,” Miller said. “In my opinion, they’re the toughest low post team to guard in America. I don’t care who they would play against. You have your hands full with their inside attack. Trevion Williams is a load and then Zach Edey is really involved.”
And after that, they have waves of perimeter players that are a problem to deal with. Williams is the only player on the roster currently averaging double figures, but they have four guards — juniors Eric Hunter Jr. and Sasha Stefanovic, redshirt freshman Brandon Newman and true freshman Jaden Ivey — averaging between 8.5 and 10 points per game. Ivey, a 6-4, 200-pound guard has been especially impressive lately scoring double figures in each of his last four and eight of his last 10 games.
“He’s really blossomed here late,” Miller said. “He may be, to me, their go-to perimeter player at this point in the season. … He’s more of a prime guy where you have to deal with Jaden Ivey right now. He’s a very good offensive player. He’s an aggressive driver. He’s their best offensive one-on-one player.”
And dealing with him is going to be an issue if the Hoosiers are without sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, which they are expected to be. He’s missed the Hoosiers last two games with an injured right heel and though Miller said he could be a game-time decision at best, he said they will operate as if he will not play. That’s a problem, because Franklin — whose aunt Coquese Washington is a coach on Jaden’s mother Niele’s staff at Notre Dame — would be the best matchup for Ivey. At 6-4, 195 pounds he has the same amount of size and his 26 steals lead the Hoosiers’ guards. Indiana has some other options, but Ivey will likely have an edge on all of them.
Indiana could also have a problem if they can’t play redshirt junior forward Race Thompson, who re-injured his broken nose Tuesday night against Michigan State and had to have a procedure this week. Miller said he would likely miss Friday’s practice and be a game-time decision for Saturday. Thompson starts at power forward, but he also moves to center when sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis comes off the floor. Their only other option to play the 5 is 6-7 Jordan Geronimo, who would be giving up a lot of size to Williams or Edey.
Plus, Thompson is simply one of the Hoosiers’ best all-around contributors and one of their most consistent players.
“Race has kinda been our rock,” Miller said. “And Race has really gotten nailed here the last couple of games.”
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