Basketball is back, for real

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Michael Thompson will have to step up for the Wildcats against Northern Illinois tonight.

There are 100+ games featuring NCAA Division I schools tonight as college basketball season finally gets underway. No more watching Evan Turner slice through over-matched opponents, now more games start.

There are three Chicago-area games on the slate tonight. Northwestern faces Northern Illinois at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Loyola (Ill.) heads to the Bramlage Coliseum to face Kansas State and Chicago State welcomes NCAA Division III opponent Concordia University (Ill.) to the Jones Convocation Center.

Three keys for Chicago State's opener are in the post below, but after the jump there's what to watch for during the Wildcats and Ramblers openers.

Northern Illinois at Northwestern:
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena, Evanston, Ill.
When: 7 p.m. CT
Records: Northwestern 0-0, Northern Illinois 0-0
Games Notes: Northwestern, Northern Illinois
Summary: The Huskies are a tough opener for the Wildcats. Every publication has picked Northern Illinois to finish near the top of the MAC West Division and four of it's top five players return from a year ago. Darion Anderson averaged 16.9 points per game as a sophomore. He is the key to the Huskies attack. Last season NIU displayed all the characteristics of a young team, it turned the ball over often, committed a high number of fouls and took bad shots. With the team being a year older and wiser don't expect the Wildcats to have it so easy. The injury to Kevin Coble creates an interesting atmosphere for this game and how Northwestern responds will set the ton for the rest of the season.
Three Keys for Northwestern: Start replacing Coble on offense, Rebound (especially on offense), Get to the free throw line

Loyola (Ill.) at Kansas State:
Where: Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan, Kan.
When: 7 p.m. CT
TV: Fox Sports Kansas City, ESPN360.com
Records: Loyola 0-0, Kansas State 0-0
Game Notes: Loyola, Kansas State
Summary: Kansas State is Loyola's most difficult game of the non-conference season by a wide margin. The Wildcats are expected to be in the running for an NCAA Tournament berth behind Denis Clemente (15.0 ppg) and Jacob Pullen (13.9 ppg, 3.7 apg). Connecticut transfer Curtis Kelly and 7'0" freshman Jordan Henriquez-Roberts just give K-State two more players to attack Big 12 opponents. Jordan Hicks is out of this game, according to the Loyola athletics department, so the scoring burden once again falls on the shoulders of freshman forward Ben Averkamp and senior forward Andy Polka.
Three Keys for Loyola: Stay in it early, Find efficient offense, Limit offensive rebounds and lock down on defense

Great to have games back! UIC opens on Saturday against the University of Illinois at Springfield and DePaul opens on Tuesday night against Columbia. Tuesday is also Loyola's home opener against Canisius, I'll have live reports and photos from that game.

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