Purdue senior forward Robbie Hummel knows his way around Champaign. As a kid, it was home away from home.
CHAMPAIGN -- Purdue senior forward Robbie Hummel knows his way around Champaign. As a kid, it was home away from home.
His father, Glenn, grew up here, attended Champaign Central High School and graduated from Illinois, where he played on the tennis team. Hummel's grandfather was an Illinois chemistry professor who served on the school's athletic board, and Robbie Hummel had two uncles and an aunt who also earned degrees from Illinois.
Hummel skated at the Illinois ice rink, attended Illini volleyball, football and basketball games, and he was a regular at the Clark Park playground in the middle of town.
"I had a pretty major Illinois connection,'' said Hummel, who was recruited by the Illini when he played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School. "They were coming off the Final Four run.
"Their scholarships filled up fast. I never had an offer, but I was very interested.''
So Hummel probably also knows what's happening with Illinois basketball when the Illini host Purdue in a Big Ten Conference game Wednesday at Assembly Hall. After losing six of seven games, Illinois plummeted from first in the league to a tie for seventh.
The pressure is mounting on coach Bruce Weber, whose job security can't afford another home loss if the Illini want to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the third time in the last five years. The Illini lost their last six to the Boilermakers, and the sports talk topic -- cranked up with appearances by athletic director Mike Thomas -- is Weber's future with the program more than a desperate attempt to reach the 68-team bracket.
Without this win, the Illini would need to win four of their last five games to finish with a 9-9 record, the mark that would assure of berth in the NCAA field considering the Big Ten's lofty ranking in the computer ratings.
If so, Hummel and point guard Lewis Jackson, the former Decatur Eisenhower star, are two of the biggest challenges faced by an Illinois defense suddenly lacking energy.
Hummel isn't the same since his two knee surgeries, but he leads the Boilers in scoring (15.6 points per game), rebounding (6.4) and leadership.
"He's Draymond Green without the wheels,'' Weber said. "Some days, he looks bouncy. Other days, he doesn't. He doesn't get to practice much. He's not shooting great, but he can get it going. When he gets in a rhythm, he's still a very good player.''
Jackson had eight assists and no turnovers in the 87-77 win over Northwestern on Sunday. Jackson didn't start the previous two games with back pain that slow him this season. Jackson is second on Purdue in scoring (9.8) and leads the league with a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio in Big Ten play. Meanwhile, guard D.J. Byrd scored 44 points combined in the last two games.
Illinois expects guard Sam Maniscalco to play after he missed the loss at Michigan with a sprained MCL in his right knee. With Purdue as a No. 10 seed and Illinois at No. 12 in the latest bracketology by ESPN, "we're both fighting for our lives,'' Weber said.
Weber attempted to keep the pressure off Tuesday, but it's hard when this season's finish means more than just a trip to the postseason.
"I don't want them to be too stressed, but I want a sense of urgency, play with that sense of desperation,'' Weber said. "That's how hard we have to play.''
Weber is already desperate. An 8-10 record might be good enough for an NCAA berth, Weber said, and he asked the Big Ten office "for help'' with the final outcome of the overtime loss at Minnesota. The Illini contend a call erased a win.
When compiling an NCAA resume, that should be considered, Weber said.
"The play at the end of the game, there's definitely a question on that foul call,'' Weber said. "I'm not sure anything can be done. You look at that thing, you get a win there, it's a big difference.
"At the end of the year, they always ask for special situations to consider. Did you have an injury, this or that? If you really look at it, that's a big game for us.''
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.
Illinois (16-9, 5-7) vs. Purdue (16-9, 6-6)
7:30 p.m., Assembly Hall, Champaign (BTN, Illini Sports Network)
ILLINOIS (16-9, 5-7) ppg rpg
F Joe Bertrand 6-5 So. 6.6 2.8
C Meyers Leonard 7-1 So. 13.2 8.0
G Brandon Paul 6-4 Jr. 15.2 4.9
G D.J. Richardson 6-3 Jr. 12.4 2.9
G Tracy Abrams 6-1 Fr. 3.1 2.3
PURDUE (16-9, 6-6) ppg rpg
F Robbie Hummel 6-8 Sr. 15.6 6.4
G D.J. Byrd 6-5 Jr. 7.8 1.8
G Ryne Smith 6-3 Sr. 9.5 3.0
G Kelsey Barlow 6-5 Jr. 8.5 3.8
G Anthony Johnson 6-3 Fr. 5.1 2.1
Noteworthy: Illini guard Sam Maniscalco is expected to play after spraining the MCL in his right knee. … Illinois has a three-game losing streak since the upset over then-No. 10 Michigan State on Jan. 31. … This is the lone home date in a five-game swing. … Purdue won the last two games played at Illinois and defeated the Illini 75-60 in the first meeting between the two teams this season. … Purdue averages 8.8 turnovers a game, leading the country. The Boilers lost an average of 4.3 turnovers in the previous four games.
Key for Illini: Play with some energy, especially on the defensive end of the court.
Key for Boilermakers: Hit some shots, spread the court and force the Illini to match up.
Key quote: "We've got to get back to basics. We've got to have pride on the defensive end.'' -- Illinois coach Bruce Weber.
Prediction: Illinois 64, Purdue 63