Okay, let’s get the cliche out of the way first. No, of course technically Indiana (15-7, 5-6) does not have to beat Purdue on Saturday to make the NCAA Tournament.
And let’s be real here, at this point in the season, knowing what we know about this IU team, the NCAA Tournament is the only real goal left.
Contention for a top four spot in the Big Ten standings, a run in the Big Ten Tournament, advancing to the Sweet 16 — all of that seems silly to be talking about at this point.
Unless head coach Archie Miller is able to find answers that have eluded him throughout his time in Bloomington, we shouldn’t expect a sea change over the next six weeks.
Of course irrespective of what we think, Miller is searching for those answers right now.
And he knows that a week off to prepare for Purdue provides an opportunity for some serious soul searching.
“In every season, the story is never written until the end, but we are going to have to change paths here and change course of how we are playing, he said after losing to Ohio State on Saturday.
“The only group that can get themselves out of it is us.”
This might be the most important week in Miller’s tenure as the Indiana head coach.
If he doesn’t find a way out starting this weekend, it is difficult to imagine how this once 11-1 team reaches the NCAA Tournament.
A fourth straight miss of the NCAA Tournament, a sixth straight loss to Purdue with a seventh looming at Mackey Arena — things can get ugly fast.
Call it a cliche. Call it what you will.
But a win over Purdue on Saturday is an absolute must.
FOUR GAME LOSING STREAK
At some point memories of the 2018-19 season will start to seep into the conscious of these players. Eight players on the current roster were with the team last year.
Indiana’s 12 losses in 13 games stretch last season included seven and five games losing streaks that served as bookends for an improbable win over Michigan State in East Lansing. That 2018-19 team looked mentally defeated at times before the game tipped, and this team looks like they could be headed down that same path.
Now after another win over the Spartans, Indiana has started a new slide that is reminiscent of last year with a late home collapse against Maryland and uninspiring play on the road.
A loss to Purdue would mean that Indiana is on a four game losing streak at a critical time of the season.
Miller has often stated that you want to be playing your best basketball in February. A loss on Saturday would mean that Indiana is at its worst.
PURDUE LOSING STREAK
Miller needs to get a win over Purdue. Thus far Indiana is 0-3 against Purdue with Miller at the helm with an average margin of loss of eight points. Two of the three losses were in Bloomington.
Overall, the losing streak against Purdue is up to five games, including three straight at home. Tom Crean’s 2016-17 squad was swept by the Boilermakers, and IU’s last win in the series came in 2016.
The must win here is not just to save Indiana’s season, but to save the fringe element that isn’t happy with Miller — from becoming a mob.
There a couple things you must do as the IU head coach.
First, you must beat Kentucky. Despite being good friends with John Calipari, Miller seemingly cannot get the Wildcats back on the schedule. Of course there are two sides to that equation and other parties involved, but Miller is now as much to blame as anyone for a once great series going offline since 2011.
Second, you must beat Purdue. While Boiler fans like to cling to their all-time series lead, most folks recognize that is a margin established during the peach basket era.
But what is real is Purdue’s five game winning streak. The Boilermakers have simply been the better program since 2016.
If Miller’s Hoosiers drop a sixth in a row to Purdue, including what would be a fourth straight in the series at home, well, look out below.
The masses will be howling.
THIS IS NOT A GOOD PURDUE TEAM
Unlike in recent years, Purdue (12-10, 5-6) is not good.
After four straight seasons with at least 26 wins, the Boilermakers will be fortunate to find their way to the NCAA Tournament this year. In fact, a sweep of the season series by either IU or Purdue could very well eliminate the other from dancing in March.
Without Carsen Edwards, Purdue is struggling offensively. According to KenPom Purdue has just the 13th most efficient offense in league games this season and a conference-worst 43.8 percent effective field goal percentage. The Boilermakers are the worst team in the Big Ten from two-point range, making just 43.2 percent of their shots, and they are only making 30 percent of their hoists from long range.
Head coach Matt Painter is trying to transition his team from a dynamic three-point shooting machine to a tough, gritty unit that crashes the offensive glass. Purdue is the No. 1 team in Big Ten games, rebounding 33.6 percent of their misses. The Boilermakers do a reasonably good job taking care of the ball as well. But all of that just maximizes possessions for an offense that has been unable to get anything going.
Purdue is only shooting 36.5 percent from the field away from home this year. If ever there was an opponent to take the pressure off of IU’s struggling offense, it is the Boilermakers. Right?
HOME COURT LOSSES
There are no more road trips to Nebraska on the schedule. The Hoosiers aren’t traveling to Northwestern this year.
Instead, IU is going to Michigan, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois to close out Big Ten play.
Do you see a road win there? Neither do I.
After already dropping one at home to Maryland, the margin for error at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall is razor thin the rest of the way. That’s the position that IU put themselves in because of that late collapse against the Terrapins in Bloomington.
IU picked up a road win at Nebraska which offsets the Maryland home loss. They can go .500 in the league simply by winning at home against Purdue, Iowa, Penn State, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But each home loss the rest of the way would likely drop IU another game under. 500 in the Big Ten, and put their NCAA Tournament hopes in serious jeopardy.
No disrespect to Purdue, but the Boilers are the worst team that IU will play the rest of the way.
If the Hoosiers cannot beat Purdue at home in front of what should be a really good crowd, it then becomes difficult to imagine where this season is headed.
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