Illinois Fighting Illini: A
With a record of 9-2 (1-0), Brad Underwood’s club has looked strong out of the gates thanks to their experience and connectivity as a group. Here is what I had to say about this group during their convincing win over Missouri on Friday:
Although Illinois has lost twice in non-conference play, both of their losses have come in hard-fought games to Final Four-caliber teams -- on the road at Tennessee and Marquette at home.
The Fighting Illini may not have the strongest non-conference SOS in the country, but sporting double-digit wins over Florida Atlantic in the Madison Square Garden and Missouri in St. Louis certainly solidified their case for an A in the non-conference portion of the season.
Led by Terrance Shannon (20.9 PPG), Southern Illinois transfer Marcus Domask (11.8 PPG) and a balanced scoring effort off the bench, the Illini will look to build off of their strong non-conference performance with one more game on the docket -- Fairleigh Dickinson at home on Friday, Dec. 29.
Purdue Boilermakers: A+
Standing at 11-1 (1-1) with their lone loss coming on the road at Northwestern in OT, the Boilermakers look the part of a national championship-caliber team -- and the clear front-runner in the Big Ten.
Purdue has played an extremely vigorous non-conference schedule to date, posting the 11th-best NCSOS in the country, according to KenPom, with wins over Gonzaga, Tennessee and Marquette in the Maui Invitational alongside wins over Alabama and Arizona on neutral sites.
It’s been an extremely successful non-conference performance for Matt Painter’s club who hope to erase the cloud hanging over their program's head: how they perform in March.
If Purdue can limit their turnover issues when the game gets tight, it's safe to say the Boilermakers have put themselves in position for a strong performance in Big Ten play.
Purdue faces Eastern Kentucky on Friday, Dec. 29th to close out non-conference play before they start the New Year at Maryland on Tuesday, Jan. 2.