Northwestern is looking for their first win at Illinois since 1999 on Sunday and despite the fact that NU is only 3-6 in the Big Ten, they’ve got a chance. Yes, NU is still suffering with injuries to JerShon Cobb, Luka Mirkovic, and Nick Fruendt, but Illinois is still a team that NU matches up decently well with. The biggest problem for NU is Illinois center Myers Leonard, especially if 6-11 Luka Mirkovic can’t go. However at times Illinois seems to forget that Leonard is on the court and relies on jump shots from D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul in order to win games. It has been enough at times for the Illini who scrapped by this week with a 42-41 win over Michigan State and have pulled out a number of other close games and home and on the road. In fact, Illinois should probably be even better than they are, but they aren’t and this is a team Northwestern can beat.
For Northwestern to win this game the ‘Cats need a solid effort from their center spot. I’m hoping we’ll see a version of Davide Curletti which is closer to what he was against Michigan State than what he has been in other games. They also need a big game from Drew Crawford. Crawford’s played well of late and if he has a really solid game (especially converting on drives and free throws) he can help push NU to victory. Of course, John Shurna must play a big role and I honestly think he’s a tough matchup for Illinois as long as NU isn’t forced to stick him at center for long stretches. Finally, NU has to get solid on defense. Whether it’s the 1-3-1 or the man-to-man, Northwestern can force Illinois into bad shots and turnovers. We’ve seen that in the past. The key is to do so and then take advantage which NU did not when the two teams played in Evanston. If NU can do that, they might just have a chance to pull off an upset. I predict: Northwestern, 61 Illinois, 58