One of the best rivalries in college basketball will write its next chapter in Bloomington tonight, but it will be different than any of the previous games between in-state foes Indiana and Purdue.
In a rivalry that has come to be defined by packed houses and roaring crowds, tonight's iteration will feature just a smattering of players' and coaches' family and friends in the stands. Though that has been the case all year, Purdue guard Sasha Stefanovic said the absence of a hostile crowd will be felt particularly at Assembly Hall.
“The fans are a big part of (this rivalry),” said Stefanovic, a Crown Point native. “Hearing 17,000 people boo at you, for me, it's pretty cool, it's a pretty fun thing. We're obviously not going to have that.”
Make no mistake, however, there will still be plenty of fire on the court.
“The rivalry is still there,” Stefanovic said. “You want to go beat your in-state rival. ... When you're playing against IU, that's the whole thing, you're supposed to dislike each other, that's just how it is and how it will forever be.
“You know we're both going to play tough every single time, it's going to be a battle.”
Purdue has won almost all of those battles in recent years, taking 10 of the last 11 and seven in a row. Indiana coach Archie Miller is 0-5 against the Boilermakers, including 0-3 in Bloomington.
A win for the Boilers tonight would be historic: Neither team has won eight straight in this series since the Hoosiers took 13 straight from 1949 to 1955. Purdue hasn't accomplished the feat since a nine-game winning streak from 1929 to 1935.
“Coach (Archie Miller) talked about how we've gotta change the culture,” Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said of the string of losses against Purdue. “That's a big emphasis. Especially the new guys coming in; ... they don't know what it's like to lose to (Purdue). They don't want to continue that tradition (of losing) at all.
“The only way to do that is to beat them. They've had our numbers the past few years, but we've gotta change the culture and change history.”
This season, the rivalry involves the two youngest teams in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers don't have a senior on their roster for the first time in program history, and Indiana's top two scorers are sophomores.
As they enter the first of two regular season meetings, the squads are in remarkably similar positions; they are each 8-5 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, likely good enough to make the NCAA Tournament if March Madness started today, but not in any position to feel secure.
The youngsters are growing up as the season goes on and beating their biggest rival would be the next step in the maturation process.
“It speaks for itself, it's Indiana,” Boilermakers center Trevion Williams said. “It's a game we just gotta win, gotta be ready for it. It's probably going to be one of the most physical games (we'll play).”
Williams, coming off a 26-point, nine-rebound masterpiece in a win over No. 23 Michigan State, will be involved in the game's most intense matchup: his battle down low with 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball Jackson-Davis. The preseason All-Big Ten performers are among the best big men in the country and have been the focal point of their teams' offenses this season.
Williams will guard the 6-foot-9 Jackson-Davis in the post, but he'll have plenty of help. The Indiana forward leads the nation in free throw attempts and had 14 in a win over Nebraska on Sunday. Purdue's big men have struggled with foul trouble this season and they'll likely try to mitigate some of the high-scoring sophomore's effectiveness by sending a second defender at him when he catches the ball.
“I know they're going to double me from the very jump to the end of the game,” Jackson-Davis said. “Really just have to pick and choose my opportunities. I know they're probably going to double with another big man, so it's being able to hit the dive man, Race (Thompson) or just get the ball to the opposite corner.”
Jackson-Davis had just six points on seven shots the last time he faced Purdue. Williams had 19 points and eight rebounds.
Note: Purdue's game at No. 21 Ohio State, originally scheduled for Jan. 27, will be moved up to Jan. 19. The game will tip off at 6:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. The change comes as Purdue is still looking for a make-up date for its postponed Jan. 5 game against Nebraska, which hasn't been rescheduled.
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (8-5, 3-3 Big Ten), Purdue (8-5, 3-3)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 92.3 FM, 1380 AM, 100.9 FM