TV Schedule: Wednesday, Dec. 2, 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Arena: State Farm Center, Champagne, Ill.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have dropped out of the top 25 after losing two of their last three games, but they face a bit of an easy stretch and travel to face the Illinois Fighting Illini on Wednesday night. A win here could boost them back into the top 25 and help set them back on the path to a top four seed in the 2016 NCAA tournament.
Illinois, on the other hand, will be desperately searching for a win over a quality opponent after going 3-4 to start the season. The Big 10 is not going to be easy for the Fighting Illini to navigate, and a lack of quality non-conference wins could be what keeps them out of any of the postseason tournaments. Defeating the Fighting Irish is their last chance at beating a team that is considered a “lock” for the 2016 NCAA tournament until conference play.
It should be noted that all of the losses for both Notre Dame and Illinois have come against decent opposition. For Notre Dame, the Monmouth Hawks have knocked off other Power 5 opposition, and the Alabama Crimson Tide have the talent to be a bubble team. For Illinois, every team that they have lost to is either the favorite or a co-favorite to win their respective conferences. These two teams desperately need to get over the hump and start winning close games against quality opponents.
That being said, Notre Dame is clearly the better team. Illinois’ defense has looked awful so far this season, and Demetrius Jackson should tear it apart for 20 or more points. The Fighting Illini look to be on the right path, but they are not going to get back on track against the Fighting Irish.
Prediction: Notre Dame 82, Illinois 70