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Opening Odds and Game Preview: #3 Purdue vs. #13 Illinois

#3 Purdue will host #13 Illinois as two of the hottest Big Ten teams will play for the top spot in the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

#3 Purdue vs. #13 Illinois

It doesn’t get any better than this, folks. If you’re a college basketball fan, this has everything. Dominating bigs, a top-5 guard, a rematch where the home team already took a game on the road against a top-25 team, and a Mackey Arena that will be ready for eruption.

Two teams that are among the country’s elite, with a disappointing March hanging in their rear view mirror, and a chance to step into this season’s spotlight.

Purdue comes into Tuesday night’s game with five straight wins. Illinois has won their last four.

Yet when you hear the two team’s discussion abroad, it seems like Illinois is the team on the rise while Purdue’s ability to flirt with a quick descent after a big lead has national college basketball talking heads up in arms. Not to mention that pesky KenPom defensive rating. Yes, Purdue has a defense ranked outside the top 100. They also have the best offense in the country, one that helped Purdue go to Assembly Hall and beat Illinois in double overtime. (Did Purdue dominate and squander another late game lead? It’s arguable, yes, but I contend that to lead big at all is better than to never lead at all.)

Illinois on the other hand is getting healthy. Andrew Curbelo came back against Purdue in that game after dealing with months of concussion complications to score 20 points and help lead Illinois to an almost comeback. He hasn’t been nearly as good since. Can Curbelo find the magic again in Mackey?

Kofi Cockburn also had a concussion to worry about and missed a couple games. It hasn’t slowed down Illinois though who has proven capable of dominating with and without their big man, a big man who really dominated last week, including a 37 point thrashing to Wisconsin. Maybe the most dominant game of the season for any big.

But Cockburn didn’t have nearly that success in this year’s first match up with Purdue. In fact, the big man looked outmatched against the taller and more agile Zach Edey. Without a strength or height advantage, the giant had just 10 points on 9 shots, and fouled out in 22 minutes of action while Edey scored 20 and nearly doubled Cockburn’s rebound numbers with 8.

It’s a match up of big man, arguably the three best big men in the country not playing at Gonzaga. Trevion Williams struggled against Illinois, but is coming off his best game in a month. The Big Ten still runs through the senior center.

But Purdue and Illinois’s first game showed that as similar as they are inside, their dichotomy on the perimeter makes for a fascinating match up.

Illinois’s small guards had no answer to the riddle of Jaden Ivey. Ivey was too fast, too big, too good getting into the paint. He drew Cockburn’s fifth foul with a drive to the hoop, and Ivey lived at the line, making 13 of 15 free throw attempts. The same amount Illinois shot as a team. The Boilers as a whole shot 32 free throws.

While Illinois relied on the veracity of their small guards skill and shooting, launching an absurd 33 three pointers. Alfonso Plummer knocked down half of his 12 attempts, a lot of them coming late in the second half to erase a lead Purdue couldn’t hold onto again.

Purdue’s size at guard was a problem throughout the game. Sasha Stefanovic is a tough guard off ball while Illinois’s tiny guards prefer to get into their defenders dribble. He had his most prolific game of the season, scoring 22 points.

Now the two teams will get to try again, this time with Purdue having the advantage of a raucous crowd behind them. This isn’t just a match-up of the night, but a contender for best games of the year. Two Big Ten teams with National Title aspirations. Illinois will try to pick up one of the best games of the year, Purdue will try to cement their hold on a #1 seed and the Big Ten Conference.

It doesn’t get better than this.

Basketball GameDay Vitals

St. Peter's Peacocks Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC
St. Peter's Peacocks Record: 21-11, 14-6 MAAC
From: Jersey City, NJ
Game Location: Philadelphia, PA
Venue: Wells Fargo Center (19,500)
Odds: Purdue by 12.5
Date & Time: Friday, March 25, 2022, 7:09pm ET
Streaming Radio TuneIn
Live Stats: Purdue Sports
KenPom 101
NET 124
Blog Representation: None
2020-21 Record 14-11, 10-8
Postseason Result: None
NCAA Tournament History: 4th appearance. This is the first season they have won a game. 2017 CIT Champions
Series With Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0
Last Purdue win: 65-43 in Chicago, IL on 3/18/2011 (NCAA Tournament First Round)
Last St. Peter's win: None
Coach: Shaheen holloway (63-55 in 4th year at St. Peter's)