GameDay Preview: 3 Things I Want to See From Purdue vs. Illinois

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The gauntlet continues Tuesday night for the Purdue Boilermakers, who are playing their fifth straight game against a team currently ranked in the Associated Press top-25. Ah, the Big Ten.

Thankfully, the Boilermakers are back in the friendly confines of Mackey Arena, welcoming Illinois to town. Purdue has been great at home in the Big Ten so far, going 3-0 against Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan State.

On the flip side, Purdue is 0-4 with one of those losses to the Illini, that brutal all-time-worst 63-37 loss a couple of Sundays ago when the Boilers shot a school-record low 25 percent. "We got sandblasted last time,'' Purdue coach Matt Painter said Monday. "We need be better this time, all of us.''

Revenge is certainly on the menu Tuesday night. Here are the particulars, including the latest line: 

  • Who: Illinois Fighting Illini (13-5, 5-2 in the Big Ten) at Purdue Boilermakers (10-8, 3-4 in the Big Ten)
  • When: 7 p.m. ET, Tuesday, Jan. 21
  • Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.
  • Latest Line: Purdue is a 5.5-point favorite as of Tuesday morning, according to goldsheet.com 
  • Rankings: Illinois is ranked No. 21 in the Associated Press poll and No. 22 in the Coaches poll. Purdue is not ranked but is receiving votes in the AP poll, and would be ranked No. 40 overall.
  • Kenpom.com rankings: Purdue 17, Illinois 36
  • TV: ESPNU
  • Announcers: Dave Flemming, Dan Dakich and Molly McGrath
  • Radio: Purdue Radio Network
  • Announcers: Larry Clisby, Rob Blackman, Ralph Taylor

Here are three things I'd like to see from Matt Painter's Purdue Boilermakers Tuesday night:

1. Hold serve like it really matters

And that's because it does. It's been really hard to win on the road this year, so this week is hugely critical for Purdue with home games and Illinois and Wisconsin (Friday night). Purdue has lost three of its last four games, but all the losses were on the road and the one win at home was impressive as hell, a 29-point beatdown of Michigan State, the best team in the Big Ten.

Purdue has been great at home all year and, thankfully, it doesn't start Tuesday night's game 26 points down to Illinois. That Sunday-to-Sunday point differential between the Illinois loss and Michigan State win was a whopping 55 points, so that says a lot about home court advantage. But that's never a given, and Illinois has won a Big Ten road game (at Wisconsin 71-70 on Jan. 8). The Boilers need to take advantage of Mackey home cooking. 

"You've got to be able to do the simple things over and over,'' Painter said Monday. "I don't think you have guys out there who believe that (home wins are guaranteed). When you're playing ranked teams, we've talked about that, giving the crowd something to cheer about because we have a great environment here.''

2 Set the tone early to send a message

Road teams are just 7-40 so far in the Big Ten, so it's obvious that it's difficult to win away from home. Purdue needs to use its blueprint against Michigan State and get out away early and put some doubt into the Illini's mind. 

The best way to do that is to hit shots early, especially from 3-point range. Sophomore guard Sasha Stefanovic has been a trigger for some nice early runs this year, and some early long balls from his would be huge. There's no way Purdue shoots 25 percent against these guys again, and that starts with hitting good-look 3-pointers when the ball moves inside-out.

"Some of those road games, I've had to substitute four guys out right away because we got off to bad starts,'' Painter said. "We haven't been good with that, but we need that kind of effort every single night. We need guys to hit some shots and get us going.''

3. Win the big-man showdown

Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms have been really good during the Big Ten season, but they were both no-shows in the ugly loss at Illinois on Jan. 5. That can't happen again on Tuesday night.

Freshman Kofi Cockburn and sophomore Giorgi Bezhanishvili can do some things inside, but at home the Boilers' big guys should be able to outscore that duo. It's a must for the Boilers to win because Cockburn especially is a hand full.

You saw the stats: Williams scored only six points in the Illinois loss, but in the seven games in and around that, he was averaging 17.4 points per game. Haarms had only five points against Illinois, and was averaging 13.2 points a game in the six games prior to that. Those 11 points against Illinois need to be doubled at the very least, and something over 30 from Williams and Haarms combined would be preferred. And they need to win the rebounding edge as well. Williams had that 36-point, 20-rebound night against Michigan, so you know it's there.

"He could lead the nation in rebounding if he wanted to,'' Painter said of Williams. "He's got  good nose for the ball.''  

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