The skinny: The Illinois Fighting Illini haven’t won a game at Purdue since December 2008. The Illini have won just three of their last 16 matchups against the Boilermakers.
The recent skinny: Illinois are losers of their last two games to Penn State and Wisconsin. Purdue beat Nebraska over the weekend and won at Indiana and home vs. Penn State in the last week and a half. Purdue is very much in contention for a Big Ten regular season title, with MSU’s win over Michigan doing the Boilers some favors.
Carsen Edwards... of course
The Kobe Bryant of the Big Ten. He leads the conference in scoring. He’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the conference. He’s fearless... sometimes to a fault. He shoots a ton of shots and his 19 shots per game is tops in the Big Ten.
Defending Carsen Edwards requires total team concentration. Expect Illini freshman guard Ayo Dosunmu to take the lead in pressuring Edwards at the top of the three-point line. As good as Edwards has been, he averages three turnovers a game and he hasn’t faced a point guard as long as Dosunmu.
Matt Haarms: The Dutch Tower of Terror
The tallest player in the Big Ten is a difference maker on both ends of the floor. He averages nearly two blocks per game and he is much more than a standing stick in the middle of the paint — he moves up and down the court well and anticipates better than most centers in the country.
His signature moment in a Purdue uniform happened just last week on the road against the Boilers’ biggest rival:
Make that in a row for @BoilerBall and eight of the last nine in the rivalry!— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 20, 2019
It was a drama-filled ending at Indiana, and Matt Haarms' tip-in was the deciding bucket: pic.twitter.com/j0Ajr2xLIN
His numbers are underwhelming. How can a seven-footer average just five rebounds per game? The fact of the matter is, Haarms does so many things that don’t show up on the stats sheet. He clears space on offense and he affects a multitude of shots and would-be shots on the defensive end.
Purdue is fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding. Illinois is last. This is something to watch out for.
Nojel Eastern... never really considered Illinois :-(
With Vince Edwards and Dakota Mathias in the fold last season, Nojel Eastern — then a freshman from Evanston Township — averaged just 12.5 minutes per game in 2017-18. This year, Eastern is a starter for Matt Painter’s squad and averages 28 minutes per game.
Eastern is a plug-and-play type of player with a ton of versatility. Much like four-year starter Vince Edwards was — Eastern and Edwards have identical body-types — Eastern can play positions 2, 3, and 4. He has the quickness to defend perimeter guards and the strength to defend forwards down in the post.
Expect Eastern to guard both Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu at times to disrupt their rhythm.
Purdue’s poor three-point shooting, EXCEPT for Ryan Cline
Purdue ranks tenth in three-point shooting percentage in the Big Ten. Carsen Edwards shoots more than 10 three-pointers per game and coverts 34 percent of them. For such a high-volume shooter, that’s not horrible, nor is it great.
Ryan Cline cannot be left open. He shoots seven three-pointers a game and makes them at a clip higher than 40 percent. Illinois can’t be too aggressive with those double teams and leave Purdue’s best 3-point shooter with a good look. He’ll make ‘em pay, especially at Mackey.
Deeper big-man bench than Illinois
Freshmen Trevion Williams and Aaron Wheeler are excellent role players off the bench for Matt Painter’s squad. Williams at 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds is an absolute beast when he comes in the game to spell starters Matt Haarms and Grady Eifert. His size reminds some of former Purdue big man Caleb Swanigan.
The Illini are undersized compared to Purdue, especially considering the fact Samba Kane rarely plays and Adonis De La Rosa averages under 9 minutes per game. De La Rosa at times provides quality minutes, but he’s unreliable on both ends of the floor. Purdue just has more able bodies and a stronger foundation than the Illini have at this point.
That’s not to say it will always be that way: Kofi Cockburn and next season can’t come soon enough.
Prediction: Purdue 71, Illinois 61
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