BLOOMINGTON -- When it comes to the Indiana-Purdue basketball rivalry, familiarity doesn't breed contempt.
The Hoosiers' Jordan Hulls, for instance, doesn't want to knock the Boilers' D.J. Byrd into tomorrow, and visa versa. They're good friends, you see, and have been for 10 years.
And yet …
“It's fun to play against a guy you know, a guy you're good friends with, competitors trying to beat each other,” Hulls said. “There's a cool dynamic out there.”
That dynamic developed on the AAU circuit, when Hulls and Byrd were Indiana Elite teammates (as was IU's Derek Elston). Even though they now play for rival teams, the friendship continues, but with certain limits.
“We talk pretty often,” Hulls says, “but we're busy now, so not as much.”
When IU and Purdue meet tonight at Mackey Arena, there will be no divided loyalties, Hulls said. It's strictly team over friendship.
“Being from Indiana,” Hulls said, “once you put on the Indiana jersey, that's all that matters. It's Hoosier pride.”
That pride will get plenty of home-grown fuel given both programs thrive from in-state players.
The Hoosiers have 10 in-state players, including starters Cody Zeller of Washington, Yogi Ferrell of Indianapolis and Bloomington's Hulls.
Ten Purdue players also are from the state, including starters Terone and Ronnie Johnson of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne's Rapheal Davis, Gary's A.J. Hammons and Crawfordsville's Byrd.
Adding to the connection, Ronnie Johnson and Ferrell know each other from their Indianapolis high school days.
“It plays out on the court because there's such a familiarity with each other,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “There are some close friendships, not to mention rivalries. That's a big part of it.”
The stakes are a bigger part. The No. 3 Hoosiers (18-2 overall, 6-1 in the Big Ten) need a victory to maintain at least a share of the conference lead with No. 1 Michigan. Purdue (11-9, 4-3) needs a win to stay within range of first and to keep its postseason hopes alive.
The result is enough passion for 10 rivalry games.
“There certainly should never be any concern about is there enough intensity, is there enough energy,” Crean said. “Sometimes you've got to make sure that there's enough concentration and enough focus, but not when it comes to intensity and energy.”
Purdue has won six of the last nine meetings, but Indiana swept both games last season. That included an impressive 78-61 win at Mackey Arena.
This season, the Hoosiers are Big Ten and national title contenders, while the youthful Boilers are struggling to make the NCAA tourney for the seventh straight year. But coach Matt Painter's go-young approach -- starting three freshmen in Davis, Hammonds and Ronnie Johnson over the past five games -- has produced improved Big Ten play.
Yes, Crean has noticed.
“I don't think any coach in this league underrates anybody because you just look at the coaching and you look at the talent that is in the programs, and you just know it's a matter a time.
“I think Purdue is doing that. They are playing very well and finding different ways to win. They are rebounding at an extremely high rate. I think they second in the league in offensive boards (39.3) and they are first in the league in defensive rebounding (26.1). It's going to be a big time challenge for us going in there. It's a very tough environment to play, but we're looking forward to it.”
Purdue has won four of its last five games. A big reason is Davis, who has started the last five games while averaging 8.2 points and 5.6 rebounds.
The Boilers are 108-19 at Mackey Arena under Painter, including 50-15 in Big Ten play.
“D.J. Byrd, Terone Johnson are doing an excellent job of leading that team,” Crean said. “Then you have Ronnie Johnson, A.J. Hammons, Rapheal Davis, guys like that, who continue to get better and gain more confidence.
“Donnie Hale is a redshirt player that's gone in there and played better and better. Anthony Johnson is now a veteran in that program. Ronnie Johnson, end to end, is as fast as any guard in the country.”
IU is an eight-to-10-point favorite, but Hulls knows the degree of difficulty can't be measured by odds makers.
“We've got to stick together,” he said. “It will be a pretty crazy environment. We'll let the freshmen know it will be very physical battle. They have to come out ready to play.”
The Northeast Indiana IU Alumni Chapter will hold a viewing party for tonight's game at the Woodland Lounge (918 Woodland Plaza Run) beginning at 8 p.m.
There is no cost to attend, and there will be door prizes, IU basketball calendars, and munchies.
There will also be opportunities to win a basketball autographed by Tom Crean, as well as other Hoosier gear.
Proceeds from the event will benefit IU scholarships.