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‘That one, two punch on the front line is pretty impressive’: Matt Painter breaks down matchup with Indiana basketball



Indiana basketball
Indiana basketball is 3-1 in the last four games of the IU-Purdue series and Matt Painter understands this team presents numerous challenges. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

The next installment of the Indiana basketball and Purdue rivalry is set for Tuesday night — with a major opportunity awaiting the Hoosiers.

And while Purdue brings in the No. 2 team in the country with the reigning National Player of the Year in Zach Edey, Indiana counters with one of the most consistent — if not the most — in the Big Ten with Malik Reneau and Kel’el Ware.

Reneau is averaging 16.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and shooting 42.9 percent (12-of-28) on 3s. Ware, on the other hand, is averaging 14.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. He’s also shooting 42.9 percent (9-of-21) from three.

Their versatility and ability to play both on the perimeter as well as inside in the paint has been a major issue for opposing teams this season. And, it was the first point of emphasis for Purdue head coach Matt Painter when previewing the Indiana basketball team.

“Their (Indiana’s) ability to have two guys who have great size and length, that can both post up and shoot the ball on the perimeter. They’re both really good athletes,” Painter said. “They run the floor. Get on the glass. They’re skilled, they’re athletic. They have a real good connection between the two of them, too. You see some of the lobs that Reneau throws Ware. They have that connectivity on the interior where they pass it to each other and share the basketball.

“They’re not their only two guys but just kinda that one, two punch on the front line is pretty impressive.”

In addition to that duo, however, is the recent surge of freshman Mackenzie Mgbako. Mgbako has turned into a critical part of the offensive puzzle over the last month, in main part due to his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter.

Painter knows the type of player Mgbako can be and knows he has to be a focal point from a defensive perspective come Tuesday.

“You’re trying to break his rhythm,” Painter said. “He’s a rhythm shooter. He can catch and shoot. He’s shown as he gotten more acclimated to college basketball that his decision making is much better, especially when he puts the ball on the floor. I mean he’s a top-15 player in the country. That speaks for itself.

“He’s very talented. Has great physical abilities. Has a good skill level. Now his decision making is better, his defense is better … He’s really make progress in that area.”

After winning 12-of-13 matchups in the series from Feb. 2014 to March 2021, Purdue has struggled since Mike Woodson took over the Indiana basketball program. Indiana is 3-1 in the series under Woodson.

Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.