Northwestern (10-7) at (23) Illinois (14-4)|
Thursday, January 17, 8:15 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Assembly Hall (16,618) -- Champaign, Illinois.
Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: NU 6-6, UI 8-1. Away Record: NU 2-1,
UI 2-2. Neutral Record: NU 2-0, UI 4-1. Conference Record: NU 1-3, UI 1-3.
Series Record: Illinois leads, 129-37.
GAME NOTES: A pair of teams hoping to reverse their fortunes in Big Ten
Conference play get together in Champaign on Thursday night, as the
Northwestern Wildcats pay a visit to the 23rd-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini.
Northwestern is 10-7 overall, but just 1-3 in conference following losses to
Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa, with their lone victory coming at Penn State
last week. The Wildcats are 2-1 in true road games, but they're taking on an
Illinois squad that is 8-1 at home this season.
The Illini won the first 12 games of John Groce's tenure at the school, but an
82-73 loss to Missouri on Dec. 22 started the team on a downward trend that
has seen it lose four of its last six. UI will try to put the brakes on a two-
game slide with a win tonight, its latest setback coming at Wisconsin last
Groce will notch his 100th career victory if the Illini can get past the
Illinois owns a commanding 129-37 lead in the all-time series with its
intrastate rival, and the Illini have won 28 of the last 30 meetings against
the 'Cats at home. However, NU won last year's tussle in Champaign, snapping a
nine-game losing streak there. Overall, UI has won 21 of the last 25
encounters between the two teams.
Northwestern is a middling offensive team, as it shoots 42 percent from the
field, which includes a 36.7 percent showing from 3-point range, in averaging
65.8 ppg. The Wildcats have two active double-digit scorers in the form of
guards Reggie Hearn (13.7 ppg) and Dave Sobolewski (11.5 ppg), and the team as
a whole does a decent job of taking care of the basketball, turning it over
10.9 times per game. NU put forth its second-lowest scoring effort of the
season in last Sunday's 70-50 loss to visiting Iowa, as Sobolewski (14 points)
and Tre Demps (10 points) were the only two Wildcats to reach double figures.
The team was off the mark all game long, hitting a woeful 29.4 percent of its
field goal attempts, missing the mark on 21 of its 26 3-point tries along the
way. The 'Cats were guilty of only nine miscues, but the Hawkeyes shot 46
percent from the floor and claimed a 43-33 rebounding advantage as it
dominated the paint to the tune of a 40-18 scoring differential. Iowa's bench
nearly doubled the production of Northwestern's, 40-22.
Illinois is a much better offensive team than its counterpart tonight, putting
up 73.9 ppg behind typical shooting efforts of .432 overall, .345 from beyond
the arc, and .714 from the charity stripe. When the Illini play with their
backs to the basket, they allow 66.3 ppg as foes connect on just 41.7 percent
of their total shots, although the 3-pointer falls at nearly the same rate
(.343) as it does for Illinois. Groce's club is losing the rebounding battle
by a narrow 0.4 rpg, but it goads the opposition into more than 15 turnovers
per outing. Brandon Paul has proven himself to be one of the better all-around
players in the Big Ten by averaging 18.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists
per affair. Fellow guards Tracy Abrams and D.J. Richardson add 12.1 and 11.1
ppg, respectively for a team that is hoping to bounce back from its worst
offensive showing of the season in the recent loss to Wisconsin. In that
contest, the Illini, who fell behind 14-0 to start, shot just 35.3 percent
from the field, missing all but two of their 14 3-point attempts, while the
Badgers converted nearly half of their total shots, and drained 10 treys.
Richardson was high man for UI with a season-high-tying 16 points, and Joseph
Bertrand came off the bench to tack on 12 points and grab a team-high seven
Illinois is clearly the better of these two clubs, but if the Wildcats can
play the kind of defense they are capable of they could hang around for a
while. That said, don't expect the home team to suffer its fourth league loss
here as NU simply lacks the offensive firepower to topple top-flight
competition on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Illinois 65, Northwestern 56
01/17 10:32:30 ET