PURDUE (16-9, 6-6 Big Ten) AT ILLINOIS (16-9, 5-7 Big Ten)
Time: 8:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. Central)
TV: Big Ten Network
Location: Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill.
Purdue 53 (No. 8 Big Ten)
Illinois 38 (No. 6 Big Ten)
Line: Illinois -2½ (O/U 134)
Purdue Players to Watch: F Robbie Hummel, 6-8 Sr. (15.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.3 bpg); G Lewis Jackson, 5-9 Sr. (9.8 ppg, 4.1 apg, 1.2 spg); F D.J. Byrd, 6-5 Jr. (7.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 42.4% 3s). Byrd has scored 71 points in his last four games, including 24 in last Tuesday’s loss to Ohio State and 20 in Sunday’s 87-77 win over Northwestern, after scoring in double-figures just five in Purdue’s first 21 games.
Illinois Players to Watch: G Brandon Paul, 6-4 Jr. (15.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.2 apg); C Meyers Leonard, 7-1 So. (13.2 ppg, 8 rpg, 2.1 bpg); G Joseph Bertrand, 6-5 So. (6.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 55.9% FG). After 21 points in Sunday’s 70-61 loss to Michigan, Paul is 32 points shy of 1,000 for his career. He has scored in double-figures in 14 straight games, including a 43-point performance in the Illini’s 79-74 win over then-No. 5 Ohio State on Jan. 10.
Storylines: This game has serious NCAA implications. Both teams are in the middle of the Big Ten pack and appear to be in the field as of today, but wins will be tough to come by the rest of the way for both.
Keys: Purdue has won the last six meetings against the Illini, including a 75-60 victory at Mackey Arena on Dec. 31. In the win, the Boilermakers outscored Illinois 49-36 in the second half behind 56.8 percent shooting. Purdue’s Matt Painter and Illinois’s Bruce Weber were assistant coaches together under Gene Keady. Painter is 9-4 in 13 meetings against Weber. The Boilers have the nation’s third best assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.52-to-1 and the seventh-best turnover margin at plus-4.9. Purdue forces 13.7 turnovers per game. Jackson leads the Big Ten with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Illinois has been involved in 12 games this season that have been decided by five points or less or that win into overtime, including eight of their last 10 games. They are 8-4 in games decided by five points are fewer. Illinois out-rebounds its opponents by 2.4 boards per game, while the Boilermakers are one of only three Big Ten teams with a negative rebounding margin at minus-1. The Illini are third in the Big Ten with 4.4 blocked shots per game, led by Leonard’s 2.1, which leads the conference. The Boilermakers are 22-for-42 from 3-point range in its last two games, including 6-for-10 from Ryne Smith and 10-for-17 from Byrd. Byrd has made 13 of his last 24 3-point attempts. The Illini are 12-3 at home this season but were beaten 74-70 by Northwestern in their last game at Assembly Hall. Purdue is 3-4 in true road games this season, including an 87-84 loss at Ohio State in its last road game.
The Bottom Line: Purdue has played well in its last couple of games and the Illini are struggling. Byrd is the key. If he’s shooting like he has been, it opens things for Hummel, Jackson and Smith.
The Pick: Purdue 73, Illinois 67
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 65-40