So far this season...
Despite a disappointing two-loss trip to the “Battle 4 Atlantis” at the beginning of the season, Purdue bounced back to win 19 in a row before losing to no. 14 Ohio State on February 7th. It’s actually pretty remarkable, looking at the Boilermakers’ season. They lost to Tennessee (78-75 in OT) and Western Kentucky (77-73) in the “Battle 4 Atlantis” before going on their hot streak where they beat the likes of Arizona, Louisville, Maryland (twice), Butler and Michigan (twice) before the close loss to Ohio State.
Note: Tennessee is now ranked and Western Kentucky is second in Conference-USA. Those losses don’t look quite as bad now as they did in December.
But after the Ohio State loss, things seem to have gone south just a bit. Purdue has lost three of its last four, which includes a 57-53 loss at the 13-16 Wisconsin Badgers. They almost lost to Tony Carr and Penn State at home on Sunday, but came away with the 76-73 win. It might be too early to say, but things seem to be trending in the wrong direction for the Boilermakers.
Player(s) to watch...
This one is pretty easy. Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms are these ridiculously huge towers of men that Underwood is going to have to figure out how to contain (or slow down, ever so slightly). If you have only ever seen one highlight of Purdue basketball, it has probably included Haas, who is actually listed at one inch shorter than 7-foot-3 Haarms. They also appear to have been created in the same laboratory. Illinois has yet to figure out where this place is, hence the lack of big men.
Anyway, to the stats: Haas is third on the team with 14.8 points and he adds five and a half rebounds per game. (Sorry, I need to point out again that he’s third on the team with 14.8 points. How nice would it be if we had two guys who scored more than 15 points per game?) The real kicker: Haas blocks almost a shot and a half per game and Haarms (although he averages just five points) throws in another two and a half blocks on his own. These guys are going to be tough to play around on offense, and it doesn’t look likely that any Illini will be able to stop them on defense.
What I’m hoping to see during the game...
It is possible that Haas could get slowed down. Remember what happened in the Michigan State game on Purdue’s final possession? Michigan State kept Haas’ heels out of the paint, he didn’t quite make it to his spot and he left the turnaround short off the iron. Considering Ebo is the tallest guy Underwood can throw at Purdue, this will be tough to do. It will take some solid man-to-man defense to try and slow him down, but I would love to see Spicy G take that step, even if it just a few possessions he can prevent the post movement. It would be great if Spicy G could work on his finishing around the rim too, but beggars can’t be choosers.
On offense, Purdue not only boasts the two seven-footers but has a myriad of guys who can hit from almost anywhere. Dakota Mathias and both Carsen and Vicent Edwards won’t necessarily be complete matchup issues like Haarms and Haas are physically, but they will make shots if the defense leaves them open. Outside the paint, I want to see how the Illini defense rotates on screens and intentional double-teams or ball pressure situations. That will be a major part of the defense as it progresses going into next year, effectively closing on an open shooter with his aggressive defensive style.
I had pretty high hopes after going to the Nebraska game on Sunday and seeing an almost consistent wire-to-wire offensive game from the Illini. Aside from the start of the second half, it was a well-played game. Even that possession where there was a loose ball for nine seconds, I was on the edge of my seat. A lot of guys contributed and they got the W.
Then, Tuesday happened and I had to sit and watch the second half of the Michigan State game. The first half was actually quite good, aside from missing a lot around the rim. But Illinois just doesn’t seem to like to string together 40 minutes of good basketball, so a win against Purdue just seems out of the question. It’s pretty likely things will stay close in the first half, but look for a five-plus minute scoring drought in the second half. And one Boilermaker will score at least 20 points.
Purdue 79, Illinois 70