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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, December 15, 2018 1:37 pm

Pregame: Indiana (8-2) vs. Butler (7-2)

Dylan Sinn | Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The first three times Indiana and Butler have met at the Crossroads Classic, the lower-ranked team has emerged triumphant. That includes two games in which Butler upset Indiana teams ranked in the top 10. That trend doesn't bode well for the Hoosiers, who entered the top 25 this week for the first time in nearly two full years, but there are plenty of reasons to think this season might be different.

The Hoosiers come into today's matchup at Bankers Life Fieldhouse riding a three-game winning streak since their loss to Duke. That includes last Saturday's statement victory over Louisville at Assembly Hall, which catapulted Indiana into the national rankings for the first time in Archie Miller's tenure. Indiana comes in today shooting the ball extremely well, ranking No. 6 in the country in field goal percentage at 51.4 percent as a team. The Hoosiers have been particularly deadly inside the arc, shooting 58.2 percent on 2-point attempts, led by Juwan Morgan, who makes more than 70 percent of his 2-pointers.

Butler's defense, meanwhile, has been solid all season, but will face arguably its most difficult test so far against the Hoosiers. Butler is giving up just 63 points per game and like to play at slower pace than Indiana, which prefers to get out in transition. It will be up to Indiana to play tight man-to-man defense, force the issue and create turnovers that allow them to get out and run on the fastbreak.

If Indiana is forced to play in the half court, expect plenty of drives to the basket from Romeo Langford. Langford leads the Big Ten in free throws attempted this season with 71 and got to the line a career-high 14 times against Louisville, shooting more free throws than the entire Cardinals team in that game. Like Louisville, the Bulldogs are a big, physical, tough team, but Langford has all of those qualities as well and he's shown he isn't intimidated by size in the paint. Butler's 6-foot-11 center Joey Brunk, a Southport product, will likely challenge Langford at the rim and there could be some fun battles inside.

Brunk is an up-and-down offensive player, but when he shoots, the ball usually goes in. The sophomore is hitting a whopping 83.3 percent of his attempts this season and averaging 8.7 points per game. After a couple of quiet games, he's coming off a 15-point effort against Northern Illinois. Indiana has struggled to match up with size at times this season and De'Ron Davis will have to do a good job of containing Brunk in the post.

Butler also has plenty of firepower on the outside. Guards Paul Jorgenson and Kamar Baldwin combined to average almost 34 points per game, though they score in vastly different ways and complement each other well. Jorgenson is the shooter, knocking down better than 43 percent of his 3s, while Baldwin is the slasher. Baldwin takes almost five 3s per game, but hits just 26 percent of them, so if Indiana can force him into bad jump shots, the Hoosiers can consider it a defensive victory.

On paper, these are two teams that seem to be building toward NCAA Tournament campaigns. Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings have Indiana at No. 25 and Butler at No. 26 nationally, setting up what should be a tight, well-played, intense game in front of home state fans at Bankers Life. Maybe the favored team will win for once.

dsinn@jg.net