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Illini basketball preview: Northwestern

Illinois at Northwestern
8 pm
TV: Big Ten Network

Well, Illinois did not pass its first test.

Sure, the refs were no help, but the Illini fouled like it was their job and were forced to play big minutes without big man Michael Finke…against 7’1” Doral Moore. The result was probably kind enough. Illinois wasn’t blown out and did show some improvement, especially in three-point shooting. Oh, and that Aaron Jordan fellow looked all the way legit, scoring 20 against the Demon Deacons. But it was still a loss.

Tonight’s the next test, as Illinois travels to the Allstate Arena to face Northwestern in their temporary home. Fresh off their first NCAA Tourney berth, the Wildcats are still a solid team, but after dropping 3 of their first 7 games the presence of role players like Sanjay Lumpkin is clearly missing. And the most glaring difference is on defense.

This year, Northwestern is allowing opponents a 102.3 offensive rating (estimate of points per 100 possessions; Illinois’s opponent ORtg is 91.8), with opponents are shooting .380 from behind the arc. Perhaps best for a Brad Underwood-coached team, Northwestern’s effective field goal percentage allowed is .535 but is .600 for shots occurring within the first 10 seconds of a possession, an area Illinois improved upon against Wake Forest.

The Wildcats have their scorers, with Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay each averaging over 15 points per game and Vic Law and Derrick Pardon also averaging double digits. However, unlike Wake, Northwestern does not have a big size advantage over the Illini, with all starters ranging between 6’3” and 6’8”.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of John Groce’s tenure was the way his teams failed to correct deficiencies. Wake highlighted fouls, turnovers, and zone defense as clear and present issues with this year’s Illini; now it’s on Underwood to show he can coach his players out of thse bad habits. We’ll see how he and his team measure up this evening.

Photo by Mike Pauza

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