Purdue, Indiana on collision course for Round 3 in Big Ten Tournament final? That'd be big B1G
The Purdue Boilermakers would love nothing more than another shot at Indiana.
It’d mark not only a chance at a Big Ten Tournament title, which would almost certainly bring with it a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, but also an opportunity for redemption vs. the Hoosiers, who marred the Boilermakers’ regular-season title — if that’s an appropriate description — by twice beating Purdue.
The rivals hope they’re on a collision course for Round 3, but it’ll take navigating their first couple games of the tournament. And considering the depth of the league, with seeds 2-12 separated by only 3 games in the final standings, there’s not an easy path to Sunday anywhere.
And that might be especially true for the Boilermakers, the tourney’s No. 1 seed who will open play at noon ET Friday, and for the 3rd-seeded Hoosiers, who play the late game Friday, tipping at approximately 9 p.m. ET. Whether it’s Rutgers or Michigan, Purdue will face a team desperate for a win, likely needing it to feel comfortable about its standing in the Field of 68. If bracket seeds hold, the Boilermakers would take on always-tournament-ready Michigan State, which has won a league-best 6 titles, in the semifinals on Saturday. Friday night, the Hoosiers could get a rematch vs. Maryland, after the Terrapins beat up IU in the teams’ only meeting earlier this season in College Park. And if Northwestern wins Friday, then the Hoosiers would see the Wildcats for a 3rd time this season, and that might not be a good thing; NU beat IU twice this season, albeit by a total of 3 points.
Needless to say, it’s a long way between now and Sunday. But Purdue and Indiana — and their fans — want to see Matchup No. 3. The Hoosiers entered the season as the league favorite, but a 1-4 start put them in too big a hole to overcome. Although they recovered to make a late run, which included the 2 victories over the Boilermakers, inconsistencies kept cropping up. IU lost road games at Maryland and Northwestern, then a home game to Iowa, which all proved costly in the final count.
Purdue’s 2 matchups vs. Indiana earlier this season were sour for the Boilermakers. The 1st in Assembly Hall in early February came when the Boilermakers were ranked No. 1 in the country and was only their 2nd loss of the year. But the return in Mackey Arena on Feb. 25 was the low point in an otherwise bright season, when Purdue missed out on an opportunity to clinch a Big Ten title. Instead, the Boilermakers had to wait until Northwestern loss the following day.
It was Purdue’s 1st home loss to Indiana since 2013, breaking a string of 7 straight victories. And it marked Indiana’s 1st regular-season sweep of the Boilermakers in 10 years.
A 3rd meeting between the rivals hasn’t been common. It happened in 1998, when the schools played in the inaugural Big Ten Tournament in the United Center — as unlikely as it seems, the game is still their only matchup in the conference tourney — as Purdue beat IU in the quarterfinals. The win gave the Boilermakers the season series edge, after the teams had split during the regular season with each winning on their home court. Purdue and Indiana played 3 times in 1980 as well, when they found themselves as opponents in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in Lexington, Ky. Then, No. 20 Purdue beat No. 7 Indiana, despite 30 points from Isiah Thomas, to earn its 2nd win in 3 matchups that season. It was a big one too, helping the Boilermakers to what remains their last Final Four appearance.
The teams had played 3 times the year before, too, with Indiana getting a 2-1 series victory, after the Hoosiers beat the 15th-ranked Boilermakers by 1 point in the NIT championship game in Madison Square Garden.
A 3rd game this season would likely be as epic. Centers Zach Edey and Trayce Jackson-Davis, who are racking up All-America honors this week, have been unquestionably the 2 best players in the Big Ten this season. A 3rd showdown in Chicago would be great, but they’ve got to get to Sunday first.