Thursday night’s win at home over Minnesota was huge for Purdue. The Boilers did not play a perfect game. In fact, for long stretches they were downright dreadful on offense. They did enough to get it done, however. They converted scramble plays in the closing seconds of regulation and the first overtime. Sasha Stefanovic hit some clutch shots and Trevion Williams, who has struggled at the free throw line for much of his career, hit some huge free throws.
It was a very big one, one that hopefully builds some confidence going forward. In this year’s Big Ten there are no easy ones home or away, but so far Purdue has defended its home court with a pair of wins in league play. Now it is time to get a road game as Purdue has three of its next four away from Mackey Arena
From: Champaign, Illinois
Game Location: State Farm Center (15,500)
Date: January 5, 2020
Time: 8pm ET
Radio: Boilermaker Sports Network
Odds: Illinois by 1
2018-19 Record: 12-21, 7-13 Big Ten
2019-20 Record: 9-5, 1-2 Big Ten
Record vs. Purdue: Purdue leads 102-87
Last Purdue win: 73-56 at Purdue on 2/27/2019
Last Illinois win: 84-70 at Illinois on 1/10/2016
Blog Representation: The Champaign Room
NCAA Tournament History: 30 appearances, last in 2013. 2005 NCAA Runner-up
Coach: Brad Underwood (35-44 in third season at Illinois, 144-71 overall)
One of the biggest laments I have had for Purdue this season is consistency. With consistent offense Purdue very well could be undefeated, as long cold stretches were a big reason it lost to Texas, Marquette, Florida State, Butler, and Nebraska. Under Brad Underwood the Fighting Illini have had even worse consistency issues. After winning 89 games in three years at Stephen F. Austin, then going 20-13 at Oklahoma State Brad Underwood has struggled to replicate those results in Champaign. Illinois is getting talent. They can play excellent basketball and pull off a top 5 upset as evidenced last year when they beat Michigan State 79-74. They can also struggle and drop games they should win.
This year has been similar. In the early Big Ten games they got a very good 71-62 home win over Michigan. They also came very close to a nice road win at Maryland, losing by a point after blowing a big lead. They can lay a stinker, too. Their season opener was a too-close-for-comfort overtime win over Nicholls State. Overall, they are very similar to Purdue. They are 1-3 in Quad 1 games with Michigan being their best win. Their worst loss really is not bad, as it was by 3 to Miami (FL) in the ACC/Big Ten challenge.
Illinois has been led by a pair of very good young players so far. Guard Ayo Dosunmu is a former 5-star recruit and he leads the team at 15.8 points per game. Freshman Kofi Cockburn is playing like a Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate at 15.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. They form a duo that does well at attacking the basket. The Illini are not a good three-point shooting team (less than 30% overall). They make up for it by shooting very well inside the arc (second in the Big Ten in overall FG%).
Andres Feliz, Trent Frazier, Alan Griffin, and Giorgi Bezhanishvili give them excellent balance as 3-6 players, all averaging between 8.5 and 11.5 points per game. Illinois is a team that is going to attack the basket relentless and rebound well. They lead the conference in rebounding margin at +12.5 per game. Given Purdue’s struggles at giving up offensive rebounds, that is a concern.
One of the biggest advantages that Purdue has is that Illinois does not take care of the basketball. They are 13th in the league in turnover margin and dead last in assist-to-turnover ratios. In fact, they have turned the ball over more than they have assists. They make up for it with a strong offensive rebounding game. They are second in the league in offensive rebounds, while Purdue is the worst defensive rebounding team in the conference.
This will not be an easy game. Purdue is going to need to be better on the defensive glass and limit their second chance points. The Boilers will also need to avoid their own offensive lulls as much as possible. This is yet another big game. It is a chance to get a quality road win and build on the confidence gained Thursday night against Minnesota. If Purdue can get a win in Champaign it will gain some early separation in the Big Ten race.