The new college basketball week gets started the right way on Monday night with a Big Ten showdown between the no. 25 Illinois Fighting Illini and the no. 7 Purdue Boilermakers. While Purdue is held in higher esteem, it’s Illinois that’s still undefeated in conference play. At home, the Fighting Illini are 1.5-point favorites, with the over/under set at 152.5 points.
The Boilermakers have only been tripped up a couple of times this season, although both games came in conference play. Purdue lost to Rutgers back in December and fell at home to Wisconsin earlier this month. Of course, the Boilermakers also have wins over North Carolina, Villanova, Florida State, Iowa, and others on their resume.
Meanwhile, Illinois remains the only team in the Big Ten that’s still unbeaten in conference play. Granted, the Illini had some issues during the non-conference schedule, losing to Marquette, Cincinnati, and Arizona. But Illinois is currently rising a six-game winning streak, including a win over Michigan on Friday.
Feel the Burn
Without question, center Kofi Cockburn is the centerpiece of Illinois and the biggest reason why the Illini are a top-10 rebounding team nationally. Cockburn is averaging a double-double with 21.9 points and 12.3 rebounds per game and has a double-double in 11 of the 13 games he’s played after missing the first few games of the season. Naturally, the Illini lacks size in the frontcourt outside of Cockburn outside of 6’10’’ sophomore Coleman Hawkins, who is not a serious offensive threat.
Meanwhile, the Illinois backcourt has three players who average in double figures. The trio of Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier, and Jacob Grandison are combining for over 40 points per game, with all three being dangerous from the perimeter. The only caveat is that point guard Andre Curbelo hasn’t played since November, with senior Da’Monte Williams being forced into a much bigger role than expected.
The Gang’s All Here
The Boilermakers bring back almost their entire team from last season, and it’s shown with Purdue being one of the highest-scoring teams in the country at 85.6 points per game. The backcourt tandem of Jaden Ivey and Sasha Stefanovic have both taken a big step forward this season. Ivey and Stefanovic are averaging 16.3 and 11.2 points per game, respectively, and both are shooting 40% or better from the perimeter.
At the same time, the Boilermakers are one of the few teams that can match up with Cockburn’s size. Zach Edey has taken a huge step forward as a sophomore, as the 7’4’’ center is averaging 15.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, as he can be a handful when he stays out of foul trouble. The Boilermakers also have a versatile all-Big-Ten caliber forward in Trevion Williams, who has a well-rounded skill set and is getting far more help than he did a year ago.
Look Over There!
All eyes will be on the paint in this game, with Cockburn going up against Edey and Williams. But the matchup in the backcourt will be just as important. With Illinois still missing Curbelo, the Boilermakers might have a slight edge in the backcourt, so bet on Purdue to give Illinois its first conference loss of the season.
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