When the Purdue Boilermakers saw their position in the bracket, it doesn't seem likely that this was the team that they expected they'd be matched up with on Friday. Earning the #4 seed in the conference gave the Boilermakers the luxury of sitting and waiting to find out who their opponent would be. As time would tell, the Fighting Illini managed to gather wins against the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Iowa Hawkeyes on the first two days to gain the right to play in the quarterfinals.
The two teams will play following the noon game between Indiana and Michigan. Here are some of the biggest keys to the game:
Can the Fighting Illini repeat what gave them success the first time around?
These two teams met in January for their only regular season meeting. It was in Champaign, Illinois and the Illini managed to pick up a big 84-70 victory over this Boilermakers team.
In that first meeting, the dynamic duo of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn combined to score 52 of Illinois' 84 points and they also connected on 9 of their 17 three point attempts.
While Hill and Nunn exploded offensively, Illinois also managed to contain the front line of Purdue in Haas, Hammons and Swanigan. The three of them combined for 28 points and 17 rebounds. It's not a bad statistical output for the three, but the Boilers need them to be more productive than that when they only shoot 7-22 from three, as they did in the first and only meeting this year.
Will Illinois continue their hot outside shooting?
On Wednesday and Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament, the Fighting Illini combined to shoot 24-49 from the three point line. Freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands has been shooting the ball very well from the outside in his last few games, including 5-10 from behind the arc in their win against Iowa.
Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn are an explosive duo, no doubt. If guys like Coleman-Lands and Michael Finke can make three point shots, that opens up lanes for these two to get to the basket and even create more three point opportunities for their team.
Will the guard play continue to improve for Purdue?
All year long, this Boilermaker team has faced the same issue: the guards struggle to match the production of the big men. However, lately the shooting of Purdue's guards has begun to pick back up to where it was during much of the non-conference slate. Guys like P.J. Thompson, Vince Edwards and Dakota Matthias have started to hit their outside shots.
When Purdue shoots a good percentage from three, it opens up so much for the big men. Teams are much more hesitant to double down on Haas and Hammons when they're afraid that they can also get hurt from the perimeter.
Will Illinois suffer from three games in three days?
Purdue is a team that seems to be built for March. Illinois is about to play a team that is the biggest, strongest and probably most physical team in the conference. Will the fatigue begin to show as this game goes on if Purdue plays the smash-mouth brand of basketball that they've built their resume on?
Illinois is certainly capable of beating this Purdue team, as their January meeting indicated. However, these are far different circumstances. Purdue has played well of late, winning three straight. Illinois is playing their third game in three days. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out tomorrow in the second game of the third day in the Big Ten tournament.
This is March, after all.