PREVIEW: Illinois at No. 21 Purdue

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' trip to No. 21 Purdue on Tuesday.

Illinois (12-6, 2-3) at

No. 21 Purdue (14-4, 3-2)

Date & Time: Jan. 17, 6 p.m. CT

Location: Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, Ind.)

TV: BTN

Quick Hits

  • Illinois will play their first set of back-to-back road games this week starting with Purdue on Tuesday.
  • The Illini are 11-27 on the road in the Big Ten under John Groce.
  • Illinois has road losses to Maryland and Indiana this season by 41 points combined.
  • The Illini will try to snap an 0-7 streak against ranked opponents on the road dating back to 2014.
  • Illinois is 87-99 all-time against Purdue and 28-61 in West Lafayette.
  • Purdue has won the last five at home in this series, as Illinois' last win there was in 2008.
  • The Boilermakers enter this game following an 83-78 loss at Iowa last Thursday.
  • Purdue is shooting 40.4 percent from three on the year, which is first in the Big Ten.

Projected Starters

Te'Jon Lucas (FR): Lucas didn't play great against Maryland, especially on the defensive end, but he finished with two points, four assists and one turnover. As a whole last week, he posted 12 assists and two turnovers. The Illini offense has been at its best when he's on the floor. And with their slow starts on the road, it would be a good idea to give Lucas his first start of the season.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (SO): Coleman-Lands hit three treys on Saturday, which was the third straight game he has hit at least that many. But unfortunately, his three makes also came with eight misses against Maryland -- including some would-be clutch ones late in the game. As he did against the Hoosiers, Coleman-Lands needs to knock down shots again in his home-state on Tuesday.

Malcolm Hill (SR): Hill had 11 points and eight rebounds against Maryland, which doesn't look like a terrible stat line. But he was just 5-of-14 from the field, and he did not score a basket after the first 22 seconds of the second half. While Illinois was in a massive drought, Hill couldn't manage to get to the free-throw line either.

Leron Black (R-SO): Black had a strong first half on Saturday with 11 points and six rebounds in 14 minutes. He finished with 14 points and nine boards on the game, but he was just 1-of-5 from the field in the second half. He also picked up his fourth foul with more than 6 minutes to go and had to spend crucial time on the bench late in the game.

Maverick Morgan (SR): Morgan finished with 15 points and five rebounds against the Terps, but he also had four turnovers. Maryland took him out of rhythm with their successful post trap. Morgan scored essentially at will in one-on-one matchups. But once the trap came in the second half, he turned it over and only scored two buckets the rest of the way.

Bench

Tracy Abrams (GR): Abrams has gone into a monumental funk. He was scoreless for the first time all season on Saturday. He is now 1-of-17 from three in Big Ten play, and he airmailed his only three-point attempt against Maryland. He also had a pair of bad turnovers. His confidence looks low and production is as well. Abrams said on Monday that he and the staff have talked about trying "some different stuff", and coming off the bench could be part of it.

Michael Finke (R-SO): Finke hit both of his shot attempts against Maryland, including a big three that kept Illinois on life support with 3:05 to go. He played 17 minutes on the game, and he was the only Illini player who finished on the positive side of the plus/minus totals (+5). Illinois needs to find a way to get him more open looks.

Kipper Nichols (R-FR): After a stellar showing against Michigan, Nichols came back down to earth on Saturday. He was scoreless with three fouls, two rebounds and a turnover in 10 minutes of action. But just as he had to learn to move on from success, he will have to move on from the struggles of last game. The Illini will need his toughness, energy and defense against Purdue.

Aaron Jordan (SO): Jordan played four minutes on Saturday and registered an assist. He has played every game in Big Ten play after sitting out in each of the last three nonconference games. The keys remain the same for him: Defend, rebound and hit the three when it's there. If Abrams continues to struggle, Jordan should get more time at the two.

Jaylon Tate (SR): Tate played two minutes against the Terps but he didn't register a stat line. Groce seemed to be looking for an answer at point guard with Abrams and Lucas struggling in the second half. Tate did not play against Michigan, and he's not expected to see the floor much unless Abrams continues to sink.

Mike Thorne Jr. (GR): Thorne did not play at all last week against Michigan or Maryland. That could very well be fit to change on Tuesday against Purdue's big frontcourt. And for a big man that hasn't been moving well, maybe a break in action will have his legs fresher. He hasn't made a field goal since the Big Ten opener.

D.J. Williams (SO): Williams was back with the team for the game against Maryland but he did not see the floor. It's been a while since we've seen some major flashes from 'Flash'.

