INDIANAPOLIS, In. — Another year is in full swing, and another edition of the Crossroads Classic is upon us.
For the last six seasons, the Butler Bulldogs, Purdue Boilermakers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and Indiana Hoosiers have all ascended on BankersLife Fieldhouse for a two-game showcase. With two teams from the Big Ten, the Hoosiers and Boilermakers alternate opponents each season. The 2017 edition marks the seventh edition of the event, and it shouldn’t disappoint.
Notre Dame and Indiana enter Saturday’s showdown with identical 3-3 records in the event. The Hoosiers hold a 2-1 edge over the Fighting Irish in their head-to-head match-ups. They last met in 2015, with the Hoosiers scoring an 80-73 win over Notre Dame.
On Saturday, both teams will be looking for a big win that could get them back on the right track after some shaky moments early in the 2017-18 season.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of their showdown as part of the 2017 Crossroads Classic.
Notre Dame comes into the day looking to build off their road win over the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens in their last outing, 92-68. The Fighting Irish have lost two of their last four games, including a loss at home to the Ball State Cardinals. Notre Dame started the season 6-0, and won the 2017 Maui Jim Maui Invitational, but have struggled since returning to the mainland.
The 18th-ranked Fighting Irish certainly have more weapons on their roster than the Hoosiers do, and they boast a National Player of the Year candidate, in senior Bonzie Colson. The 6’6” forward has been a model of consistency for Mike Brey this season, posting double-digit points in every game and recording five double-doubles.
On the back end, T.J. Gibbs has emerged as a third scoring option for the Irish, behind Colson and Matt Farrell. Gibbs is shooting 48.9% from the floor, and 53.2% from three point range this season, while averaging 14.3 points per contest. He has recorded double-digits in three of his last four games. With Farrell and Colson drawing the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses, Gibbs has been given his fair share of looks at the basket, and he’s been making the most of them.
Coming into the season, the Fighting Irish needed a third scoring option to emerge early on, and that man has been Gibbs. If his shots are falling on Saturday against Indiana, along with the rest of the team, then Notre Dame will cruise to victory over an Indiana team that’s striving for some form of consistency.
Saturday marks Indiana’s third game against an ACC team in a span of five contests. They lost close games to both the Duke Blue Devils and the Louisville Cardinals, while splitting a pair of Big Ten games in the middle. The Hoosiers have lost three of their last four, and come in at 5-5 in Archie Miller’s first year as head coach.
Indiana has a pair of talented forwards that will cause Notre Dame some issues inside. Juwan Morgan and De’Ron Davis are big bodies that are tough to move out of the paint, and the pair are the top two scorers for Indiana through 10 games. Morgan is averaging team-highs in both points (14.1) and rebounds (6.6) per game. They have the edge in size when compared to Colson and Martinas Geben, but Notre Dame makes up for that in talent.
The biggest issue for the Hoosiers this season is their lack of an elite scorer, especially on the back end. Robert Johnson is the team’s leading scorer in terms of guards, averaging 11.4 points per contest. Against Louisville in their last outing, he was held without a point, on 0-of-6 shooting from the floor.
When they need a scoring boost, Indiana doesn’t possess a player on their roster who they can turn to for that spark. Johnson is too streaky to be relied on over a long period of time, and other guards haven’t stepped up to the plate to start the year. If Indiana wants to hang tight with Notre Dame, they will need their forwards to produce at a high level, and hope that the shots aren’t falling for the Fighting Irish.
Players to Watch
Notre Dame – Martinas Geben
With Indiana’s lack of an elite shooter, and poor shooting as a team overall, Geben will need to have himself a strong game on both ends of the floor. On offense, he will need to capitalize on his opportunities inside to take some attention away from Colson. On defense, he will need to protect the paint and not allow Davis or Morgan to get many second-chance opportunities. If he can keep those two relatively at bay, the Fighting Irish could very well win in a bit of a laugher.
Indiana – Robert Johnson
As mentioned above, Johnson may be the team’s top scorer in terms of guards, but he doesn’t possess elite scoring guard potential. With that being said, Johnson will need to put together a strong game on both ends of the floor, much like Geben. Johnson will need to limit the high-quality looks that Gibbs gets at the basket, and try to take away the passing lanes to Colson inside. On offense, he will need to knock down his shots and bounce back from his dismal performance against the Cardinals. If there was any time for Johnson to erupt for a career-high performance, Saturday would be the day. A win over the Fighting Irish could get the Hoosiers back on track as Big Ten play fast approaches.
Notre Dame bounced back from a loss to Ball State with an impressive showing against Delaware in their last outing. Their depth issues have been present with each passing game, and they’ll be apparent yet again on Saturday.
Fortunately for the Fighting Irish, the Hoosiers don’t have a ton of depth on their sideline, either. Indiana lacks an elite scorer that teams lean on when the times get tough. The Hoosiers have lost three of four, and will be hoping that Notre Dame doesn’t have the ability to hit many shots on Saturday.
Hoping a team doesn’t hit their shots isn’t a good recipe for success. Notre Dame has some shooters on their team, with Farrell, Gibbs, and Colson leading the way. Notre Dame will come out of the gate strong, put Indiana in a hole early, and come away with another big non-conference win.
Notre Dame: 83
– T. Bennett