BLOOMINGTON — There’s a potentially intriguing confluence of surface trends and storylines converging for tomorrow night’s Indiana-Purdue rivalry, this time renewed in Bloomington.
On one side, Indiana comes into the game having lost its last four games, with three of those coming against the other three teams in the bottom four of the Big Ten (Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern). Their last loss, at the hands of the Wildcats at home Saturday, was so disappointing that coach Tom Crean called a 7:30 a.m. Sunday practice.
But given that Christian Watford is healthy again — he sat out with his wrist injury the last time these teams met – the Hoosiers do offer a wrinkle Purdue didn’t have to contend with last time.
Purdue, by contrast, rides in at its season’s high-water mark, having defeated Wisconsin and Ohio State at home last week and moved firmly into the nation’s top 10. E’Twaun Moore scored 38 points in a magnificent effort against Ohio State on Sunday.
So whether practically or on paper, Wednesday will be an uphill climb for Indiana.
“It’s not like they dominated, I think, in any particular area. They just outplayed us,” Jeremiah Rivers said of the first rivalry meeting in West Lafayette earlier this month. “I think for us, going into this game, we just have to continue to work on what we’ve worked on the past two or three days, and continue to get better. I think our mindset is definitely aggressive coming into this game, which will be good. We’ve just got to come out and play, man.”
Crean acknowledged Watford’s return as important, saying, “”It could change it in a big way. It’s another guy they have to put attention on.” Rivers said Watford’s defensive performance could be an “x-factor.”
As for his own job, Rivers said he’s excited at the prospect of defending Moore, who last week crossed the 2,000-point barrier for his career.
“I like the challenge, man, I like to compete against him,” Rivers said. “I’ll be ready to go. I know he’ll be ready to go. So it’s gonna be fun.”
As for that early-morning practice Sunday, Rivers said he thought it went well. The fifth-year senior guard said work was “competition-oriented” to “get our mindset right,” and he said he thought his team responded well.
“It’s what we needed, a good wake-up call,” Rivers said. “It was good for the team. We got better.”