BoilerUpload – Game Preview – #5 Purdue (25-5) vs. Illinois (20-10)

#5 Purdue tries to stay in contention for an NCAA #1 seed as it hosts Illinois for its regular season finale.

For Purdue, their first season goal can be checked off. They are the 2023 Big Ten Champions. The next goal? Win the Big Ten Tournament, but between then and now, Purdue will have one regular season game left.

The 25-5 Boilermakers will have to host Illinois (20-10) in the first and only regular matchup between the two teams.

Purdue’s motivation? Their last goal of the season: winning the NCAA Tournament. A win against Illinois and a strong push in the Big Ten Tournament will all but lock up a #1 seed for Purdue. A win against Illinois, maybe just as important, will all but guarantee nothing worse than a high #2 seed for Matt Painter and his young roster.

As for Illinois, what is there to say about one of the season’s strangest and most up and down teams in the country. We’ll start with one of the most bizarre headlines in recent and not so recent college basketball history.

Starting senior forward Matthew Mayer missed practice after suffering caffeine poisoning after drinking 5 Monster energy drinks in one night playing video games.

But Illinois has won three of their last four, and has one of the best wins in the Big Ten this season, beating UCLA on a neutral floor in November.

The Fighting Illini will get one more chance to add a signature win for a team that’s looking to enhance its resume going into the NCAA Tournament.

Jayden Epps Out

Jayden Epps will not be traveling to West Lafayette after suffering a concussion during the week at practice. Epps suffered the injury during practice when he received an accidental elbow to the jaw, but Epps is recovering after spending the night in the hospital on Tuesday night before being released on Wednesday.

Illinois is coming off a double-overtime against Michigan on Thursday. Epps did not play in that game. Epps has started 11 games this season for the Fighting Illini and played in all previous 29 games. He was averaging nearly 26 points a game and scoring 10 points a game.

All Length Team

With Epps out, Illinois will go into Purdue with one of the longest starting lineups in the country. Illinois already had length at just about every position, but their current starting lineup features no one under 6-6 with three players at 6-9 or bigger.

Illinois gets away with this because their length is matched with elite athleticism. It makes their defense one of the tougher tasks to take on for an offense.

“They block shots. They get steals. They use their length. They have interchangeable pieces,” Matt Painter said on Saturday ahead of Sunday’s game. “When you get behind plays and you have that length sometimes you can still make a play… deflecting a ball, and blocking a shot, or changing a shot. That’s what, as a coach, is frustrating. Because you execute and you get something good, and you end up with nothing because of their length.”

A narrative all season has been Purdue’s lack of size on the perimeter. Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer will both continue to be undersized against Illinois. This will be a good test for Purdue ahead of the NCAA tournament where it’s more than likely they’ll face teams with size on the perimeter.

Matthew Mayer and Coleman Hawkins duo as two bigs with ball skills, capable of making shots around the perimeter, and putting the ball on the deck and driving to the hoop.

Terrence Shannon is one of the biggest guards in the country, a bully with a strong left hand that’s death once he gets any momentum. He will run the show for the Fighting Illini and their offense in the half court goes how he goes.

Same Starting Lineup

Matt Painter confirmed he’ll stick with the new starting lineup he debuted in Madison. Mason Gillis will stay at the 4 spot and Brandon Newman will get his second straight start for Ethan Morton.

Newman’s defensive spark was much needed against Wisconsin. He had two steals that he turned into two layups in the first half against the Badgers.

“I thought he brought good energy and defended in the Indiana game. I thought he did the same in this game [Wisconsin],” Painter said about Newman getting into the starting lineup.

Late in the game, Painter substituted in both Ethan Morton and Brandon Newman to give Purdue a little more size and on ball defense on the perimeter. Newman struggled with his shot, but against a team like Illinois, it could be that Painter looks to add more length to his rotation again.

Senior Night

Purdue’s senior night will feature two players, transfer David Jenkins Jr. whose career has taken him all over the country. For a full understanding of how Jenkins’ journey brought him to West Lafayette, check out:

David Jenkins Jr. – The Old Guard, The Gamer, and The Expiring Clock

The other senior being honored after the game is walk-on Matt Frost who has been with the program for the last four seasons.

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