Notre Dame stands between Purdue and its first Crossroads Classic win
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thus far, only recent NCAA tournament champions have had enough talent to defeat Saturday's Crossroads Classic opponents No. 15 Purdue and No. 21 Notre Dame.
The Boilermakers are 8-2, losing only to No. 1-ranked and reigning NCAA champion Villanova and 2013 national champion Louisville. The Fighting Irish are 9-1, losing this past Saturday to Villanova.
But in Crossroads Classic head-to-head competition, it has been all Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are 2-0 against Purdue -- an 81-68 victory in 2012 in Bankers Life Fieldhouse and a 94-63 drubbing of the Boilermakers in 2014 -- and are 3-2 overall, including 1-2 against Indiana.
Purdue is 0-5 in the Crossroads Classic, including 0-3 against Butler, prompting coach Matt Painter to say this week that the one Crossroads Classic change he would make is a Boilermaker victory.
Led by power forward Caleb Swanigan (15.9 points, 11.2 rebounds) and by 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas (14.8 points, 5.3 rebounds), Painter likes his team's chances this time.
"Since the Louisville game, we have played a lot better and shot a lot better," Painter said. "Our defense has been a lot better, and that's something we have to continue to improve. When we don't turn the basketball over and defend the way we're capable, we have had some really good stretches."
Notre Dame has four starters averaging in double figures, led by Steve Vasturia (16.6), Bonzie Colson (16.5), V.J. Beachem (15.5) and Matt Farrell (13.0). The Irish are averaging 86.6 points while allowing 64.7, which is Purdue's exact defensive average.
The Fighting Irish shoot 47.5 percent from the field and 86.4 percent from the free throw line, numbers that impress Painter.
"They have an experienced coach and an experienced team," Painter said. "They are first in the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio and are in the top five nationally in 3-pointers made and free throw percentage. It's pretty impressive any time you are that good on offense.
"That's going to help your defense also. Their guys are always getting better and are improving as a group. They are a tough team to defend and a tough team to play against."
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said he believes this team will continue to improve throughout a season that will include many challenging ACC games. He points out this past Saturday's 74-66 loss to Villanova is a great learning tool.
"I love our group," Brey said. "Villanova is kind of a finished product. We still have room to grow. We have to keep that in mind as we practice in preparation for Purdue. We came into the Villanova game with a belief, an edge and a swagger.
"You can be mad that you didn't get it done, because you were good enough to get it done. We will let that drive us as we get ready to play Purdue."
The Boilermakers, who average 83.7 points and who shoot 50.4 percent from the field, including 44.1 percent from 3-point range, will be without fifth-year graduate transfer point guard Spike Albrecht, a valuable reserve who has been receiving treatment for a lower back injury.