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Purdue: The choice is yours

Love the optimism and I will support the Boilers whether the season ends up incredibly special or extremely disappointing. At this point in the season, however, I think we just need to take it one game at a time and focus on our next opponent. We're not in a position to worry about our tournament seeding right now. We've got to play better and it starts at Illinois! - Hammer & Rails reader Boilerg

He's absolutely right. There is too much basketball to be played to worry about seedings and such. Too many things can happen. Last season Michigan State lost home games against Penn State and Northwestern. Those teams played in the NIT, not the NCAA's like the three teams we have recently lost to likely will. Michigan State still won the conference by four games and played for the national title.

This is suddenly the biggest game of the season. Right now, we have people fleeing this team's bandwagon like it is on fire. People have already given up on the possibility of a Big Ten championship and a number one seed because of three straight losses. A fourth straight loss would make matters much worse.

Honestly, it does not matter what we as fans do. I refuse to give up on this team because they have showed me they are more than capable of going out and winning every single game remaining on the schedule. Will it happen? Not likely, but you have to admit it is at least possible. The fact that it is possible means we should not give up.

The proclamations that we will now be lucky to earn a 6 seed or worse, that we won't make the tournament, are ridiculous. Bear in mind that the committee will look at this team's whole body of work. As I said in yesterday's non-conference update: We have a boatload of quality wins outside of the conference offering us help in the overall profile. We also have plenty of chances to get some more. While a #1 seed is possible, I agree it is now unlikely unless we get scorching hot again and get some help from around the country. A two or three seed, however, is very possible. With that, a trip to the Final Four is still very possible as well.

It is not for us to decide, however. It is up to the team in that locker room to decide, just as they made the conscious decision they did not want to rebound against Northwestern. Their next choice is tomorrow night at Illinois.

2009-10 Record: 12-6, 4-1 Big Ten

2008-09 Record: lost 76-72 to Western Kentucky in NCAA Tournament First Round

Blog Representation: Hail to the Orange

Common non-conference opponents: Defeated SIU-Edwardsville 96-69

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 89-84

Last Purdue win: 66-56 on 3/14/09 at Conseco Fieldhouse (Big Ten Tournament)

Last Illinois win: 66-48 on 2/8/09 at Illinois

In the last two seasons the team winning both regular season games has lost the Big Ten Tournament game.

This rivalry has all kinds of subplots. Bruce Weber, our former assistant, had nothing but respect for Gene Keady. Now he is going against his former assistant and understudy at Southern Illinois in Matt Painter. Because of the close proximity of the schools the teams often recruit the same types of players. Both teams also lately have a mutual hatred of Indiana, so there is a lot rising on this game. This year we simply need this game more. Illinois has gotten off to a hot start in conference play, but they might currently be a bubble team. We don't want to give them a resume win like we just gave Northwestern.

Illinois has a steady balance of good wins in non-conference play, but the number of losses is more important than who they lost to. The Illini lost games to Utah, Bradley, Georgia, Missouri, and Gonzaga outside of the conference. They were only able to balance that with a very good road win at Clemson and a nice home win against Vanderbilt. Bradley is a borderline bad loss, while the Georgia (currently 8-8) game at least was a true road contest.

In terms of talent we will see a team very close to our own. Mike Tisdale (12.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is a tall, lanky center with range like our own JaJuan Johnson. One of Tisdale's best games this year came in the overtime win over Northwestern, as he stayed out of foul trouble and they were able to utilize him down low. He also got to the free throw line regularly, where he shoots almost 85%. Illinois knows we are prone to giving up big games to big men, especially if JJ is in foul trouble. You can bet they will feed the ball to Tisdale repeatedly and let him get to the line.

Demetri McCamey (14.8 ppg, 5.8 apg) is one of the top scoring guards in the conference. He is also an able playmaker averaging nearly six assists per game. You may remember him from the 2008 Big Ten Tournament game where he went ballistic from long range and killed us with 3-pointers. He is still shooting 36.4% from long range, but D.J. Richardson (10.4 ppg) is the more dangerous threat from outside. He is shooting 43% from long range in his first year in Champaign, giving the Illini another weapon.

Mike Davis, a 6'9" junior forward will likely draw the matchup with our own Robbie Hummel. He is more of a traditional power forward in that he averages 11.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game while rarely venturing away from the basket. He has yet to attempt a 3-pointer this season if that gives you and idea of his range. Brandon Paul (9.2 ppg) is another promising freshman guard that is a decent 3-point shooter. Basically, the Illini can play the inside-out game all day long with this productive five.

Weber likes to mix up his lineups though. Dominique Keller and Bill Cole, both upperclassmen forwards, have played in every game and can provide quality support off the bench. Junior Jeff Jordan (son of Michael) is a nice sub that is pretty much a non-factor offensively, but he provides 18 minutes per night of intense defense. He also contributes almost three assists per night.

Illinois gets the vast majority of its scoring from Richardson, Tisdale, Davis, McCamey, and Paul. They are used to getting to the foul line and they are productive once they get there by hitting almost 75%. This is also a strong rebounding team at 38 per night. When I look at the numbers I really wonder why they have six losses.

The answer is that their bench is about as productive as ours has been lately. That is why the benches will be a big key in this one. If we can get some contributions by anyone other than Robbie and E'Twaun our fortunes will change in a hurry. The potential is there too, as the Illini are not a particularly strong defensive team. It is not unusual for them to give up 70 points, so there should be room to score if we can get our offense flowing again.

Honestly, I think this game is more about our own attitude than anything. I haven't seen anything in the last three games that was not correctable on our end. Even when Evan Turner took over the Ohio State game it would have been much different if our offense had not been stagnant and if E'Twaun had not missed three huge free throws. People are talking about having a sense of desperation. Well, now is the time. I will be more concerned by a fourth straight flat effort than if we went out and just got beat by a better team.

That said, Illinois is a streaky team. McCamey has the ability to get hot and go for 30 like Hummel did against Ohio State. Tisdale can roam wild in the paint if JJ is in foul trouble. Davis gives them a second option download that can negate Robbie's perimeter defense. Simply put, this spells bad matchup for us from the beginning. It was proven that way in both regular season losses last year. Illinois doesn't have to be more talented, but if they can exploit their matchup advantages we will be in trouble.

Keys to the Game for Purdue

  • Change your attitude
  • Decide you want to actually work and grab the ball on rebounds as opposed to bat it around.
  • Keep an eye on McCamey outside.
  • Don't let Tisdale get to the line.
  • Find a way to prevent Tisdale and Davis from owning the paint.
  • Use Hummel and Johnson to draw Tisdale and Davis away from the basket defensively.
  • Get something offensively from everyone other than Robbie & E'Twaun

Prediction: Purdue 71, Illinois 67 (Yes, I am not giving up and think we grit one out.)