Purdue Starters

Carsen Edwards (FR): The freshman point guard has started all five games in Big Ten play for the Boilermakers. He is averaging 10.3 points and 1.9 assists per game on the season. He hasn't been particularly efficient while shooting 37.8 percent from the field. But he's had some good games, including 19 points, five assists and two steals in the Big Ten opener against Iowa.

P.J. Thompson (JR): Thompson is averaging 7.6 points and 3.6 assists per game this season. He is a threat from deep at 39.5 percent from beyond the arc. He had 12 points, four assists and two steals at Illinois last season.

Dakota Mathias (JR): Mathias is Purdue's best three-point shooter at 48.1 percent, which is second in the Big Ten. He is averaging 9.8 points per game on the year, and he has been a very effective distributor with 4.1 assists per game as well. He had eight points, seven assists and four rebounds in a home win against Wisconsin earlier this month.

Vincent Edwards (JR): Edwards is a long and versatile forward at 6-foot-8. He is averaging 12 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. He's also shooting 44 percent from three on the year. Edwards has had some big games this season, including 20 points and 10 rebounds against Notre Dame last month.

Caleb Swanigan (SO): Swanigan is the clear favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, and he's in line to be a first-team All-American. The sophomore big man is averaging a ridiculous 18.2 points and 12.8 rebounds per game. And he's doing it while shooting 55.9 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three. Swanigan has 14 double-doubles in 18 games, which is second in the nation.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Survive the opening punches. Illinois can't get knocked out in the first round like they have their previous two Big Ten road trips. Just more than 12 minutes into the game at Maryland, the Illini were down 27-10. It was already 20-to-2 with points in the paint. At Indiana, Illinois was down 13-0 at the first media timeout. That lead extended to 34-12 with more than eight minutes left in the half. There have been commonalities between those starts. The Illini offense has been dysfunctional -- often relying on jumpers. And their best player has taken a while to get going. At Maryland, it took Hill more than eight minutes to score a bucket. At Indiana, he went the whole first half without one. Defensively, Illinois has broken down on dribble-drives and given up threes. Purdue can bust you up in a variety of ways, and you can bet they'll come out swinging following a loss last time out. In the Big Ten opener, they put Iowa in an 18-to-4 hole before five minutes ran off the clock and were up 49-25 at half. Illinois is going to have to absorb some punches and dodge a few early on, and come back with a response to stay in the game.

2. Defensive game-plan. The Illini upset the Boilers last year in Champaign in large part due to their defensive showing. They packed the middle with a mix of pack-line man (help defense sagging off towards the lane) and 2-3 zone to limit Purdue's interior attack. Swanigan, Isaac Hass and A.J. Hammons combined for just 10 points in the second half, as Illinois outscored Purdue 47-to-33 in the final 20 minutes. The idea was that the Illini could force the Boilers to try to beat them on the perimeter, rather than giving up hoops on the inside. What will the plan be this time around? Like last year, Purdue will look to Swanigan and Haas to be forces in the paint. But the difference in this year's Purdue team is the added effectiveness of their outside attack. At 40.4 percent from three, they're the best outside shooting team in the Big Ten and ninth in the country. Mathias, Swanigan, Edwards and Ryan Cline all shoot higher than 40 percent from deep. The Boilers showed Illinois some of that in the Big Ten tournament slaughter-fest last season, as they hit 13 threes in an 89-58 beatdown. What -- if anything -- can Illinois do to stop them?

3. Drive the ball. Illinois' offense went ice-cold in the second half against Maryland, and Groce said it was because his team relied too heavily on jump-shots early in the shot clock. We've seen that a number of times this season. We've seen Illinois' offense become stagnant with the ball on the perimeter. The Illini are at their best when the ball is moving and they are attacking off the dribble. That sets up shooters like Coleman-Lands and Finke on the perimeter and it allows Black and Morgan to pop out for mid-range looks. In addition, the Illini can draw contact and get to the free-throw line. And shots at the rim, which Illinois takes fewer of than most, are pretty high-percentage looks -- believe it or not. Purdue has height, but don't mistake them for a shot-blocking team. They have blocked just six percent of their opponents' shot attempts this year, which is 312th in the country. That's a lower percentage than Illinois' defense. As a team, Purdue does a good job of defending the ball without fouling. But Swanigan and Haas are both foul-prone. Whether the Illini can get them in foul trouble or not -- which would be a huge bonus -- they are best suited to attack driving lanes and let everything else open up.

Prediction

Illinois has lost their last seven road games against ranked opponents by an average of 20.7 points per game. Here is another one of those matchups. Vegas has Purdue favored by 12 points heading into game day. Most Illini fans are expecting worse than that, and they're probably right. Illinois has not played well at all on the road. And here is the best player in the Big Ten on one of the best teams in the conference. Bad news.

No. 21 Purdue 85, Illinois 69


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