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1/5 Big Ten Preview: Illinois at Purdue

Preview all of Friday’s Big Ten action.

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Big Ten only has one game on Friday, but it’s a monster matchup featuring Illinois on the road against Purdue. It’s a top 10 meeting that could very well determine the Big Ten’s regular season crown.

Let’s take a look at the schedule.

Game of the Day:

-No. 9 Illinois Fighting Illini at No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 8:30 PM ET (FS1)
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue by 8

Heading into the season, there were a variety of projections for the Big Ten. While most included Purdue at the time of their preseason rankings, there were a litany of teams behind the Boilermakers, including highly regarded Maryland and Michigan State squads. It wasn’t quite Purdue’s league to lose, but it wasn’t far off either.

However, through the first two months of the season, Purdue has earned even more respect thanks to a litany of quality non-conference wins. The Boilermakers moved up to No. 1 in the polls and it’s hard to disagree with that opinion — it’s a great team that deserves national respect.

But the biggest difference from the preseason projections has been behind the Boilermakers. While teams like Maryland and Michigan State have faded, Illinois has risen into the top 10 in the human polls and the advanced stats. The Illini are playing extremely well and are coming off a 30-point win over a pretty solid Northwestern squad on Tuesday. Notably, the Wildcats already beat Purdue and Illinois took them to the woodshed.

The two teams now meet on Friday in a game that could very well determine the Big Ten’s regular season title at season’s end. That might sound dramatic to say in early January, but the title is often decided by just a game or two. And a head-to-head meeting like this is hard to replicate. If someone is going to upset Purdue, Illinois seems like the top option.

The biggest storyline heading into the game is the continued absence of Terrence Shannon, who is suspended based on pending criminal charges in Kansas. He was Illinois’ best player and the team has a major challenge ahead of it winning on the road at Purdue without Shannon in the lineup. Marcus Domask played exceptionally in Shannon’s place in the win over Northwestern. However, this is a different challenge. Braden Smith and Lance Jones will work to slow down Domask in transition, where he’s been pretty good so far.

Illinois also has the challenge of slowing down superstar big man Zach Edey down low. He’s been a monster so far this season and the Illini have no one who can take him on individually. Expect a plethora of double teams and delayed help from players like Quincy Guerrier, Coleman Hawkins, and Dain Dainja. The key will be staying out of foul trouble. Dainja and RJ Melendez got into serious foul trouble last year and it killed Illinois’ chances of winning in Mackey last year. If the frontcourt can hold up better, there’s a chance here.

All told, this figures to be an epic meeting. These are two really good teams facing off on Friday, regardless of what ends up happening. However, Purdue has to be the pick here. The Boilers are nearly unbeatable at home and Illinois is without Shannon. Even if the win over Northwestern was encouraging, that was at home. This is on the road against an elite opponent. Expect a few more mistakes this time around.

  • Pick: Purdue

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Picks Record This Season: 58-19