The Northwestern-Illinois series has been very competitive over the past several years. It's essentially been a sure thing to assume a split of the season series but NU hopes to record a rare sweep of their instate rivals tomorrow night.
Thinking about this game I see the NU defense as being the key. Sure, the Wildcats are down personnel and that leads to some offensive issues, but Thursday's game at Ohio State saw several Wildcats step up on offense. I was especially impressed with the second half of Kale Abrahamson who seemed to find his shooting stroke and made some nice inside moves as well. The 'Cats need some more production from the center position and they need Dave Sobolewski to hit a few more shots, but really the NU offense is good enough to beat Illinois. The problem is how do the 'Cats counter the Illini offense which has started to once again catch fire from three. The 2-3 NU used vs OSU was effective but probably isn't the best defense to use vs Illinois because the Illini can shoot better from the outside. The question becomes with their limited bench can NU play man to man and stay out of foul trouble? The Wildcats only used seven players vs OSU and won't have likely have more than nine vs Illinois so it would be helpful if NU were out of foul trouble. NU could try to play 1-3-1 and turnover Illinois which isn't a great ball handling team, but again that would risk the Illini catching fire from three.
Prediction: With that discussion of NU defense one has to at least consider Illinois's defense which wasn't good vs NU when the teams met last month. I tend to think it'll be better this time around. Will that be enough to turn around the score? Probably not be itself, but with good shooting it could very well be the difference. I think this game will be close. This NU team battles with as much intensity as any Wildcat squad I can remember and whatever else happens after Sunday night they have to know they have the potential to make history with the first season sweep of Illinois since 1966. While the odds are stacked against them I have a good feeling that this might be a Wildcat win, especially if the Wildside shows up and makes it uncomfortable for the Illini. They haven't shown up in big numbers yet this year, but a good student turnout and an NU win could give the 'Cats a nice bump with some winnable games coming up. Honestly, if NU doesn't win Sunday I don't think they win the rest of the year. Therefore, I'm saying Northwestern wins because they have to. Northwestern, 66 Illinois, 64