The Opening Tip: Purdue is a 6-point favorite over in-state rival Butler

Coming into the season, the premier matchup in the Crossroads Classic seemed like it would be Indiana against Notre Dame. However, Purdue and Butler each have had something to say about that, as the No. 9 Boilermakers will take on the No. 17 Bulldogs in Indianapolis this weekend.

What should we expect from these two surprising teams? Here’s a preview.


Saturday, 5 p.m. ET (BTN)

Opening Line: Purdue by 6

Scouting the Boilermakers: What a fascinating matchup this one is. Purdue has a clear advantage in the frontcourt, but Butler will have the advantage in the backcourt. For Purdue, that advantage starts with a significant size disparity. The Boilermakers employ two 7-footers in A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas, each of whom will tower over Butler’s big men. Those two along with Caleb Swanigan should allow Matt Painter’s team to control the glass despite the fact that Butler is a solid rebounding team.

Those two also allow the Boilermakers to control the paint on defense in a way that no other team in the country can. Purdue is first nationally in 2-point field-goal percentage against, only allowing teams to score on 36.4 of their attempts. That, along with a strong perimeter defense led by reigning Big 10 defensive player of the year Rapheal Davis, has led Purdue to have the best defensive rating in the country at 81.4 points-per-100-possessions.

On offense, Painter tends to play inside out with his big men handling a lot of the load, surrounding them with good shooters for kickouts like Vince Edwards, Kendall Stephens and Dakota Mathias among others. The offense has been good, but the defense is what they hang their hat on.

Scouting the Bulldogs: This is truly a matchup of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Butler is fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency this season, and have placed an increased emphasis on getting out and running in transition. They knock down shots from the outside and don’t turn the ball over. They also do an excellent job of spacing the floor and allowing their guards like Tyler Lewis and Roosevelt Jones to get penetration and create looks for others both in dump-offs around the rim and around the 3-point line. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t note how good both Kellen Dunham and Kelan Martin have been recently as wings who can both knock down shots from the outside and slash off of closeouts.

Defense has been a problem though. The Bulldogs are currently 135th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, struggling with turnovers and giving up open 3-point looks. None of Jones, Dunham or Lewis is particularly great perimeter defenders due to lateral quickness, although that might come less into play in this game. Maybe the Bulldogs can overcome the Boilermaker offense simply by just overpowering them with shooting, but it’ll be tough.

Key Matchup: Rapheal Davis vs. Kellen Dunham

For Butler to win, Dunham has to have a big day. And he’s going to have to do that by shooting over one of the country’s best perimeter defenders. Davis is one of the better wings in the country on the defensive end due to his understanding of angles and the way that he can force players to go one way or the other with his quick feet and his strength.

Davis is one of those defenders whose goal every time is to just crowd you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. To get him away from Dunham, they’re going to have to run the 6-6 senior off of baseline screens and down screens so that he can get space for his shot. If he’s unable to, it’s hard to see how Butler can pull off the upset against Purdue given how good they are on the interior defensively.

Kellen Dunham will be key for Butler against Purdue. (USATSI)
Kellen Dunham will be key for Butler against Purdue. (USATSI)


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