Talk about two teams needing to get a bad taste out of their collective mouths. The Fighting Illini weren’t ready to play in their last game on Saturday as the Wisconsin Badgers completely blitzed them from the start in a game that was over 10 minutes in. Meanwhile, Northwestern couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn as the Iowa Hawkeyes came into Welsh-Ryan Arena and grabbed their first conference win. I’d be shocked if both squads aren’t ready in this one.
For John Groce‘s squad this game is an absolute must. They were picked by some as a favorite to win the Big Ten after their hot start in non-conference play. Well, now they’re 1-3 in the league with a brutal stretch coming up where they could win perhaps as few as one or two games. Especially when you consider their lack of success in true road games.
My major concern right now for the Illini is their lack of perimeter defense. While this isn’t the same Northwestern shooting team from year’s past, they still have the ability to get hot from deep as seen in the Penn State Nittany Lions game. The only way the Wildcats will win is if they make the long ball. You’ve got to extend to the three point line and force the drive. With injuries to the Wildcats earlier in the season, they basically have one guy that can get his own shot in Tre Demps. Force Dave Sobolewski, Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire to put the ball on the floor to beat you. Regardless of your lack of true shot blocking.
What will this year become for Bill Carmody‘s squad? That’s the question being asked around Evanston right now and most of fanbase is rather negative after the Iowa shellacking. That game was looked at as a “litmus” test considering the Wildcats had owned the Hawkeyes under Fran McCaffery. Hopefully the Wildcats start to show up better or 2-3 Big Ten wins might be a stretch.
I want to see Northwestern post Swopshire from the start. It worked so effectively against Penn State and the Illini post defense is certainly no better than the Nittany Lions. If you just jack up threes late in the shot clock you can almost forget about even playing. You’ll lose. It’s also imperative to control the tempo. This Illini team is most effective in transition. If you force them to play at your tempo, they get frustrated and you might be able to steal this one.
*Illini 68 – Northwestern 55*
It’s so damn hard to win on the road in the Big Ten this year and Northwestern just doesn’t have the firepower to keep up. These are the games where you miss Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb the most. They have the ability to go one-on-one and stop an opponents run while quieting the crowd. Demps is too raw to be relied on. Also, the Illini will probably get hot again from three. The Wildcats don’t fight through screens hard enough and that leaves wide open looks from deep.
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