If you want to win a Big Ten Championship there is one important rule to follow: Don’t lose at home. Last season, Michigan State was 8-1 at the Breslin Center in winning the Big Ten. In 2017, Purdue was 8-1 at Mackey Arena. In 2016, Indiana was 9-0 at Assembly Hall. Now that we have the 20-game Big Ten schedule defending home court is even more important. If you can stay unbeaten at home you’re already more than halfway to a league title. It allows for a margin of error and pitfalls on the road.
With four games to go our Boilers are in the thick of the conference title race thanks to a spotless home record. Only Maryland can claim the same among the other 13 teams, and even they dropped a pair of non-conference games at the Xfinity Center. They haven’t quite been as good on the road, but with some help they can still be a factor in the race. Purdue has made Mackey an absolute fortress the last four seasons, going 62-4. All four losses were close calls, too:
· Iowa making an incredible second half comeback on Rick Mount Day.
· A 3-point loss to defending National champion Villanova.
· An overtime loss to Minnesota where Nate Mason went crazy.
· A failed box out against Ohio State.
In these four years Purdue has won a league title, missed a second by the above-mentioned rebound, and is contention for another. The mantra is simple: Don’t lose at home.
That is what Illinois (and Ohio State on Saturday) must overcome. This basketball team has done an exceptional job in defending its home court and our fans have made Mackey a Dungeon of Noise where teams fear to tread. If that continues this week, Purdue will be in excellent shape for a 24th league title.
From: Champaign, Illinois
Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Tip Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
Arena: Mackey Arena (14,804)
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
2017-18 Record: 13-18, 4-14 Big Ten
2018-19 Record: 10-17, 6-10 Big Ten
Opponent Blog: The Champaign Room
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 101-87
Last Illinois Win: 84-70 at Illinois on 1/10/2016
Last Purdue Win: 93-86 at Illinois on 2/22/2018
NCAA Tournament History: 30 appearances, last in 2013. 2005 NCAA Runner-up
Coach: Brad Underwood (24-35 in second season at Illinois, 133-62 overall)
We cannot discount the Illini on record alone. They had a horrific start to the season, going 2-7 in the first nine games and only beating Evansville and Mississippi Valley State. It was a tough slate, however, and they were competitive. They lost by six to current No. 1 Gonzaga in Maui and lost road games at Notre Dame by 2 (then healthy) and Nebraska by 15. They played six power conference teams in the non-conference and lost all six games. The low point was a 73-71 overtime home loss to Florida Atlantic.
On January 23rd the Illini were 5-14 and just 1-7 in Big Ten play. They then ripped off five wins in six games including wins over Maryland and Michigan State. They have cooled a bit since, losing at Wisconsin by 6 and at home to Penn State by 7, but that stretch showed the potential of this young team.
A big part of their imporved play has been 5-star recruit Ayo Dosunmu. The 6’5” guard from Chicago averages 14.3 points and 3.2 assists per game and was great against Michigan State with 24. Since the first of the year he has had 20 or more points in six games and has been a dynamic scorer. Sophomore guard Trent Frazier averages the same in points, but has been cooler during this stretch than Dosunmu. Frazier leads the team in three-point attempts with 173 and is shooting 40% from long range.
Giving the Illini a solid post presence is freshman Giorgi Bezhanishvili. He averages 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. With Dosunmu and Frazier Illinois has a very nice young trio to build around. When all three get going they are a dangerous team that cannot be overlooked even in Mackey. Bezhanishvili had 35 in a 99-94 home win over Rutgers by going 14 of 18 from the floor.
Aaron Jordan, Andres Feliz, and Kipper Nichols are solid in supporting roles with Jordan shooting a team best 41.2% from three. Bezhanishvili is their only regular with significant size, however, so he may have a hard time against Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms. If Williams and Haarms can get him into foul trouble Purdue should have a significant advantage inside.
Illinois is one of the better scoring teams in the conference. They sit in fourth with 73.5 points per game. They are the worst defensive team in the league, however, giving up 74.1 points per game. We can’t forget that Carsen Edwards had a career high 40 points against them last year, either. If there is a game where Carsen is going to break out of his funk, this is it. The Illini have the worst defense and the worst rebounding margin in the conference and they are going against the No. 2 offense and No. 3 rebounding team in the conference at home.
I am pretty glad this game is at home. If we were playing in Champaign we would definitely have some cause for concern, especially after last week’s ugly game at Indiana. I feel better playing them at home, but they cannot be overlooked. Illinois is playing with a lot more confidence now and they know they can play with Purdue thanks to their wins over Michigan State and Maryland. That close game with Gonzaga also stands out. This is a young team to watch. They aren’t going to the postseason this year barring a Big Ten Tournament run, but they are capable of wrecking someone along the way.
Let’s just hope we’re dialed in and not the team they wreck.