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Game Preview: Illinois vs Purdue

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After a heartbreaking loss to Indiana, the Illini now turn their attention to Purdue for what has become a must-win game.

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois ESPN Logo

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
8:00 pm CT

Illinois (12-7, 2-4) vs Purdue (11-7, 3-2)

Location: State Farm Center | Champaign, IL
Television/Stream: BTN | BTN2Go
Announcers: Eric Collins | Shon Morris
Opposing SB Nation SiteHammer and Rails

RPI Ranking: Illinois: 60 | Purdue: 93
KenPom Ranking: Illinois: 70 | Purdue: 72
Odds: Illinois (-4.5) | Over/Under: N/A

After dropping their first home contest of the season, Kendrick Nunn and the Illinois Fighting Illini (12-7, 2-4) are preparing for their matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers. Purdue leads the all-time series between the two schools 97-85; this includes a 66-58 victory in Champaign in last year's only meeting.

Purdue (11-7, 3-2) boasts perhaps the most intimidating frontcourt in the Big Ten thanks to centers A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. The duo combines for nearly 22.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game. Sophomore shooting guard Kendall Stephens has also been nice surprise for the Boilermakers. Stephens was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team during the 2013-14 season and he's now the team's leading scorer at 11.6 points per game.

Projected Starters:

Illinois Fighting Illini:

  1. Jaylon Tate | SO
  2. Kendrick Nunn | SO
  3. Aaron Cosby | JR
  4. Malcolm Hill | SO
  5. Nnanna Egwu | SR

Purdue Boilermakers:

  1. Jon Octeus | SR
  2. Kendall Stephens | SO
  3. Rapheal Davis | JR
  4. Vince Edwards | FR
  5. A.J. Hammons | JR

Quick Hits

Illinois:

  • B1G Standings: T-10th
  • Last Five Games (2-3): No. 20 Ohio State (L 61-77), No. 11 Maryland (W 64-57), Nebraska (L 43-53), Northwestern (W 72-67), Indiana (L 74-80)
  • Home Record: 8-1
  • Points Per Game: 74.1 (47th)
  • Points Allowed Per Game: 64.1 (135th)
  • Leading ScorerRayvonte Rice - 17.0PPGMalcolm Hill - 13.6PPG
  • Leading RebounderRayvonte Rice - 6.9RPG | Malcolm Hill - 5.5RPG

Purdue:

  • B1G Standings: T-6th
  • Last Five Games (3-2): Minnesota (W 72-68), Michigan (W 64-51), No. 4 Wisconsin (L 55-62), No. 11 Maryland (L 60-69), Penn State ( W 84-77 OT)
  • Away Record: 1-2
  • Points Per Game: 73.7 (52nd)
  • Points Allowed Per Game: 65.3 (158th)
  • Leading Scorer: Kendall Stephens - 11.6PPG
  • Leading Rebounder: A.J. Hammons - 6.2RPG

Prediction:

The key for Illinois in this game is frontcourt production. If Egwu, Black, and Morgan play well this game will result in a victory--it's as simple as that. The problem is that A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas pose a nightmare down low. Egwu should be able to hold his own on defense, but if he gets in foul trouble it's game over; I don't believe Morgan will be able to stop either of the duo. You can bet the Boilermakers will try to go inside early and often in an attempt to draw some quick fouls.

Illinois has had to overcome so, so much this season. Darius Paul, Tracy Abrams, Rayvonte Rice, the transfers can't make a shot, and Malcolm Hill looks like he's playing on one leg. The good news is that Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate seem to be turning a corner in their developments. It's terrifying to think where the team would be at without them. Wednesday will be a must-win game, but I'm expecting the team's lack of an interior presence to be exposed. I got Purdue in yet another heartbreaker:

Purdue 72, Illinois 71

*****

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