Sneak peek: No. 11 Illinois at Purdue, 7:30 tonight
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 12.1
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 10.9
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.7
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 9.2
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.2
FYI: Big Ten Player of the Week Tracy Abrams scored a game-high 27 points in Illinois’ win against Auburn on Saturday, marking just the third time this season that Paul wasn’t the team’s leading scorer.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 8.8
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 4.3
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.9
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Terone Johnson Jr. 6-2 12.5
G Ronnie Johnson Fr. 6-0 8.9
G/F D.J. Byrd Sr. 6-5 9.3
F Jacob Lawson So. 6-8 3.6
C A.J. Hammons Fr. 7-0 10.0
FYI: Terone Johnson, Ronnie’s big brother, is averaging 14.1 points and 5.5 rebounds in his last eight games and has reached double figures in 16 of his last 19 outings.
OFF THE BENCH
G Anthony Johnson So. 6-3 6.8
G Rapheal Davis Fr. 6-5 4.8
F Donnie Hale Fr. 6-8 4.8
Site: Mackey Arena (14,846), West Lafayette, Ind.
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Shonn Morris (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Purdue leads 95-84. Last meeting — Purdue 67, Illinois 62, Feb. 15, 2012.
FYI: Purdue has won seven straight in the series, including three straight at Mackey Arena. Illinois’ last win in that building was an overtime win in the 2008-09 Big Ten opener.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
His shot hasn’t been falling of late, but D.J. Richardson’s confidence isn’t shaken. The senior guard is 4 for his last 22 from behind the three-point line (18.1 percent) in his last four games after shooting 36 percent to start the season. For the Illini to win on the road — or anywhere — in the Big Ten, the Peoria native will have to heat up. “I’ve been getting in the gym, getting up some extra shots on The Gun,” Richardson said. “I’m a shooter, I’m going to keep on shooting. I can defend, I’ve been going to the basket a little bit more and creating for others. I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I’ve been doing other stuff to help the team.”
As will probably be the case entering most conference games this season, the Illini will face a team tonight that will give them fits on the boards. Purdue is second in the Big Ten and is among the national leaders, averaging 14.4 offensive rebounds per game. Illinois’ big men have come under fire for the team’s plus-1.1 rebounding margin, which ranks 11th in the league, but rebounding will have to be more of an effort from all positions. “It’s got to be a mind-set and it’s got to be important to our guys,” Groce said. “We’ve got to do it a little differently than some teams. Some nights where we don’t quite have the girth as some other teams, we’ve got to go get it as a group of five. We need our guards to rebound for us.”
While the Illini have lit up the scoreboard in the last two games (77.0 ppg), they’ve struggled on the defensive end, which was their strength during the 12-0 start. Missouri hurt Illinois in transition. Auburn did it in the half court with players making shots they typically don’t make. Either way, locking it up on that end of the floor is a priority for Illinois entering conference play after allowing 80.5 the last two games. “Defending the three was something we didn’t do very well that we had done pretty well to this point,” Groce said after Auburn made 11 threes against his team. “We’ve got to do a much better job than that and play a little harder to start the game than we did defensively.”
Prediction: Illinois 69, Purdue 66
In the grand scheme of things, Illinois is way ahead of where most had them pegged under first-year coach John Groce. While Illinois has spent some time in the Top 10 as it compiled a 13-1 record, Groce says there’s still plenty of room for improvement. In a conference that features six teams ranked in the Top 20, the Illini will have to show improvement each night against the best-scouted league in the country. They’re still learning the new system but haven’t mastered it yet. “That gets me excited because if we do master it, we’ve got another level of play where we can play even better,” Groce said. Purdue’s record isn’t impressive, but the Illini will have to take some steps in mastering the system to win in one of the Big Ten’s tougher environments. (N-G record: 11-3).