#5 Purdue (24-5, Big 10 13-5) vs. Illinois (20-10, Big 10 11-8)
March 4, 2023, 12:30 p.m. EST
Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Indiana
Illinois Starting Lineup
|Arecibo, Puerto Rico
|Brooklyn Park, MN
|Fort Wayne, IN
Illinois On Offense
So we’ll get more into how Illinois is the 16th biggest team in college basketball in terms of average height in the defensive portion of this post, but first: their length saves an otherwise mediocre offense with points scored from close range.
The Illini have an adjusted offensive efficiency of 111.9 (73rd in men’s hoops), but for how good they are at playing physically down low, they’re almost equally as bad with shots from three. Their two point field goal percentage is 55.2 which is the best in the conference and 19th nationally. Beyond the arc, they shoot 30.9% (332nd).
Given that Illinois is the last Big 10 team to not face the frontrunner for the National Player of the Year, scheming around Edey when you’re so used to getting what you want in (and around) the paint has to be a huge adjustment to make. If Purdue wants to use Edey for his regular minutes as opposed to limiting minutes in a game with no consequence in conference tourney seeding, Illinois is going to have to play a different game than they’re used to playing.
Again with their height...they’re the 64th-best offensive rebounding team in college ball, but they still haven’t had to rebound against a 7’4” Wooden Award lock. Don’t expect them to get offensive rebounds at their current rate of (nearly) one third of their missed shots.
I see them going to Dainja a ton down low. He’s much bigger than other Illini power forwards and centers his height or taller, but his footwork and soft touch on the ball around the rim are, I regret to inform any Boiler fan who hasn’t seen him play, quite tasty. His pivots can match up with Edey’s, without the same reach obviously. He may be the player that Illinois needs most to have an out-of-his-mind performance.
Illinois on Defense
With an adjusted defensive efficiency 95.7 (27th nationally), the Illini feature a slew of starters who, aside from the center position, are significantly taller than the typical college player at those positions.
They allow an effective field goal percentage of 46.3 (22nd), with the only real small weakness being that they don’t close out long-range shots as well they probably should for a team with their length; opponents hit 33.4% of their threes, putting Illinois at 141st in the country. Their length and physicality help them out significantly down low, however. They’re allowing an 11th-ranked 44.6% of two point field goals. They have the tools to stifle Edey down low with some physical bigs, I just hope the obvious fouls are actually called for once.
With their size, it’s no surprise they’re excellent rebounders and shot blockers. The team in orange permits offensive rebounds on 26.2% of possessions, 82nd in college basketball.
Defending Edey won’t result in a lot of blocks, but Illinois actually has the highest block percentage in the conference (and tenth nationally) ahead of Purdue. They may not be able to block Edey, but the Illini will block some shots.
Purdue’s selection of relatively open shots doesn’t worry me as much as the possibility of a guard mistiming a drive to the lane and getting swatted or forced into a weird position on the baseline followed by a desperate pass, so I see the Boilermakers sticking more to perimeter ball movement with forcing the defense to pick their poison in double teaming or allowing a center to test their luck alone.
The Illini do play physical defense but don’t create an astounding amount of turnovers. Their defensive turnover rate is a respectable 18.8% which is good enough for 130th in the country, but when you look at conference numbers, that drops down to 15.6%, just about right in the middle of the Big 10 road.
X-Factor - Points In The Paint
This is a really intriguing matchup for so many reasons. There’s the fact that one of the few teams in the conference that outranks Purdue in statistics both offensive and defensive, statistics that one would associate with having elite big men...then add the fact that they’re the last team in the conference that hasn’t faced this season’s version of Zach Edey...
Basically, Illinois stands a chance if their rotating bigs can keep up their success in both defending points in the paint and staying elite in scoring them on the other end. If their first meeting with 2023 Zach Edey proves difficult early on, it could be a long afternoon for the Illini.
Draft Kings Odds
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details
Purdue - 75
Illinois - 66
Purdue - 80
Illinois - 68
I think this one is particularly interesting given that Illinois is so good at all of the close-range things, both offensively and defensively, that Edey does. They just do it with multiple players, albeit shorter, who can still individually almost match up with him physically. Mind you that in their double overtime win against Michigan, the Illini let Hunter Dickinson go for 31 and 16 on 66.6% shooting. Even if they can get points in the paint weaving through Edey and Furst, I don’t see Illinois doing so well on the other end of the court.