In-state supremacy will be on the line Saturday, as the No. 1 Indiana Hoosiers do battle against the Butler Bulldogs in this 2012's Close the Gap Crossroads Classic.
The yearly coming together of Indiana universities is meant to glorify the state's rich basketball tradition, while also working with the title sponsor (Boston Scientific Corporation) on promoting heart health.
The latter may be on hold for fans of the Hoosiers and Bulldogs on Saturday. Indiana comes into Saturday's matchup 9-0, having won each of its contests by 10 points or more. An upset-minded Butler squad, meanwhile, rolls in as winners of four-straight games in its first season with the Atlantic 10.
The Hoosiers are certainly a heavy favorite, but that's hardly stopped Brad Stevens' squad in the past. With that in mind, here is a look at everything you need to know about Saturday's game.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis
When: Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Hoosiers All-Access
Indiana Injury Report (via USA Today)
F Austin Etherington, Knee, Out for Season
F Derek Elston, Knee, Out
Butler Injury Report (via USA Today)
No injuries to report.
What's at Stake?
The Hoosiers have been perched atop the rankings all season, but a loss on Saturday could send them crashing down in one fell swoop. Duke has been nipping at Indiana's heels this year, with wins against Kentucky, Ohio State and Louisville, while Tom Crean's squad has skated through mostly a cupcake schedule.
Butler is unranked, but has enough national clout that a comfortable win would help boost the Hoosiers' stock a little bit.
For the Bulldogs, a win would bring two different sources of joy. One, of course, being the joy of knocking off the No. 1 team in the nation. The other? Bragging rights over an in-state rival.
Neither team's tournament lives will be on the line, but Saturday's game should be a litmus test to see where they stand.
Indiana Player to Watch: G Yogi Ferrell
It's incredibly easy (and a bit lazy) to look at the Hoosiers' roster, call Cody Zeller the best player and move on about your day. Obviously, that's an easy simplification because it's true. Zeller is a seven-foot monster who causes matchup nightmares and drops 15-and-9 per night with relative ease.
However, Ferrell, who came to Indiana as one of the more decorated in-state prospects in school history, may hold the key to the season and will certainly be integral against Butler.
To say his transition to the collegiate level has been up-and-down would be putting it mildly. At times, Ferrell looks like one of the best passers in college basketball, equipped with court vision that you rarely even see at the NBA level.
On the other hand, he's shooting 28.3 percent from the field. Crean and Hoosiers fans can try to use any platitude as justification for his shooting struggles, but that's not good enough and could come back to haunt the team—especially on Saturday.
As always, Butler's biggest strength is at the guard spots, particularly senior Rotnei Clarke. The Arkansas transfer is averaging 17.3 points per game this year while shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc.
Like many of his predecessors, though, Clarke is not going to get confused for a mid-1990s Gary Payton defensively. Ferrell will have opportunities to get into the lane and create shots for himself and teammates. Still, until the shots start falling, there's little reason for the Bulldogs defense to respect him from the outside, meaning those interior lanes will be harder to come by.
Butler Player to Watch: C Andrew Smith
Zeller may not be the most important man on the floor for Indiana on Saturday, but it's undeniable that his counterpart holds a lot of the cards for Butler.
Like many mid-major schools, the Bulldogs' roster isn't filled with five-star seven-footers to hang with the likes of Zeller. Butler has exactly one player who is listed above 6'8" and that player is Smith.
A strong rotational player for each of the past three seasons, Smith is better known for his offensive efficiency than defensive excellence. Essentially, Smith is a hard worker who knows where he needs to go and when he needs to be there defensively.
Butler will need a shift in mentality to continue Saturday. Smith won't be expected to lock down Zeller from the opening tip, but he's the only guy the Bulldogs have who can match him down in the post size-wise. By keeping the Hoosiers superstar from dominating the game with some physicality and toughness on the defensive end, Smith will give Butler the better chance to win.
It's not exactly Brad Stevens' most ideal scenario, but it will have to do against Indiana.
Key Matchup: Tom Crean vs. Brad Stevens
Simply put, Stevens will have to out-coach Crean for Butler to pull off the upset. This isn't a Bulldogs squad akin to their scintillating back-to-back NCAA Championship Game appearances, but instead is one building toward becoming elite in the near future.
Indiana has possibly the best mix of top-shelf talent and experience in the nation. Guys like Zeller are joined by Christian Watford, Will Sheehey and Victor Oladipo, three talented and smart players who get far less credit than they deserve.
It's not that the Bulldogs are untalented. Clarke and Khyle Marshall have been fantastic this season. It's just that they're a marked step down from Indiana.
If Butler wins, it will be due to Stevens making matchup adjustments and Indiana failing to adjust well enough.
One problem for Stevens: Crean is a pretty darned good coach himself and is a strong in-game adjuster.
Indiana out-talents Butler in a game that will be close for the first 35 minutes before the Hoosiers pull away.
Score Prediction: Indiana 78, Butler 65