Meet the Opponent: Hello Again, Fighting Illini

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The lowlight of Purdue's struggles on the road this season came a few Sundays ago when the Boilermakers got throttled 63-37 at Illinois in the worst shooting night in school history.

Now we're going to find out of that's just a home-and-road thing or not, because Illinois is coming to West Lafayette to take on the Boilermakers in a rematch just 16 days apart. 

Purdue is 3-4 in the Big Ten, having won all of its home games and lost all of its road games. This week is big, with visits from Illinois on Tuesday and Wisconsin on Friday. And it's going to be interesting to see if homecourt really is worth 26 points or more.

Here are the particulars for Tuesday's matchup:

  • 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. 
  • Projection: Purdue has a 74.5 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index. 
  • 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 35
  • 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 you need to know about the Fighting Illini

1. They have learned to win on the road themselves

It's next to impossible to win on the road in the Big Ten, as Purdue has learned the hard way in losses to Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan and Maryland. It's been the same for most everyone — except for Illinois.

Three days after crushing Purdue, the Fighting Illini went to Wisconsin and stole a win on the road, winning 71-70. Because they've been one of the few teams to break serve, they are currently sitting in second place with a 5-2 mark. So if you take the memories of the 26-point blowout and the ability to win at Wisconsin, then the Illini will show up on Tuesday night confident they can win. It's asking a lot, considering the fact that Purdue has won 15 straight Big Ten home games.

2. Being nationally ranked has added a boost

For the first time in more than five years, Illinois was nationally ranked a week ago, checking in at No. 24. After beating Northwestern Saturday, they've moved up to No. 21, and they're playing with even more of a swagger because of it.

Saturday night was a perfect example. A close game against lowly Northwestern wasn't expected, but Ayo Dosunmy and Trent Frazier picked up the slack for their struggling teammates. The guards combined for 31 points on just 22 shots to keep the Illini's winning streak alive. They've won four in a row now since that Purdue win, and their confidence, which was shaky at best, has changed a lot since some ugly outings in December.

3. Big men a tough matchup for Purdue

Purdue has been getting a lot out of big men Trevion Williams and Matt Haarms lately, but freshman Kofi Cockburn (7-foot, 290 pounds) and Giorgi Bezhanishvili (6-foot-9, 235 pounds) can make it difficult on them. 

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. Some might say  that's a home and road thing, but this battle will be one to watch closely on Tuesday night.

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