Illinois Vs Purdue Preview: One Team Will Lose A Conference Game Before 2011 Ends

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 17: Meyers Leonard #12 of the Illinois Fighting Illini grabs a rebound against the UNLV Rebels at United Center on December 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. UNLV defeated Illinois 64-48. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Illinois Fighting Illini (12-2, 1-0) finish out 2011 with a matchup against the Purdue Boilermakers (11-3, 1-0) on Saturday afternoon.

Before the 2011 calendar year is over, either the Illinois Fighting Illini or the Purdue Boilermakers will have their first loss in Big Ten conference play. The Saturday afternoon game between the two teams is the Boilermakers' conference home opener, but it may not be a typical game atmosphere with the holidays pulling students away from the campus.

The Illini have developed a fairly well-balanced attack, with four players averaging at least 10 points per game, but the staff at Hammer and Rails is rightly concerned with Illinois' star big man Myers Leonard:

My biggest concern for this game is Meyers Leonard, a player that Joe K. from Hail to the Orange described as, "any possession where doesn't get a touch is a wasted possession." Given our lack of depth in the paint and the questionable nature of Sandi Marcius and his calf injury, Leonard is incredibly dangerous. The 7'1" 245 sophomore is averaging 13.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. He's a 20 and 10 waiting to happen that also stays out of foul trouble, so there goes that strategy. He had 20 and 11 in the double overtime win over Minnesota earlier this week.

Illinois has lost two of their last four games after starting the season 10-0, and just barely eeked out a double-overtime victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in their conference home opener.

As for Purdue, they are led by senior forward Robbie Hummel, who is averaging 17.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game so far this season. The team ranks 76th in the nation in points per game (74.5) and 135th in field goal percentage (44.8%), while the Illini rank 146th in points per game (70.2) and 128th in field goal percentage (45.1%). Expect a close game if Illinois can slow the pace of the game to their liking.

Game date, time: 3:00 p.m. CT, Saturday, Dec. 31st, 2011

Location: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, IN

Radio: AM 1380, FM 92.7

TV: ESPN2

Spread: Purdue is favored by seven points, and the over/under is currently set at 128.5 points.

Keep tabs on SB Nation Chicago for all game updates. For more on the Fighting Illini, check out Hail to the Orange.. For more on Purdue, head over to Hammer and Rails.

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