The Illini mens basketball team starts Big Ten play tonight with a tough assignment.
Not so much that Purdue has a great record (6-6) .....but that the Boilers are always very difficult to beat in the din of Mackey Arena. Doesnt seem to matter whether the Boilermakers have All-Big 10 players or not. Whether the Illini are ranked or not. In fact...even in the amazing Final 4 season of 2004-05.....the #1 ranked Illini had their biggest deficit of the regular season that year (9 points)......at Mackey Arena.
Frankly this year....Matt Painter is in a rebuilding mode. After nearly leaving to take the Missouri job before last season.....Painter no longer has the dominant trio of Hummell ....Johnson ..... and Moore available at Keady Court. He does have 3 young men named Johnson (Terone, Anthony and Ronnie)...and an outside 3-point sharpshooter in D.J. Byrd ...and good young big man in A.J. Hammons (7'feet). But his team is young and has lost at home to Bucknell and on the road at Eastern Michigan already this year.
The Boilers are still tough on the glass (2nd in Big Ten in offensive rebounding)....and guard you very closely (opponents only shooting 39 percent from the field...and only 29 percent from 3 point territory). The Paint Crew is one of the better student sections around...although with the semester break.....those numbers may be down tonight.
John Groce has not been in Champaign for the previous 7 straight losses to the Boilers. Hopefully his team can snap the streak tonight and start the Big Ten season with a big road win.
Talk to you tonight from West Lafayette.