When Illinois and Northwestern met in January, the Wildcats tied the Illini 37-37 in the second half. The first half’s 38-34 tally gave Illinois the edge. Northwestern did that without second-leading scorer Boo Buie.
The Wildcats seemed like a young team on the verge of putting it all together. Since then, they nearly beat Purdue at home, and took Rutgers to overtime at the RAC. i.e. they lost every game, and only two were close.
The history of college basketball has taught you that this Northwestern team has lost all confidence. There’s no joy in lacing up. They just wish the season would end. Asterisk.
The Asterisk tells you this young team has nothing to lose, and the odds are good that they’ll put it all together one of these nights.
Illinois is not good enough to overlook the Mildcats.
Susceptible to handsy defenders and incapable of shooting from deep, close or mid-range; this Illini team wins ONLY when its known weaknesses don’t manifest simultaneously.
Or, as at Penn State, the opponent can’t hit the broad side of a barn.
Robbie Beran and Miller Kopp combine for 40% on threes. If the other Wildcats connect on the same pace that they did in Champaign, it could be an unpleasant night for Illini fans. Boo Buie nearly ended Rutgers’ undefeated-at-home streak by himself.
Northwestern will certainly throw a zone at Illinois, which works like a bucket of water on a wicked witch. The current Illini offense is Ayo versus everyone + shooters in the corners in case he needs to pass. If a low-post defender hedges, throw it up for Kofi. If a wing defender moves inward to help, kick it out to the shooter.
If the non-Ayo Illini can convert from deep, it’ll be a laugher.
After watching Minnesota hand Maryland the B1G Championship last night, you might feel confident about this game. Good teams win and bad teams lose, right?
But while Northwestern is demonstrably bad, there’s still reason to wonder whether Illinois is good. It’s beginning to feel that way.
Like Sally Field taking the Oscar for Norma Rae, these young Illini are feeling their oats. If you didn’t already watch this video of Ayo, Alan and Trent joining the media pool to ask questions of themselves, please do.
We like them. We really like them. But we still feel anxious about handing them the keys.
The advantage for Illinois might be its elders. Da’Monte Williams and Andres Feliz are fierce defenders, and they know how to follow a scouting report.
But Northwestern is TALL. Da’Monte’s wingspan enables him against opposing Stretch Fours. For Andres, it’s a bad match-up. Or a challenge. Depends how you look at it.