“Yeah, win. I’d like to get a win in this event. That’s what I’d change.”
The idea to match the state’s four premier basketball programs in a one-day, two-game spectacle has produced a series of memorable moments, but this one might be the best ever. Ninth-ranked Indiana (8-1) takes on No. 18 Butler (9-1) after No. 15 Purdue (8-2) faces No. 21 Notre Dame (9-1).
All four teams have Sweet 16 or better potential. Notre Dame, in fact, has made two straight Elite Eights.
Bankers Life Fieldhouse figures to be rocking. Painter said he and the Boilers can’t wait to do some rocking of their own.
“(Tourney officials) have done a good job running it. The fans really like it. But we’ve got to have some success.”
Crossroad Classic benefits could have a March Madness impact.
“It’s a chance to play a quality opponent that you know will play in the NCAA Tournament,” Painter said. “Whoever gets this win will have a quality win that helps you down the road.
“You want to win these type of games. It has a NCAA Tournament-type feel to it. Notre Dame is a very skilled team, tough, smart and well coached. We know we’ll have our hands full. We’ve played a lot of different kinds of teams, but I don’t know if we’ve played anybody as skilled as Notre Dame.”
Purdue has won three straight since a 71-64 loss at Louisville that fully exposed its turnover problem. It averages 14.9 turnovers a game, basically seven more than Painter’s goal. Despite that, the Boilers have been an offensive power, shooting a Big Ten-leading 50.4 percent from the field and 44.1 percent from three-point range. They rank third in the conference in scoring at 83.7 points, and might be pushing 90 without all the lost possessions.
“We had a tough loss against Louisville,” Painter said. “We didn’t accept the challenge. Since then, we’ve played a lot better. We’ve shot well. Our defense has been better. That’s a good sign. We still have a long ways to go.
“Offensively, we’ve done some good things. We’ve been turnover prone at times. We’ve had some really good stretches. That’s what we have to try to keep building off of. We’ve got to give ourselves a chance.”
The Boilers have five players averaging in double figures, led by forward Caleb Swanigan’s 15.9 points and 11.2 rebounds.
Purdue will need all of that against Notre Dame’s potent offense. The Irish average 86.6 points a game while shooting 47.5 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three-point range. They lead the nation in free throw shooting (86.4 percent) and in assist-to-turnover ratio by averaging 18.7 assists against 7.8 turnovers.
Four starters shoot at least 83.3 percent from the line, led by guard Matt Farrell’s 24-for-24 perfection. Former Harding standout V.J. Beachem is the worst of those at 83.3 percent, which is far better than the Boilers’ best-shooting regular, Dakota Mathias, who is at 75.0 percent.
“They have a heck of a resume,” Painter said. “They have an experienced coach (Mike Brey) and an experienced team. They’re a tough team to defend and a tough team to play against. They have an edge to them.
“They’re in the top 5 in the country in three-pointers made (105). They’re first in the nation in assist-turnover ratio, fewest turnovers, points per possession and free throw percentage. That’s pretty impressive.
“Any time you’re that good on offense, it’s going to help your defense. The ball is constantly going through the basket, and you’re not getting in transition as much because you’re not turning the ball over.”
Saturday’s game will culminate the most challenging part of Purdue’s non-conference schedule that also included a loss to now No. 1 Villanova, the Cancun Challenge title and a 33-point win over Arizona State in the Jimmy V. Classic at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Boilers will finish at Mackey Arena with Western Illinois (2-7) and Norfolk State (2-9) before opening Big Ten play at home Dec. 28 against Iowa.
Through it all, Painter has one over-riding priority.
“The No. 1 thing we can do,” he said, “is take care of the ball.”
UP NEXT: Purdue vs. Notre Dame
Tipoff: 2 p.m., Saturday
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