What Happened Last Year:
The Purdue Boilermakers took the lone matchup against Illinois last season 91-68. Matt Painter’s team took the lead early and never looked back after that. Illinois was simply outmatched down low. Isaac Haas, a returning senior, went for 24 points and six rebounds off the bench, and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, Caleb Swanigan, added 22 and 10 of his own. The Boilermakers shot a beautiful 60 percent from the floor and also converted on 20 of 22 free throws. Despite the whooping that the Illini received, there were a few bright spots in the game – I use the term “few” loosely. Illinois only committed three turnovers to Purdue’s 11. The Illini grabbed ten offensive boards, however, when a team shoots just 40 percent from the field, they are going to grab a couple of those. This game also saw a step forward for Te’Jon Lucas who reached double digits in scoring for the first time in his career.
How Illinois Can Win:
An almost perfect game. That’s what the Illini need to pull this one off. Purdue does lose Caleb Swanigan, and replacing the best player in the conference is never easy. Brad Underwood and the Illinois defense will be tasked with trying to stop the size and experience that will be Purdue basketball this year. IF Underwood can keep the Boilermaker backcourt and frontcourt at bay long enough, then the Illini may have a chance to at least make this game competitive.
How Illinois Can Lose:
Matt Painter will have many options this season. He returns all but one of his starters, Isaac Haas, and an impressive crop of freshmen. The mix of veteran guard play and great size down low will give Purdue many different choices to go too. Being as vertically impaired as the Illini are this season, the possibility of Purdue big men combining for 46 and 16 is not unrealistic. The Boilermakers also get the edge when it comes to guard play too. Carsen Edwards, P.J. Thompson, and Dakota Mathias, who has been at Purdue for what seems like 10 years, all return as starters for Painter’s backcourt and look to lead the Boilermakers to the tops of the polls this season.
Luckily, the Illini only have to face Purdue once this season, and that game is at home. However, the matchup doesn’t fall in Illinois’ favor. Purdue will once again finish among the top teams in the conference. This is the second-to-last regular season conference game for Illinois and senior night for no scholarship seniors. At this point in the season, there should be no question about the system that Brad Underwood is implementing and we should see just how well it works against top-tier Big Ten competition. This is one of the few automatic losses on the schedule this year for the Illini. If the Illini can pull this one off, then it’s sure to be one of the biggest upsets of the year.