Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports
Purdue can earn its second Big Ten sweep tonight in Champaign.
There is one immutable truth this season when it comes to Purdue basketball: When the Boilers have won the first game of a home-and-home in Big Ten play Purdue has gone on to win the second game 100% of the time. Sure, when Purdue has lost the first game they have also lost the rematch, but so far Purdue beat Penn State and also won the rematch in Happy Valley. Tonight, the Boilers will try to repeat that feat.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Location: Champaign, Illinois
2011-12 record: 17-15, 6-12 Big Ten
2012-13 Record: 17-8, 2-7 Big Ten
2012 Postseason: None
Blog Representation: The Champaign Room (Here is Tom's Preview)
Series With Purdue: Purdue leads 96-84 (Purdue has won 8 straight)
Last Purdue win: 68-61 on 1/2/2013 at Purdue
Last Illinois win: 66-48 on 2/8/2009 at Illinois
TV: Big Ten Network
Odds: Illinois by 8
Illinois has to be considered the best major conference team that is just 4-7 in league play. Before last week a 13-1 non-conference season was being successfully pissed away as the Fighting Illini were just 2-7 in the Big Ten and tied with Nebraska near the bottom. After consecutive victories over top-ranked Indiana and a ranked Minnesota team on the road Illinois finds itself back on the happy side of the Bubble.
Still, a losing record in league play is very possible. In fact, they could finish at 7-11 and still likely make the NCAAs. That bothers me because I don't think any team that finishes with a losing record in conference play should be eligible for an at large bid to the NCAAs. Illinois may not test that theory, however, as they still have five games left against the bottom six teams of the league.
The last time out Purdue played possibly its best game of the season. It is really a credit to how insane this season has been, however, when Purdue beats Illinois by seven, who then beats Indiana, who stomped Purdue by 37 in West Lafayette. Purdue won the first time around thanks to toughness and defense, which has been lacking since the Hoosiers pantsed us.
Illinois shot only 35% from the field and after leading 45-39 at the under 12 timeout of the second half Purdue clamped down defensively and went on a 20-4 run over the next minutes to steal the win. At the time we all thought it was the turning point for a very young team as it was their first victory over a ranked opponent.
Since then Illinois bottomed out with that 2-7 stretch before looking completely different last week against Indiana and Minnesota. Purdue was competitive in a few games and beat up on the bottom of the league but could not beat the upper echelon. Purdue is 5-1 against teams below them in the conference standings (including Illinois), but 0-6 against those above.
Terone Johnson was huge in the last game. He had 25 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and played with intensity on the defensive end. Brandon Paul did not get it going until late and D.J. Richardson was not able to be a distributor with seven points and one assists (though he had nine rebounds). Purdue also got 15 points from D.J. Byrd and 10 from Jacob Lawson.
Really, that was about the last time we all saw Lawson. He has scored only five points in the following 11 games and had two DNP - Coaches Decisions in that time. If Lawson is not going to be a factor we need A.J. Hammons to be. Hammons only had two points and seven rebounds the last time out against Illinois as he was limited by foul trouble. The closest thing that the Illini have to a true center is Nnanna Egwu, and Hammons is better. It feels like a 15-10 performance is needed this time if Purdue is to have a shot. Hammons is much more polished offensively, but he must avoid foul trouble.
If Purdue gets another no-show from D.J. Byrd and TJ it has no chance tonight. Byrd had maybe the worst game of his career Saturday against Michigan State with only one shot attempt, which came well after the game was decided, and five fouls. He hit four of nine threes against Illinois in January, so a similar effort is needed.
The same is true for TJ. Terone looked like the Terone Johnson we need in that January game as he was as dominant as he has ever been. He's been in a funk, but that is possibly due to the flu.
Purdue's perimeter defense needs to be there against a team that is heavily perimeter-oriented. Paul and Richardson combined for 44 points against Indiana and seven three-pointers, but both also got into the paint and to the line. That opened things up for Tyler Griffey, who is a very opportunistic scorer as evidenced by his game-winning basket. Griffey can shoot the three and does a good job of taking advantage of an opponent's mistakes. Because they are similar in size I wouldn't mind if Travis Carroll could seize a similar role for us.
Illinois is going to live and die by its guards. It has done that for several years now. That means Ronnie Johnson and Terone Johnson must step up their perimeter defense and prevent Richardson and Paul from killing us. If they can do that and D.J. finds his way out of his funk Purdue has a chance. The Boilers at least know they can beat Illinois.
Purdue goes back to .500 in the league if:
- D.J. Byrd returns as an effective player
- Terone Johnson has a repeat performance from the first Illinois game
- Hammons is dominant in the post and avoids foul trouble.
- RJ and TJ start defending the perimeter again
- Griffey doesn't get lost and scores points of opportunity
Illinois' hot streak continues if:
- Paul and Richardson score 40+
- Hammons sits with foul trouble
- Byrd continues to be worthless
- TJ can't get back on track
- Purdue continues to show zero defensive intensity
Purdue 65, Illinois 64 (I am feeling an upset because Purdue has to start playing better at some point, right? RIGHT!?!?!)