The Matchup: Illinois (12-7) @ Northwestern (13-5)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (7:00 PM CT Saturday January 23rd, 2010)
Radio: WYLL AM 1160
Fun Fact: Northwestern hasn’t defeated Illinois since 2004 (okay, this fact wasn’t that fun).
About the Game
Looking at this game for Northwestern’s point of view, a fan has to hope the Wildcats learned for their loss at Illinois in late December. In that contest Illinois used superior inside play from Mike Tisdale (who scored 31 points) and Mike Davis (who get 20 points and 17 rebounds) to withstand Northwestern’s early three point barrage and eventually prevail in overtime. In that game, Illinois was most successful against NU’s 1-3-1 zone. This wasn’t a surprise to most, though, as D.J. Richardson’s 45.1% 3-point percentage is among the Big Ten’s best. Also, the Illini have another excellent shooter in Demetri McCamey who scores 15.5 ppg and dishes out 6.0 apg. With Richardson’s shooting ability and McCamey’s ability to pass or knock down shots the 1-3-1 isn’t that hard for the Illini to beat. Illinois also got big shots from Bill Cole last time these teams met. Since the first meeting with NU, the 6-9 junior Cole has replaced freshman Brandon Paul in the starting lineup. Aside from being a decent shooter, Cole hits the offensive glass well. He has 22 offensive rebounds this season. It will be important for NU to block out like they did against Purdue. Were I Bill Carmody, I would stick with the switching man-to-man and avoid playing 1-3-1.
If NU does play man-to-man they will need a good performance from Kyle Rowley. In the first meeting, Luka Mirkovic was abused by Tisdale on the way to his 31 points. Rowley, however, was able to push Tisdale away from the hoop and make easy conversions more of a difficult task. Yes, the NU offense functions better with Mirkovic, and yes he’ll need to step up, but I think Rowley’s defense will be a key to NU’s success.
The final key to NU’s success will be how they approach the game on offense. In NU’s Big Ten wins, the ‘Cats have run their offense, found good shots, and even gotten fouled. In their losses they’ve fired up early threes and not run offense. Although NU might have some early looks against Illinois, I believe it is critical the ‘Cats run their offense and get the best possible shot. It will also be important to get Michael “Juice” Thompson involved in the scoring process. When Thompson adds punch to NU’s other scoring threats, NU is much more successful.
While this game will likely feature no shortage of Illini fans, I still think playing at home will help Northwestern. I also think the Wildcats will have learned from the first matchup and won’t let Illinois get as many easy baskets. Finally, as bad as NU’s loss to Ohio State was, I think it helped get several players, especially Jeremy Nash and Luka Mirkovic some extra rest. Having those two well rested to help attack the boards should assist NU. Northwestern, 65 Illinois, 60