Pre-gamin’: Illinois vs. Purdue

6:00 January 17, 2017

TV: BTN

Radio: 97.5 FM WHMS 1400 AM WDWS

Questions worth asking

  1. How will Illinois deal with Purdue’s post strength? Purdue has arguably the Big Ten’s best player in sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan. The 6’9″ Swanigan averages a double/double with 18.2 points and 12.6 rebound per game. And he does it with impressive efficiency, shooting 56 percent from the field and 47 percent from three (averaging about one make per game). Interestingly, he only shoots 6.2 free throws per game. What’s up with that? Off the bench, 7’2″ Purdue center Isaac Haas averages 13.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. That’s a load. The Illini counter with good height in 6’10” Maverick Morgan, 6’11” Mike Thorne, Jr., and 6’10” Michael Finke as well as the energy and tenacity of Leron Black and Kipper Nichols on the boards. Purdue’s frontcourt will be a big (*cough*) challenge for the Illini.
  2. What role will three-point shooting play in this one? I think it could be the difference. Duh, right? But I’m interested to see whether Illinois will try to use the three-pointer to counter Purdue’s advantage down low. Illinois is not expected to win this game. The Boilers are ranked #21 in the country and are playing an Illini team that has lost four games away from Champaign by an average of 21 points. Maybe the Illini could try to take advantage of Finke’s three-point shooting and try to spread the floor and pull at least one of Purdue’s big men out of the paint. Purdue is #94 in the country in opponent’s 3-pt percentage. The Illini might have to get creative to win this won. On the other end, the Illini must defend the three. Opponents are shooting threes at a 35.1% clip against the Illini, which is good for #191 in the country. That’s bad. Purdue leads the Big Ten in 3-pt % per game, 3s made per game, and assists per game. Threes could be especially crucial in this one.
  3. Will this game mark the return of Tracy Abrams? The Illinois senior guard has been a shell of himself in Big Ten play. He’s shooting 26% overall and 6% from three. He has 8 assists against 7 turnovers and a total of 10 rebounds in 5 games. This is undeniably a rough stretch, but most disturbing has been witnessing Abrams’s lack of confident play. John Groce has repeatedly extolled Abrams’s toughness and leadership as key to this team’s identity. We need to see that old bulldog Tracy Abrams, even if the shots aren’t falling.

Final Thoughts

Purdue seems to have it all over Illinois in this match up. They’re stronger down low, and they’re stats suggest they are well equipped to exploit Illinois’ weak 3-pt defense. But they play the games for a reason, and I’m going to be watching for how John Groce decides to attack this game. I want to see Illinois play free and loose, force Purdue to extend their defense to the 3-pt line, and get a little lucky. I’ll be pulling for the Illini, of course, but unless that lucky thing happens I think Purdue wins this one by 10-15.

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