On Feb. 8, Purdue beat Indiana at Assembly Hall, 74-62. It was the Boilermakers' sixth straight victory in the rivalry for the first time since 1972 and their third consecutive win overall, improving their record to 14-10 and placing them firmly on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
For Indiana, the defeat was its fourth straight after a 15-4 start and left them right on the edge of tournament contention. The rivals meet again tonight, this time at Mackey Arena, but their situations have reversed themselves over the last three weeks.
Since beating the Hoosiers, Purdue has lost four straight games, including a 71-63 loss to Michigan at Mackey Arena on Saturday, after which coach Matt Painter questioned his team's intensity.
“To me, that (game) wasn't very competitive,” Painter said. “Who you are is when adversity sets in. We didn't have things go our way, but we can still have a fight.”
The loss left the Boilermakers at 14-14 and on the outside looking in for the NCAA Tournament. Purdue likely needs to win its final three regular season games and at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament to have a chance at an at-large bid. According to ESPN, no team has ever gotten an NCAA at-large selection with a winning percentage worse than .533. Getting to 18-15 would leave the Boilers with a .545 winning percentage.
That reality makes tonight's matchup against the Hoosiers a must-win game.
“It's urgent at this point,” Purdue guard Eric Hunter Jr. said. “It's more urgent now than ever, especially if we want to play in the tournament. We know we just gotta take it one game at a time so we're just focused on Indiana right now and then playing accordingly for the future.”
For Indiana, the NCAA Tournament picture has gotten significantly rosier since its loss to the Boilers. The Hoosiers have won three of their last four games, including two victories over ranked opponents.
On Sunday, Indiana took down then-No. 9 Penn State at Assembly Hall in one of the biggest victories of coach Archie Miller's three-year tenure.
The win over the Nittany Lions pushed Indiana from the “Last Four In” in ESPN's bracket projections up to the “Last Four Byes” line, meaning the Hoosiers wouldn't be in one of the tournament's four play-in games that whittle the field from 68 to 64.
ESPN projects the Hoosiers as a No. 10 seed – safe for now, but not nearly a lock yet.
“For a team that seemed to be facing a potentially bleak bubble picture just a few days ago, Indiana has compiled a nice body of work in the category of home wins,” ESPN's John Gasaway wrote. “Florida State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and now Penn State have all come to Bloomington, Indiana, and all five surefire tournament teams have left town with a loss.
“(That) who's who of victims is going to be a good talking point in the committee room. Now envisioned as a No. 9 or 10 seed, IU is trending in a positive direction.”
With a schedule as difficult as Indiana's has been – by the end of the regular season, the Hoosiers will have played 24 consecutive games against Power Six conference opponents and their strength of schedule ranks 21 nationally, per KenPom.com – it's unlikely the Hoosiers will be left out of the tournament if they reach 20 wins.
That means they need at least one more regular-season victory and another in the Big Ten Tournament to feel safe come Selection Sunday. Tonight's matchup with Purdue isn't a must-win like it is for the Boilers, but it certainly matters.
For his part, Miller has tried to keep his team's focus off postseason probabilities.
“There's no scenario, there's no magic number, there's no nothing,” Miller said of Indiana's NCAA Tournament chances. “You play every game and every win you get is an unbelievable game.”
“You've got plenty of opportunities,” the coach added. “There's so many good teams in (the Big Ten), it's not about what you have to do, it's about finding ways to get wins. Period. Get as many as you can. At the end of the day, you look back on your résumé and they'll tell you if you're in or not. You earn that. You don't beg your way in, you earn it.”
Indiana will certainly have to earn a victory tonight against a Boilermakers team that has entered desperation mode after its loss to Michigan. Painter is emphasizing resilience as his team prepares for its biggest game of the year.
“You've gotta be able to re-group,” the Purdue coach said. “Champions always get off the canvas.”
Purdue vs. Indiana
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette
Records: Purdue (14-14, 7-10 Big Ten), Indiana (18-9, 8-8)
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM, 1250 AM