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The Three Pointer: Purdue vs. Illinois

The Boilers will play what will likely be the biggest matchup in the B1G as they take on the 9th ranked Fighting Illini

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

The #1 ranked Purdue Boilermakers will take on the #9 ranked Illinois Fighting Illini at Mackey Arena in what is likely the biggest game of the B1G conference season. The two teams that were seen as most likely with the best opportunities for a run at a league title will meet for the only time this season but it will occur without one of the premier players in the entire country. Terrance Shannon Jr., who was playing at a first team All American level was suspended indefinitely by Illini Head Coach Brad Underwood following charges of rap stemming from an incident back in September in Kansas.

In their first game without Shannon Jr., the Illini looked to be riding off emotions to go with the high level of talent they still enjoy to a drubbing of Northwestern 96-66. That is most amount of points scored for the Illini against the Wildcats since 1995 when they scored 99 points and the most points in a conference game since they scored 99 in an overtime win against Rutgers in 2019. Needless to say, Illinois still has the players and the ability to beat Purdue at home if the Boilers don’t come ready to play.

Let’s get into ‘The Three Pointer!’

1 | Take the Emotion Away from Illinois

Illinois is clearly impacted by the news of Terrance Shannon Jr’s suspension but didn’t show any worse of the wear without him on the floor in their game against Northwestern. Will that team continue that trend or will the rebound a bit down to Earth following that game against what amounts to a shell of the Northwestern team that played Purdue a few weeks ago? The key will be how Purdue starts the first five minutes of each half.

According to JG Trends, Purdue is one of the best teams in the country as their offensive output in the first four minutes of each half, scoring a ‘lights out’ rating of around 1.32 points per possession. That ranks Purdue as the second best team in that regard but the Illini come in as only allowing .80 points per possession in that same time frame while also scoring 1.20 points per possession. If Purdue maintains that offensive output but can hold the Illini to around 1.05 points per possession or less, Purdue would make it incredibly difficult on the road for the Illini.

2 | Limit the Turnovers, Especially the Bad Ones

Coach Matt Painter has stressed this all season but was notably vocal about it following the Eastern Kentucky game. Purdue can live with some turnovers, especially from the two guys who have the ball in their hands the most in Braden Smith and Zach Edey. They can’t have the bad turnovers that lead to runouts and huge shifts in momentum but the Boilers also can’t have any other player having multiple turnovers as well.

Purdue can live with 12 turnovers a game in that regard but what they can’t live with is inching up to that 15 or more in a game. A bad turnover in a college game is bound to happen but Purdue just can’t afford to have stretches where they lose their minds and throw the ball away for each buckets. Purdue has to make the Illini beat them in the half court and limit the transition and fast break opportunities. If they do that, Purdue wins and could win convincingly. However, if the Boilers have guys like Loyer, Gillis, or Jones turn the ball over multiple times a piece alongside what you can live with from Smith and Edey, that could limit Purdue’s chances on the offense end.

Purdue needs to maximize their offensive chances and limit their opponents. They can do that at 12 turnovers a game but ideally they would like to be at 10. Luckily, Illinois is not a great team at forcing turnovers as the Illini rank 344th in defensive turnover percentage at 13.8% and rank 354th in steal percentage at 5.4%. Both of those marks are well below Purdue’s as well with Purdue coming in at 15.6% (290th) and 8.6% (246th), respectively.

3 | Don’t Let Marcus Domask Isolate Purdue Defenders That Aren’t Lance Jones, Ethan Morton, or Myles Colvin

Illinois looked to their Southern Illinois transfer in Marcus Domask to generate offense for them after Terrance Shannon Jr. was suspended. The transfer guard responded with a 32 point, 6 assist, 5 rebound game to lead the Illini to their big victory over Northwestern. In most of those situations, Illinois seemingly went toward more Penn State/Micah Shrewsberry offensive concepts and allowed him to isolate a defender to get a favorable matchup and then let him work to get a shot or create for someone else. That could spell trouble for the Boilers as Fletcher Loyer has had that happen multiple times to him throughout the season.

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

Purdue will want to have Lance Jones and Ethan Morton be the primary defenders against Domask but at some point Loyer and Smith are going to have to defend Domask. He is really adept at getting into the mid range and using runners, floaters, and jump shots against smaller defenders to score. Against Northwestern, he just dominated in that aspect in the first half where he went for 23 points.

The focus is going to likely be on Coleman Hawkins because of what the tall and athletic center can do to isolate Edey on the perimeter and drag him away from protecting the paint. It should be equally as concerning about what Domask could do to Purdue’s smaller guards if he is allowed to simply isolate them and get to his spots.

And 1 | Get Coleman Hawkins in Foul Trouble

Coleman Hawkins is the type of big that Zach Edey is going to have to prove he can defend. Hawkins, at 6’10, is able to not only step out and hit shots from the three point line at a good average (35.4% 3pt), but he has the ability to handle the ball out there as well and putting Edey on an island away from the basket is something the Boiler big man hasn’t had to prove he can do throughout an entire game.

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

The best way to defend that is likely to get Edey the ball as much as possible inside against Hawkins to force him into defended Zach, preferably in one on one situations. Illinois is likely going to double to give him help but Zach has shown a really great ability to pass out of those double teams, even when he is already into a post move. Forcing Hawkins to defend Edey in a more physical manner than he will have needed all season could force the Illini big man into tired legs late in the game. Hawkins averages only 28.3 minutes per game but played 35 minutes against Northwestern.

Players to Watch:
Marcus Domask | G/F | 6’6 215lb | Senior | 13.2 pts, 4.6 reb, 3.1 ast, 20.7% 3pt

The transfer from Southern Illinois has made an immediate impact for the Fighting Illini and he’ll likely be the player that takes a bigger chunk of responsibility following Terrance Shannon Jr’s suspension. The 6’6 wing is an adept scorer at all three levels and recently tallied a 32 point, 5 rebound, 6 assist game against Northwestern. He will lean heavily on his post ups and getting into the midrange against smaller guards like Smith and Loyer.

Coleman Hawkins | F/C | 6’10 200lb | Senior | 10.3pts, 5.5 reb, 2.5 ast, 1.3 stl, 35.4% 3pt

Coleman Hawkins has followed up a bit of a major breakthrough as a junior with a solid start to his senior season. A bit undersized overall as a big, he is starting to find his way as a stretch 5 in Illinois’ offense. At 6’10 and 200 pounds, he is going to struggle against Purdue’s Edey and Trey Kaufman-Renn but he does have some savviness to his interior defense and can block some shots.

Prediction

This is one of the premier games of the entire college basketball season up to this point and even without the Illini’s best player it should remain just that. I’m not sure Illinois is a top 10 team without Terrance Shannon Jr. but they are definitely a top 25 team and have the talent and experience to beat Purdue at Mackey Arena. This Purdue team, though, doesn’t appear to be taking any games lightly and have a difference about them in their approach.

At the end of the day, Zach Edey is going to control the interior at both ends of the court and Illinois just isn’t deep enough to handle Purdue’s depth overall. Like the games against Tennessee, Marquette, Arizona, and Alabama, Purdue’s ability to just continue playing at an incredibly high efficiency on both ends forces opponents to play uncomfortably. I think that combined with playing at Mackey Arena means the good guys pull out a big time win.

Purdue: 77
Illinois: 71