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Illini basketball preview: Purdue

Remember the Big Ten preview we ran on this site in which I laid out a path to the Tourney for Illinois? After dropping a heartbreaker to Michigan, losing Rayvonte Rice to injury, and then losing another bad one to Indiana it kinda seemed like that plan was moot. Thing is, it’s not.

Illinois is 12-7 and just 2-4 in the Big Ten, but the team can redeem itself against Michigan still and already has one signature win (Maryland). So the path to a Tourney berth is not washed out just yet, but now its a bit more dire.

Illinois is hitting the segment of its schedule that is arguably the easiest — Purdue, Minnesota, Penn State, and Rutgers — with only the Minnesota game coming on the road. To still make the Tourney, pretty much all of these games need to go in Illinois’s favor.

This evening Purdue comes to the State Farm Center. The Boilermakers’ (schedule has not been as challenging as the Illini and their losses (Gardner-Webb, North Florida) are more embarassing. Illinois needs to defend home court better and ensure a victory against Purdue.

Kendall Stephens has been consistently good, though maybe not great, and AJ Hammons has gotten locked in as the sixth man for Purdue, so keeping them in check will be a priority for Illinois. Offense is where they thrive, so Illinois will need its defensive strength to show up better than it did against Indiana in order to make that goal a reality.

Overall, Purdue doesn’t seem to be as good as Indiana, but they are definitely better than Northwestern, so I give Illinois a good chance of winning. I wouldn’t bet the farm on it, though.

My prediction: Illinois 72 – Purdue 68.

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