There’s a wide gap between Indiana men’s basketball and its archrival, Purdue, right now.
IU flipped the series around over the last few seasons, with three wins in four games from January 2022 through February 2023. But the second-ranked Boilermakers recaptured momentum this season, capped by its 79-59 win on Saturday at Mackey Arena.
Purdue (22-2, 11-2 Big Ten) outplayed Indiana (14-10, 6-7) in every facet of the game. The Hoosiers stayed within striking distance for much of the first half, but that had just as much to do with Purdue’s cold outside shooting than anything IU was doing. Once the Boilermakers pulled away late in the half, the game was essentially over.
It doesn’t look good for Indiana to lose as handily as it has to Purdue on both occasions this season. But perhaps a bigger indictment — at least for Saturday’s game — is that this contest contained very little that was unexpected.
Purdue played strong, disciplined basketball all night. The Boilermakers didn’t make many mistakes, hit big shots, defended well, and dictated the game on both ends. They force opponents to be at their best for 40 minutes to have a chance at an upset. And Indiana simply wasn’t. The Hoosiers, aside from a promising start and a couple other very brief spurts, frequently looked discombobulated on both ends of the floor. The offense was ineffective, and the defense wasn’t much better.
But that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for Indiana. Even in some of its wins this season, IU had to overcome a bevy of self-inflicted errors and prolonged stretches of poor play.
One of the few abnormal occurrences on Saturday was a quiet night from Malik Reneau. But even that wasn’t completely unexpected — after the teams played in Bloomington on January 16, Purdue head coach Matt Painter said his team targeted the sophomore as the key to IU’s offense and defended him accordingly. Reneau scored eight points that night; he put up six at Mackey Arena.
And with their leading scorer held in check, the Hoosiers just didn’t have much they could rely on offensively.
“We’ve got to continue to grow as a team. We’re going to have to add some pieces (in the offseason). But the season’s not over,” IU head coach Mike Woodson said. “We still have seven more games to go. Anything can happen. We’ve got four of those seven at home. We’ve got to take care of our home court. We’ve got to win at home, and then we’ve got three games out of the road that we’ve got to go and win. It’s just that simple. We’re still in the thick of things, we’re in the middle of the pack.”
Indiana sits ninth in the Big Ten standings, currently, but just 1.5 games out of fourth, which yields a double-bye in the conference tournament. So Woodson isn’t off-base in assessing IU’s position in the Big Ten.
But the Hoosiers remain in danger of missing the NIT. They have four games remaining against teams projected to make the NCAA Tournament on BracketMatrix.com (Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State, all at home), and they’d likely need to win at least two of those, if not more.
It’s a stark contrast to Purdue, who’s well-positioned to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. IU’s roster is in a different position than Purdue’s is, though, after the Hoosiers had to remake their roster in the offseason. The Boilermakers have nearly everyone back from last season.
“We have a young team that’s still trying to figure each other out,” Woodson said. “Not having (Xavier Johnson) has been huge for this team. A point guard, a senior point guard that can help lead. So that’s been missing. But for the most part, we have fought this season, in spurts. And we haven’t been able to just put 40-minute ballgames together like we have in the past. That’s been some of the frustration.”
But these teams are just playing at completely different levels in 2024. Purdue is one of the best teams in the country. Zach Edey is a leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year for the second straight season, and with much better guard play than it had a year ago.
Indiana has had some positive developments along the way this season. Reneau, despite struggling against the Boilermakers, has made major strides. Kel’el Ware has been a solid addition out of the transfer portal. Mackenzie Mgbako has flashed his talent at times. And the team reliably keeps fighting, even if games aren’t going well.
But IU isn’t particularly close to Purdue’s level right now. Saturday’s game showed that, for the second time this year.
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