When it comes to the Big Ten there are only two things this group of four seniors has not done:
1. Win the Big Ten Tournament
2. Win at Illinois
Since this is the first crew that really had a chance at winning in all 14 Big Ten arenas it seems odd that Illinois is last. The Illini have struggled quite a bit of late, and they current sit in last place in the league. The old specter of the unbalanced schedule has made this happen. Purdue did not play at Illinois last season. In 2015-16 we lost 84-70 to an Illinois team that finished 15-19 before reversing that in a big way by beating them 89-58 in the Big Ten Tournament. As freshmen they also lost 66-57 in Champaign, which was the last time we played the Illini twice in the regular season.
While Purdue does still have the smallest of chances to get a share of the Big Ten title, I know getting that final arena for these seniors is important. They spoke of it after winning at Michigan and Iowa, the other two arenas they had not win in before this season, back in January. This is the final jewel in a crown that has taken four years to earn.
Oh, and it would be a really good idea to avoid another bad loss on the road.
From: Champaign, Illinois
Date: Thursday, February 22, 2018
Tip Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Champaign, Illinois
Arena: State Farm Center (15,500
Television: Fox Sports 1
Online: Fox Sports Go
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
2016-17 Record: 19-15, 8-10 Big Ten
2017-18 Record: 13-16, 3-13 Big Ten
Opponent Blog: The Champaign Room
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 100-87
Last Illinois Win: 84-70 at Illinois on 1/10/2016
Last Purdue Win: 91-68 at Purdue on 1/17/2017
NCAA Tournament History: 30 appearances, last in 2013. 2005 NCAA Runner-up
Coach: Brad Underwood (13-16 in first season at Illinois, 122-43 overall)
Brad Underwood’s first season in Champaign started well, but has been rough since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Illinois entered that game against Wake Forest 6-0 and has been a dismal 7-16 since. Just about the only highlight in that time was a 70-64 win over Missouri in St. Louis. In Big Ten play they have only beaten Indiana, Rutgers, and Nebraska, with the Nebraska victory being the only thing remotely close to a win over an NCAA team.
Most recently they were down just three at Michigan State before falling by 20. That’s how a lot of Illinois games have gone this season. They have started strong only to fade in the second half. They do have a pair of one-point losses to Maryland and at Nebraska, however.
Illinois can score some points. They ranked 7th in the league at 75.6 per game. Defensively they are only ahead of Minnesota and Iowa though. They are the worst defensive team according to overall field goal percentage, but they do defend the three pretty well. Opponents are only hitting 33% from long range. Given Purdue’s recent struggles from out there we can expect them to continue.
Trent Frazier and Leron Black give Illinois a very good pair to build around for next season. Frazier is one of the best freshmen in the league at 12.3 points and 2.9 assists. Black is a solid wing that is averaging 15.3 points per game and he is shooting 53.1% from three (17 of 32).
After that, the Illini struggle with consistency. Kipper Nichols and Michael Finke are close to averaging 10 points per game, but Finke has been out the last four games. Nichols had 17 against Michigan State in Champaign but was held scoreless a few weeks later against Wisconsin. Aaron Jordan also averages 7.9 points per game and is shooting 45.5% from three.
This is another game where Isaac Haas should be able to have his way in the middle, but Purdue cannot have its offense go stagnant as a result. Finke is 6’10”, but we need to be warned that he can draw Haas from the basket. Finke has attempted 87 three-pointers. He is only shooting 30% from out there, but this team is a bit like a poor man’s Michigan in that everyone can shoot the three at least a little.
The difference is that Michigan can actually shoot a bit from three. Illinois is shooting 32%, only better than Rutgers in the league. The only teams to attempt more threes in the conference than Illinois are Purdue, Michigan, and Northwestern.
Purdue should be able to win this one pretty easily, but I thought the same about last Thursday’s game at Wisconsin. In that game Purdue looked disinterested and still struggled to shoot. The effort was better against Penn State on Sunday, but the shooting continues to struggle. We need a game where the shooting breaks out of its slump, but this may not be it. They are a decent defensive team from long range. As long as we don’t fall into the trap of throwing it to Haas and standing around we should be fine. Purdue 81, Illinois 71