The game (1:32CST tip, ESPN+, Gregory Kelser and Wayne Larivee on the call) matches up two Big 10 teams looking to rebound from sluggish starts in league play. Neither team has a particularly impressive NCAA tournament resume at this point, and both teams look at this game as a chance to gain a victory that will help their chances on Selection Sunday.
The Illini (15-7, 3-4) are coming off an emotional win over Indiana and a close loss to #2 Wisconsin last Saturday. Unlike Purdue, the Illini already have one road win, a 64-52 victory over Minnesota. However, the Illini have dropped two home games in league play, falling to #6 Ohio State along with the loss to Wisconsin.
The Boilermakers are led by reshirt seniors Carl Landry and David Teague. Landry is a 6-7 widebody forward, and is PU's leading scorer at 19.2 points/game and their leading rebounder at 6.8 boards/game. Landry is much like Illinois' Shaun Pruitt, in that he works almost exclusively in the paint, and isn't well known for giving up the rock once he gets his hands on it. Landry makes an impact from the free throw line, getting nearly 10 attempts/game, and hitting at a respectable 72%. Landry also leads the team in blocked shots with 12, and turnovers with 57.
Teague is everyone's favorite chest-thumping long-range bomber. The 6-5 guard averages 12.5 points/game, and takes almost 6 3-pointers/game, connecting at a 39% clip. Teague is also tied for the team lead in assists with 45.
The other starters for Purdue should be 6-3 freshman guard Chris Kramer (6.6 ppg), who leads the team in steals with 41, 6-1 junior guard Terrence Crump (5.7 ppg), and 6-6 sophomore forward Gordon Watt (9.1 ppg, 5.5rpg). Key substitutes for the Boilers will be 6-4 freshman guard Keaton Grant (5.4 ppg, 2.3 apg), 6-2 sophomore guard Chris Lutz (5.4 ppg, 47% from 3-point range. 70 of 80 shot attempts have been 3's.), and 6-4 sophomore guard Marcus Green (5.1 ppg) in the backcourt. Purdue's frontcourt reserves are both freshmen, and don't see much playing time. 6-11 Jonathan Uchendu (2.9 ppg) and 6-10 Dan Vandervieren (1.8 ppg) are the only Boilers that are over 6-7, and neither see more than about 8 minutes/game, primarily to spell Landry, who's averaging just over 32 minutes/game in Big 10 play.
Purdue will score, and be scored upon. For the year, they're 3rd in the league in scoring, at 72.3 points/game, but they're 10 in the leagus in scoring defense, giving up almost 66 points/game. However, since league play started, thei scoring average has dropped to 61.2 points/game, while their opponents have scored just over 67 points/game. Given their lack of size, you'd expect Purdue to struggle on the boards, and they do. In Big 10 play, they get outrebounded by nearly 3 boards/game. They also cause turnovers, and return the favor.
Illinois' anticipated starting lineup will probably be the same 5 that started the Indiana game. Chester Frazier should start at the point, with Rich McBride and Jamar Smith on the wings, and Warren Carter and Shaun Pruitt will start on the inside. Given Purdue's 4-out, 1-in lineup and lack of height, expect to see a lot of backups Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock on the wings, and not so much of forwards Marcus Arnold and Brian Carlwell. Neither of Illinois' big men off the bench have the quickness to stay up with Landry, so they'll probably only see time when Landry takes a breather or if Carter and Pruitt get into foul trouble. Brian Randle (foot) will not play.
The game plan for Illinois should be to pound the ball inside over and over and over. Landry is athletic, and somewhat of a shot blocker, but he's giving up 3 inches to both Carter and Pruitt. Purdue's other forward is 6-6, so the opportunity to live on the weak-side offensive glass should be there for Carter and Brock. Expect Bruce Weber to emphasize post entry passes on every single possession. Purdue doesn't have the size to guard either of the Illini's big men straight up, so expect the stable of quick guards to attempt to deny the post and double down on the bigs once the ball goes inside. Pruitt and Carter will need to be aware of the doubles and pass back out to the wings for open looks by Smith and McBride. If Illinois can get Landry in foul trouble by working the ball inside, Purdue doen't really have another dominating inside threat. Purdue's guards are quick, so don't expect a LOT of open looks for McBride and Smith-when they get them, they'll need to convert.
The Illini guards will need to continue to stress dribble penetration. In the game against Indiana, McBride, Frazier, and Smith all utilized the dribble-drive to draw the Hoosier's interior defenders off the bigs, and free them up for easy buckets. Much like IU, Purdue only has one real inside threat, and drawing Landry with dribble penetration should make for easy pickings for Carter and Pruitt.
On the defensive end, Illinois needs to shut down one of Teague or Landry. Teague can shoot the team to a victory, or shoot them right out of a game. He's an emotional player who can get hot and make an opponent's lead disappear in a hurry. He's also fairly quick with the ball, so whoever guards him (probably McBride) will need to be aware of his ability to penetrate with the dribble. Landry will present a defensive matchup issue-Pruitt isn't quick enough to guard him, and Carter's not strong enough to guard him. Expect Illinois to front Landry with one of the bigs and challenge Purdue to try to pass over the top to get Landry his touches. The other PU forward, Watt, can score, but at 6-6 will be physically outmatched by the Illinois front line. Neither of Purdue's big men can or do shoot from outside very often, but both are quick enough to pose problems from outside if they draw the bigs for Illinois out of the paint. Watt has attempted 12 3's in Big 10 play, but he's only hit on 2 of them, so Carter and Brock will probably play off him on the perimeter and try to deny Landry.
Purdue's guards other than Teague aren't particularly scary. Lutz is shooting 40% for the year from behind the arc, but has struggled in league play, at 21%.
What I Expect-I think Purdue will get out to an early lead, with the guards leading the way. Illinois will get points inside, but will struggle with their shooting as they often have at Mackey. PU will lead by 5 at the half, 36-31. In the second half, Illinois' relentless pressue on the interior will start to take it's toll, and by midway through the half Illinois will take the lead. Teague will attempt to shoot the Boilers to victory, but "Thumper" will be off his game in the last 5 minutes, and Illinois will continue to beat Purdue up inside, and will escape with a 68-62 victory.