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IU men's basketball looks to recapture magic in Crossroads Classic against Butler



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Freshman forward Justin Smith dunks the ball Dec. 8 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall against University of Louisville. IU defeated Louisville, 68-67. Anna Tiplick Buy Photos

It’s been almost one year to the day since IU last entered entered Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

The waning moments of last season’s Crossroads Classic contest against then-No. 18 Notre Dame featured a Zach McRoberts dish to Juwan Morgan for a go-ahead bucket and a Bonzie Colson half-court heave that rang off the back of the iron as the clock struck zero.

Archie Miller had earned his first marquee win at IU.

“Just to see that and be a part of that, just watching that amazing performance and being a part of it," sophomore guard Al Durham said Friday. "Just us coming back and fighting hard and getting that win at the end of the day it was just amazing, it was like one-of-a-kind atmosphere."

Fast forward almost a year and the Hoosiers are in a far different state. At 8-2, the Hoosiers have won three straight entering Saturday afternoon's game against Butler University in Indianapolis. And unlike 2017 meeting with Notre Dame, Miller’s bunch are the odds on favorites.

Romeo Langford is fresh off his second co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors alongside Michigan forward Ignas Brazdeikis. In his 10 starts this year, Langford is averaging 18.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.

Juwan Morgan has also continued his All-Big Ten caliber form from 2017. The senior forward has averaged 15.5 points, eight rebounds and 2.3 assists. He also enters Saturday's game 15 points shy of 1,000 career points. He would become the 52nd player in IU history to reach the mark.

As for the Bulldogs, an upperclassmen-laden backcourt presents the stiffest test. Both senior Paul Jorgensen and junior Kamar Baldwin average better than 16 points per contest. 

Junior forward Sean McDermott provides sharpshooting from behind the arch. He’s converting three-pointers at a 42.3 percent clip in 2018.

“Without question McDermott is a game changer," Miller said Friday. "Jorgensen can be a game changer and I would also put Baldwin in there as well, he's just a terrific, terrific college basketball player."

The x-factor for the Bulldogs comes in the form of Duke transfer Jordan Tucker. A 6-foot-7-inch, 210-pound swingman from White Plains, New York, Tucker transferred to Butler from Duke University before the spring semester last season. Saturday’s game will be his first regular season contest in a Bulldogs uniform.

“He's got great size, great talent on the perimeter and range," Miller said. "He'll add another weapon offensively for those guys on the perimeter. Whether they use him as a wing or guard I'm not real sure how they will phase him in, but they have a pretty distinct lineup right now with what they're doing with their rotation, making them a little bit deeper.”

That said, IU stands to have a clear advantage is in the post. Junior forward De’Ron Davis is still recouping from the Achilles injury that ended his sophomore year, but he’s been vastly improved in recent weeks as he plays himself back into game shape.

Morgan also presents a matchup nightmare for marginally athletic Butler bigs sophomore Joey Brunk and junior Henry Baddley.

It will have been 364 days since IU beat Notre Dame when the Hoosiers take the floor Saturday afternoon against Butler. Ranked No. 25 in the latest AP poll, the Hoosiers have a chance for their fifth RPI top-50 win of 2018. 

But for Miller and company, they’re simply focused on the game ahead.

“We expect obviously a heck of an opponent to be ready to play,” Miller said. “And from our standpoint we have had a good week and got to keep preparing here today before we get there tomorrow, but we're excited to play.”

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