Friday, December 30, 2011

Purdue faces Illinois

Purdue heads back to West Lafayette coming off another heart wrenching game Wednesday, but a game in which it won late, something it hasn't been able to say with consistency this season.

Even though it was a Big Ten road game and every game in the Big Ten is tough, Illinois (12-2, 1-0) comes in with a better team than Iowa and presents some serious problems for Purdue.


The game against the Hawkeyes was pretty up tempo for much of the game. The first half score was 45-39. If Purdue wants to win this game, it should refrain from going back-and-forth with what looks like a more athletic team in Illinois. Even though it looks like Purdue plays better sometimes when they play at a faster pace, Matt Painter realizes against more athletic teams that is not an option. More than anything it comes down to the defensive end. If Purdue can limit Illinois to playing in the half court and get them to work for their points, it would prove big for Purdue. When it doesn't stop the ball in transition and gives up easy layups on its own end, it looses control of the game. If Purdue can control the pace on the defensive end, there is no reason why painter wouldn't let the guys get out and run in transition offensively.

Leonard will be tough for Purdue to match-up with
When you put both teams on each side of the chart and check off who is better in each important category, the game looks fairly equal. Where there is a distinct advantage for the Illini is in the frontcourt with their center, Meyers Leonard. As a freshman Leonard didn't do much of anything as he sat behind seniors Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. But as both moved on, Leonard, who came out of high school with a lot of potential, has stepped into the role as the go-to-guy for Illinois. Leonard is averaging around 14 points and 8 rebounds this season. But coming off a huge game against Minnesota with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks, Leonard is a player that can dominate a game, and the only thing stopping that from happening night in, night out, is more game experience. Every game he is getting better and he certainly looks like a potential lottery pick in the future, if not at the end of this season.

Leonard will be a tough match-up for any Big Ten team this season, even Ohio State, but particularly for Purdue. With Sandi Macius out for the third straight game due to injury, Purdue is severely overmatched.  Freshman Jacob Lawson is projected to start his third straight game and while extremely athletic, with Leonard coming in at 7' 1'', and Lawson at 6' 8'', that is a big problem. Purdue's frontline will be at a huge height disadvantage in this game.

What Purdue lacks in the frontcourt, it should be able to make up for in the backcourt. Illinois does have a good groups of guards with Brandon Paul, D.J. Richardson and emerging scorer Joseph Bertrand, but they are prone to taking bad shots and turnover the ball quite a bit. Illinois had 21 turnovers in its loss against Missouri last week and Brandon Paul had 5 of them. If Purdue can step up its pressure defensively and knock down some shots around the perimeter, its backcourt should win out in this one.

Hummel needs to shoot the ball more efficiently for Purdue to win 
With this game projecting to be a dog fight, Purdue's best players need to play better than they have been. In order to win, Hummel, Smith and Jackson have to play better than they did against Iowa. Hopefully Jackson is healing and improving his health as we speak because he runs Purdue's offense. When he is playing his best, Purdue looks like a different team. Hummel needs to play better, plain and simple. He started off the year shooting the basketball consistently, but as the season has progressed his percentage has fallen and he has had the tendency to put up some forced shots. Obviously Hummel is Purdue's best player and he needs to have the most shots on the team, but he needs to shoot more in the flow of the offense. He will get his shots. Smith needs to the same. With all this said, one of these three needs to step up and be Purdue's best player against Illinois on Saturday.

In the end, with the game being played in Mackey (even though the students are gone), the upper hand goes to Purdue in a barnburner.

Prediction: Purdue 67, Illinois 64

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