Three to Track: Purdue
The Illini travel to Purdue Wednesday night to kick off the Big Ten portion of the schedule. Here are a few keys to track during tonight's game... 1. Holding their own on the glass. At the mention of Purdue's strengths, Illinois coach John Groce immediately responded with rebounding. He attached the word 'concerned' when discussing that area of the matchup. Why? Well, it could be because Purdue is really good at rebounding, ranked 21st in the country with over 41 boards per game. Or it could be because that's Illinois' perceived weakness, having been out-rebounded in the last two games by a margin of 86-59. The truth is, Illinois isn't going to be a dominate rebounding team, not on a consistent basis at least. The team lacks size down low and doesn't have a go-to big when it comes to hauling in boards on the regular. That means the whole team, guards included, must continue to pitch in. Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and Joe Bertrand are the team's top three rebounders. Can they help negate Purdue's noted advantage on the glass? 2. Getting back into a shooting rhythm. The rims in the last three games weren't kind to the Illini. The team shot 17-for-80 (21.2 percent) from downtown -- way off the 36 percent mark the team is shooting for the year. Before this recent stretch, Illinois was shooting over 40 percent from 3, which vaulted them to status as the best 3-point shooting team in the country. While it's unreasonable to expect a team to shoot at that clip over the course of an entire season, the 3-point shot is still critical to this team's success. If Illinois is to get back to good shooting form, it will have to do so against a stout Purdue defense. The Boilermakers rank second in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage (.293). Can the Illini shake the shooting slump against a defense with a track record of stopping triples? 3. Getting D.J. back on track. Since scoring 11 points against Gonzaga, senior D.J. Richardson has gone cold offensively. In the four games since the trip to Spokane, Richardson is 4-of-22 from 3-point range and has averaged less than eight points. Now, Richardson isn't just an offensive commodity. He's the Illini's best perimeter defender, and he's also an authority figure on the court due to his vocal leadership and past experiences. Still, he needs to get back on track from the 3-point line. During Illinois' recent shooting slump, Paul and Tracy Abrams have shown the ability to drive into the lane and create points either off the dribble or at the free-throw line. While Richardson's ball handling has improved, that's not his game. Plus, with others driving, the opportunity to kick it out to an open shooter should be an increasingly good looking option. Can Richardson find his stroke against the Boilermakers?