Illinois will be without its star player but has a chance to pull off a big upset against Purdue on the road.
TV schedule: Friday, January 5th, 8:30 pm ET, FS1
Arena: Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana
Tuesday was a good night for both Purdue and Illinois, each getting key Big Ten wins. Purdue (13-1, 2-1 Big Ten) had an easy game against Maryland, winning 67-53. National Player of the Year Zach Edey had another great game, going for 23 pts and 12 rebs, while Braden Smith went for 14 pts, 7 rebs, and 6 asts.
Illinois (11-2, 2-0 Big Ten) had an even more dominant win, beating Northwestern by 30 points. The final score was 96-66, led by 32 pts from senior guard Marcus Domask. Justin Harmon had 20 off the bench, while Quincy Guerrier produced 14 pts and 10 rebs. It was the second game for the Illini without 20 ppg scorer Terrence Shannon Jr., who is out indefinitely with a suspension.
In a battle of top-10 teams, this should be a highly compelling matchup between the best Big Ten programs. But without Illinois' best player, Purdue should be a big favorite at home. Yet as Northwestern showed against the Boilermakers a few weeks ago, they aren't unbeatable in league play.
The big key for the Illini to pulling off the upset is Domask having another big game in absence of Shannon Jr. He's going to need to have 20+ if they're to have a chance. Big man Coleman Hawkins will not only need to have a big game himself offensively but also find a way to limit Edey inside without fouling out. Look for backup big men Dain Dainja and Amani Hansberry to get minutes in this game since the star big man will get them in foul trouble.
If Purdue makes its shots and Edey has a normal game, they're going to have a great shot at winning this battle. But Illinois just showed that they aren't doomed without Shannon and if the offense can continue to thrive, maybe this becomes closer than expected. If everyone was around, I'd have this as a potential classic. For now, I have the home team going into first place.
Prediction: Purdue 74, Illinois 61