Indiana-Purdue highlights Saturday college hoops slate on FOX

Mackey Arena will be on another level Saturday night when No. 5 Purdue welcomes No. 17 Indiana to this week’s edition of FOX Primetime Hoops.

This is one of three matchups on Saturday’s slate on FOX, with No. 19 Creighton facing a road test at Villanova at noon ET, followed by the UConn women looking to bounce back on the road at DePaul at 2 pm ET

Here’s a look at what to look out for in each matchup:

No. 19 Creighton at Villanova – Noon ET, Wells Fargo Center

There are two main questions surrounding this matchup, and they are very different:

  • How will Creighton respond to a tough home loss to Marquette that will officially end the Bluejays’ hopes of winning the Big East regular season title?
  • Could Villanova peak at the perfect time and be the dark horse to emerge as Big East Tournament champions in two weeks?

Kyle Neptune’s Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season, winning four of their last five games and coming off a 64-63 win at Xavier. The reason for Villanova’s recent success is clear: Justin Moore. Not only has he picked up steam since making his season debut on Jan. 29 following his Achilles injury, but he’s also allowing others to fit into their roles. Moore has averaged 19 points over the past three games, and it’s clear Villanova will be the team none of the Big East Tournament’s biggest teams want to match in the quarterfinal round at Madison Square Garden.

The Bluejays, meanwhile, had won eight straight and played like a top-15 team throughout January and the first half of this month, but have lost two of their last three games. It’s not often that Greg McDermott’s team blows a 12-point lead on its home court, but that’s what happened in Tuesday’s 73-71 loss to the Golden Eagles. Ball movement and safety are important for this team to thrive. They had 15 turnovers against Marquette and for much of the second half, the ball was held. The Jays have high-level singles players in Trey Alexander, Baylor Scheierman and Arthur Kaluma, but they can’t get stuck playing hero ball.

When these teams met three weeks ago, it was the first real indication that Villanova could pull off a stretch, as the Wildcats led Creighton in the final minute before the Jays found a way to win, 66-61. Alexander had 27 points in the win, while Ryan Kalkbrenner scored 16 points. Moore had 13 points, but was 4-for-11 from the floor, and was still easing his way back. He’s become a different player in recent weeks, and Villanova could keep that recent surge going Saturday if they lead the way.

No. 4 UConn at DePaul (W) – 2 ET, Wintrust Arena

It’s not often that “the UConn women’s basketball team is looking to bounce back,” but that’s the case as of Saturday. After impressive wins over Creighton and Villanova, UConn was stunned by St. John’s, falling 69-64 in Hartford and giving the Red Storm a massive win that puts them on the right side of things.

Perhaps it was the fallout from those earlier Big East battles for Connecticut to play the Huskies with a second loss in conference play for the first time in a decade. But more than anything, UConn only having six players in its rotation means the Huskies’ winning formula becomes much more limited than usual. It’s pretty remarkable that this team is 24-5 to start with, as Lou Lopez Sénéchal has taken over as the leading scorer and Aaliyah Edwards has been one of America’s best frontcourt players.

What makes Saturday’s game a fun watch? In reality, it’s DePaul, who will have the best bucket on the floor. Blue Demons sophomore and Chicago native Aneesah Morrow is fourth in the nation with 25.7 points per game and has played as well as any player in the country over the past two weeks. He is averaging 27.5 points, 17.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 3.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per game over the last four games.

Morrow’s productivity in Hall of Famer Doug Bruno’s system has made for a very entertaining offense. The theme for the Blue Demons is defense. DePaul ranks last in that column in the Big East with 72.1 points per game. That’s what led the Huskies to a 94-51 win over the Blue Demons in the first meeting.

No. 17 Indiana at No. 5 Purdue – 7:30 ET, Mackey Arena

This is the kind of showcase game that is great for the sport as All-American talents Zach Edey and Trayce Jackson-Davis collide in this Big Ten matchup on Saturday night. What adds to the drama of this matchup? Purdue is looking for revenge after suffering its second loss of the season on Feb. 4, when Jackson-Davis had 25 points, seven rebounds and five blocks in a 79-74 win over the Boilermakers.

Purdue has had a week to reset and prepare for this game. The Boilers took on Ohio State last Sunday, but had lost three of four before this win over the Buckeyes. For Matt Painter’s team, this home stretch is all about staying in the No. 1 line in the NCAA Tournament projections and regaining the offensive momentum that got them off to a 22-1 start to the year. That comes down to Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer knocking down perimeter shots and the entire team avoiding turning the ball over.

Meanwhile, Saturday night offers a daunting task for a Hoosiers team that will try to bounce back from an 80-65 loss to Michigan State on Tuesday. Indiana is 9-3 in its last 12 games, playing like a team capable of winning multiple games in the NCAA Tournament. In Tuesday’s loss, however, the Hoosiers lost control of their defensive identity as Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard combined for 45 points for the Spartans. With Jalen Hood-Schifino struggling from 3-point range, the Hoosiers just couldn’t get enough.

With Xavier Johnson still out with a foot injury, Hood-Schifino has had to step up a lot, which he has. But more than anything, the level at which Jackson-Davis has been playing makes Indiana a team that can make it to the second weekend of the tournament. Over the past six games, Jackson-Davis has averaged 28.2 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game.

Meanwhile, Edey is coming off a 26-point, 11-rebound outing in Purdue’s win over Ohio State. He went for a casual 33 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks in the first matchup against the Hoosiers.

This matchup is based on which support cast, and in particular, which of the top tiers, will be the biggest for your team.

There is no love lost between these teams and Mackey will be on another level. This will be fun.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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