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

#5 Purdue looks to stay in contention for the NCAA #1 seed as it hosts Illinois in the regular season finale.

For Purdue, their first goal of the season can be ticked off. They are the Big Ten champions in 2023. Next goal? Win the Big Ten Tournament, but between then and now, Purdue will have one more regular season game.

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

Purdue’s motivation? Their final goal of the season: winning the NCAA tournament. A win against Illinois and a strong push in the Big Ten Tournament would all but lock Purdue up as the No. 1 seed. A win against Illinois, perhaps just as important, would guarantee nothing worse than a high No. 2 seed for Matt Painter and his young roster.

As for Illinois, what to say about one of the strangest and most doomed teams this season in the country. We’ll start with one of the most bizarre titles in recent and not-so-recent college basketball history.

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

But Illinois has won three of its 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 another chance to add a signature win for a team looking to improve its resume entering the NCAA Tournament.

Jayden Epps is coming out

Jayden Epps will not travel to West Lafayette after suffering a concussion during the week of practice. Epps suffered the injury during practice when he accidentally took an elbow to the jaw, but Epps is recovering after spending the night in the hospital Tuesday night before being released Wednesday.

Illinois plays 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 has played in all of the previous 29 games. He averaged nearly 26 points per game and scored 10 points per game.

All Length Team

Without Epps, Illinois will go to Purdue with one of the longest starting lineups in the country. Illinois already had length at nearly every position, but their current starting lineup contains no one under 6-6 with three players at 6-9 or taller.

Illinois gets away with it because their length is matched with an elite athleticism. This makes their defense one of the more difficult tasks for the offense.

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

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

Matthew Mayer and Coleman Hawkins duo as two bigs with ball skills, able to shoot around the perimeter, put the ball on the deck and drive it to the hoop.

Terrence Shannon is one of the top guards in the country, a bully with a powerful left hand that is death when he gets any momentum going. He will run the play for the Fighting Illini and their half court offense is going as he goes.

Same starting lineup

Matt Painter confirmed that he will stick with the new starting lineup that made his Madison debut. Mason Gillis will remain at No. 4 and Brandon Newman will make 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 defense in the Indiana game. I thought he did the same in this game [Wisconsin],” Painter said of putting Newman in the starting lineup.

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

Evening for the elderly

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

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

The other senior honored after the game was Matt Frost who has been with the program for the past four seasons.

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