Caleb Swanigan understands what it means to come to Bloomington.
“You can’t just say it’s another road game,” Swanigan said. “You can say that, but everyone knows it isn’t.”
Just like Swanigan isn’t just another forward.
The man they call “Biggie” is making a push for National Player of the Year honors, leading Purdue into Assembly Hall tonight for the annual reboot of the in-state rivalry.
Few around the country cause more matchup issues than Swanigan, a 6-foot-9 sophomore who leads the nation with 20 double-doubles in 24 games.
How do you account for Swanigan? It’s a question coaches have pondered all season.
For as good as Swanigan has been for the No. 16 Boilermakers — and he’s been very, very good — his mere presence has opened up the floor for an improving Purdue backcourt.
“We have a handful of guys that shoot 40 percent from 3, so I think that’s the question they have going into the game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Can we double him and bottle him up, because if we do and he gets the ball into their hands, they’re going to get in a rotation and somebody’s going to get a rhythm 3. He’s helped with that.”
From Indiana coach Tom Crean’s point of view, there’s plenty to weigh when deciding how to scheme against Swanigan.
“You have to read the game,” Crean said. “I think that’s the most important thing. I don’t know that you give them any one steady diet of anything because they’re really, really good at that. They deal with it. Swanigan’s been getting doubled for a long time, so you really have to read the game and have multiple things that you can do.”
Swanigan is the only player in American to have a game of 20 points, 20 rebounds and five assists, a stat line he recorded earlier in the year against McNeese State. Since the 2006-07 season, only Blake Griffin and Ben Simmons have had a 20-20-5 game.
There have been 14 games of 20 points and 20 rebounds this season, including four from Swanigan, who’s averaging 19.1 points and 12.8 rebounds.
Swanigan’s distance shooting has improved immensely this season. After shooting 29 percent from 3-point range as a freshman, he’s making 50 percent (27 of 54) of his shots from beyond the arc this year.
“I think Biggie’s getting better,” Painter said. “I think the decision making for him is so much better. He just takes open shots. When he’s simple in the post and he trusts his skill level, he’s much more efficient.
“Sometimes, he likes to over-dribble a little bit and get closer to the basket. When he wants absolute layups all the time, that’s where he struggles a little bit. He’s gotta go to his jump hook or his turnaround just as much. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get deep position. Sometimes they’ll double and run a lot of different people at him and it causes problems.”
The Hoosiers want to be the ones causing problems for Swanigan tonight, while also keeping his 7-foot-2 frontcourt counterpart Isaac Haas in mind, too.
Haas is using his size and positioning to get to the line with regularity. Haas is averaging a free throw attempt every three-plus minutes he’s on the floor.
Meanwhile, the trio of Swanigan, Haas and Vincent Edwards have combined to shoot 146 of Purdue’s 200 free throws in Big Ten play.
“It’ll be pretty challenging,” IU’s Thomas Bryant said. “They’ve got two real big guys that are really great down there in low post with Caleb Swanigan and Big Haas down there, so we have our work cut out for us.”
James Blackmon Jr. may be able to provide a boost for Indiana.
Crean said he was hopeful the team will see a return from Blackmon, who has missed the past three games with a lower leg injury.
Even with additional offensive potency, the Hoosiers understand the matchup problem they’ll have to navigate in Swanigan.
And with fellow Boilers in Edwards, Dakota Mathias, P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline around Swanigan shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range, Crean realizes there will be plenty of scheme and matchup juggling for 40 full minutes.
“Swanigan is playing as relentless and with (more) pursuit of the ball defensively as anyone I’ve seen this year,” Crean said. “He’s an outstanding scorer. He’s become a better shooter and passer and they’re used to the double team.”