For the first time since 1966, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Purdue Boilermakers will meet in the regular season when the two square off at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon in the Close the Gap Crossroads Classic.
Notre Dame has been red hot to start the season, winning eight of its first nine contests, with its only loss coming on a neutral floor to Saint Joseph's on Nov. 16 (79-70 in OT). The Irish have since ripped off six consecutive wins, most recently downing Brown at home last Saturday, 84-57.
Purdue has had a much more up-and-down start to the season, as it has yet to register three straight wins or three straight losses. The Boilermakers had won three of four games, highlighted by a victory at Clemson on Nov. 28 (73-61), but they fell back below .500 last Saturday with a disappointing loss at Eastern Michigan, 47-44.
The all-time series between these two in-state rivals is split right down the middle, with each side winning 20 games. The Irish won the last meeting, 71-59, in the 2004 NIT.
The Fighting Irish have been well balanced through the first month of the season, shooting 49 percent from the floor (14th in the nation) in netting 73.8 ppg, while holding their opponents to 37.5 percent field goal efficiency and only 58.3 ppg. They put forth one of their most dominant performances of the young season the last time out against Brown, shooting 34-of-68 (.500) from the field in claiming the 27-point victory. Cameron Biedscheid scored 17 points off the bench to pace five UND players in double figures. Jack Cooley (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Eric Atkins (10 points, 12 assists) both had double-doubles, while Scott Martin added 14 points and eight boards and Jerian Grant finished with 12 points, seven assists and four steals. Cooley has been one of the best forwards in the nation this year, scoring 14.2 ppg on better than 60 percent shooting from the field, adding 11.3 rpg and 1.6 bpg for good measure. Grant (12.9 ppg, 5.1 apg) and Atkins (10.9 ppg, 7.0 apg) are both excellent ball-handlers who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range. Garrick Sherman (10.1 ppg) provides a spark off the bench.
Purdue hasn't been especially great at the offensive end of the court (.416 field goal percentage, 66.6 ppg), but it was especially bad in its latest loss at EMU, connecting on a mere 29.8 percent from the field, committing more turnovers (18) than it had field goals (14) en route to its lowest point total of the season. Terone Johnson played well in defeat, logging 12 points and eight boards. Ronnie Johnson added 11 points and six rebounds, while A.J. Hammons recorded 11 points, seven boards and four blocked shots. On the season, only Terone Johnson averages double digits with 13.0 ppg, although he puts up lackluster percentages from the field (.404) and from the foul line (.594). A.J. Hammons (9.3 ppg) leads the rebounding effort with 6.0 per tilt, and Purdue is one of the strongest rebounding teams in the country, grabbing nearly 12 more boards per contest than its opponents.