I love it when my two press corps get together! Illini basketball vs Northwestern.
It's going down...I'm yelling Timber. You better move, you better dance. Sorry, couldn't pass that up.
It's just that NU and Illini basketball, and football are the two programs, along with the Chicago Bulls, that I cover regularly. Therefore, the once a year that they play each other is special to me as I "belong" to both press corps. The media room at this one is always a lot of fun for me. I even do a weekly segment on KOZN, 1620 The Zone Omaha, talking about Illinois and Northwestern.
Sunday night, 6:30 PM at Welsh-Ryan Arena will mark the one time they meet this year in hoops. There might be a round two at the Big Ten Tournament in Indy. If it were up to me, I'd keep them meeting just once a year, and have it at the United Center each time.
SPREAD: N/A, will update later when it comes out
#23 Illini basketball preview (13-3, 2-1): "Our State. Our Team." versus "Chicago's Big Ten Team." Chicago is the market where these two schools wage their rivalry. It's a battle for hearts and minds in the nation's third largest media market and one of the most fertile recruiting bases in the country. Illini basketball is the city's most popular college team; by a long shot. That's not up for debate. DePaul has been so down for so long that they do not rival the Illini. Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament, so neither the Wildcats nor any of the mid-majors and low-majors here really compete with Illinois to be the city's college hoops team.
This isn't like college football where we have no clear cut home team, and Illinois, NIU, Notre Dame and NU duke it out for Chicago supremacy. ND wins of course, they are Chicago's most popular tea,. Of course if Illini football could be anywhere near as consistent as Illini basketball, the city would be theirs in the autumn much like it's theirs in the winter.
This Illini basketball team isn't great, but they're not terrible either. They have a really nice resume building win over Mizzou; handing the Tigers their first loss of the season, and earning themselves a spot in the polls for the first time in 2013-14. Aside from the train wreck at Madison Wednesday night, and the final 8:19 of the loss at Georgia Tech, this season's body of work has given the Illini basketball fan nothing to really complain about.
Thus far, they look like a team that will exceed preseason expectations, go above .500 in the league, and maybe even win a NCAA Tournament game or two.
Northwestern (7-9, 0-3) preview: North shore native and former Illinois prep star Chris Collins is having a Tim Beckman type debut season. Northwestern basketball fans don't like to hear that, but it's just a simple observation of the truth; not hyperbole. Both Collins and Beckman had/are having nightmare first seasons as they took over programs with personnel recruited by someone else. Collins is running a motion base offense with players brought to Evanston to play in the Princeton Offense of Bill Carmody.
Results have been....well, imagine if Collins hadn't been able to get Drew Crawford to return? Then we're talking 2008 1-17 in conference bad. As it stands, NU is 216th in the nation in rebounding. 319th in scoring and 316th in field goal percentage. There 351 teams in Division I. The KenPom ratings project them to only win won more game this season. Northwestern hasn't recorded a signature win, and they've looked pretty bad in most of their games versus high-majors. Still, when they see the orange and blue of Illini basketball, they often get motivated and rise up. It's like when Oakland plays Michigan State at the Palace of Auburn Hills every season- this game is their Super Bowl.
The tilt with Illini basketball begins a stretch in which Collins and company will play AP Top 25 opponents in five of their next seven.
Prediction: Illini basketball 79, Northwestern 54
You saw what the Illini basketball team did to Bradley the day after the Cliff Alexander fiasco, so this Illinois team is good at regrouping from disaster and then taking their angst out on their next opponent. Or at least doing so when that next opponent is a vastly inferior team. If this was a Bruce Weber Illini basketball team I'd say they might be ripe for an upset here. And we saw Bruce lose a couple games at the Welsh when his team was favored. However, with John Groce that doesn't happen all too often. Yes, Illinois has looked rather mediocre (or sometimes worse) on the road this year, but this is as much of a road game for Illini basketball as any contest at the United Center would be. The crowd will be about 60-70% orange, like it is every year.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the country; with regular weekly segments discussing: Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Bears and Bulls on NBC and Fox Sports Radio. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)
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