*Note: This is the second half of what is normally one preview. You can find the first half of the preview (stats and lineups) here.
Do you like it when teams cut the floor in half vertically, and let their guards play one-on-one on the strong side while 4 shooters wait for an opportunity to either shoot or cut to a wide open rim?
If so you’re going to love Illinois.
They’re going to play 5 out, keep the lane clear, and then either cut guys into the paint or allow one of their jumbo guards to back down a smaller defender off the dribble. They have a few guys capable of converting straight line drives to the hole, but more often than that, it’s Domask, Rodgers, or Goode sticking their but into a defender and walking him into the lane.
They dominated Northwestern by isolating their defenders and punishing size mismatches. At one point in the game, it seemed like every possession was a clear-out for Domask against whichever undersized guard was trying to check the 6’6”, 215-pound senior. Remember how Penn State liked to use Jalen Pickett? That’s how Illinois uses Marcus Domask. With Shannon out, the Southern Illinois transfer becomes the main hub of the offense. When he’s rolling, like he was against the Wildcats, Illinois is a tough team to defend. Double him, and the abandoned guy cuts to the rim, and Domask highlights his passing ability for an easy 2.
That’s what I saw the majority of the time in their game against Northwestern. The Wildcats play reasonable team defense, but it doesn’t matter because Illinois wants to isolate and keep the help on the opposite side of the floor. Their center, Coleman Hawkins, shoots a respectable 35% from 3. Against Northwestern, he went 2-5 from deep, tied for the team lead in attempts with Justin Harmon. If Zach cheats to help the guards, Coleman Hawkins is going to get open 3’s, and he usually hits them at a decent clip.
Deciding when to help and when to let a defender play one-on-one is going to be crucial tonight. Help too early, or too often, and Illinois will tear you apart with cuts to the rim. Don’t help, and Domask dictates the game from the post. Purdue will need to double at exactly the right moment to take the ball out of Domask’s hands without giving up an easy assist.
Outside of Domask, transfer guard Justin Harmon has stepped up the most in Shannon’s absence. In the 3 games prior to Shannon getting suspended, he scored a combined 6 points. In the two games without Shannon, he’s put up 18 (vs. FDU) and 20 (vs. Northwestern) and has hit an absurd 8-12 from 3 (another reason to be careful when double-teaming a post-up guard). He’s hitting 46% from deep on the season. I wouldn’t leave him alone to double if I were Matt Painter.
Luke Goode is their other shooter, and at 6’7”, he can get a shot up from the perimeter at any time. He’s hitting 40% on the season and is another example of why doubling the iso is tough against Illinois. Not only can Goode drain it from 3, at 6’7”, he’s comfortable working an iso in the mid-paint against a smaller defender. This is another size mismatch the Boilermakers will have to contend with.
The days of the run and jump press employed by Brad Underwood at the beginning of his Illinois career are dead and buried. In fact, I think he owes Matt Painter an acknowledgment because his defense and Purdue’s look awfully similar.
They keep teams in front of them, use their size to borrow shooters and protect the paint at all costs. They are only allowing their opponent to shoot 40% from 2, good for second in the nation. If you drive into the paint against Illinois, you’re going to be met by at least 1, if not 2, defenders. Even when you think you have a clean drive, their long defenders do an excellent job of getting back into the play and bothering attempts at the rim.
As Purdue fans know, this comes with a tradeoff. Illinois doesn’t give up easy buckets, but subsequently, they don’t force many turnovers. Their 13.8% turnover percentage is 344th in the nation. They will play conservatively, stay in front, and make you take contested shots.
One stat to watch tonight is fouls. Illinois doesn’t commit many. Their Free Throw Attempted / Field Goal attempted rate of 22.9 is 12th in the nation. At the same time, they’ve never faced a rampaging giant capable of rolling up Coleman Hawkins in a nice slice of prosciutto and enjoying him as a snack. Purdue is good at drawing fouls and Illinois is good at not committing fouls. Something is going to give tonight, and if it’s Illinois, be prepared for the “Purdue gets all the fouls” narrative during and after the game.
Matchup to Watch
Purdue on Offense
Zach Edey vs Coleman Hawkins
How Illinois decides to play Edey will dictate the rest of the game. I think they’re going to send an auto double and try to get the ball out of his hands and protect the paint and protect Hawkins from foul trouble. The tough part about the Illinois double team is they’re almost always sending someone 6’5” or taller as the second guy. That probably bothers other teams more than it will Purdue. Zach does an excellent job of keeping the ball high, and he’s tall enough to see over a double and make a pass.
Of course, Illinois would rather Edey beat Purdue by passing than scoring, but I assume he’ll do some of both tonight.
Hawkins is a key cog in their offense. If Zach can get him in foul trouble, Dain Dainja, while a thick 6’7”, 270, is capable of holding his ground in the paint, but doesn’t provide the floor spacing Illinois needs to keep Zach from cheating off and bothering their iso game.
Purdue on Defense
Fletcher Loyer vs Marcus Domask
Illinois is going to run ball screen action up top until Domask gets Loyer. Then they’re going to clear out a side and let Marcus go to work. I assume they’re going to call Fletcher’s number more often than not, and he’s going to have to fight to keep Domask away from his spot at the mid-post.
If Fletcher can’t hold up, and Purdue has to bring the double, the Boilermakers are going to have to hope Illinois can’t hit outside shots because their spacing almost guarantees an open shooter on the weak side of the floor.
Purdue - 82
Illinois - 74
Purdue - 87
Illinois - 78
I spend so much time talking about what the opponent does well that I sometimes forget that Purdue is the best team in the country. This is a dangerous Illinois team. This is a deadly Purdue team.
Edey gets his; Purdue’s shooters hit open shots. The defense forces enough turnovers, and Purdue’s depth allows them to put constant pressure on the short-handed Illini. This feels like one of those games that goes back and forth in the first half, with both teams hitting runs before Purdue strangles them in the second half with the best 1-2 combination (Smith/Edey) in the nation on offense and a defense that makes you hit contested shots.