The struggling Illinois Fighting Illini (17-11, 7-8) will be back at the State Farm Center on Saturday night to face off against the Northwestern Wildcats (14-14, 5-10). The Illini are in the middle of a three game losing streak; they're coming off a 68-60 loss at the hands of Iowa their last time out and, as a result, the team's NCAA Tournament hopes are on the brink. This is, of course, Illinois' second game against Northwestern this season. The first contest in Evanston resulted in a 72-67 victory over the Wildcats thanks to a career night from Kendrick Nunn (25 points and 5 rebounds on 8/13 shooting).
Illinois leads the all-time series over Northwestern by an incredible margin of 131-39, but that figure can be a bit deceiving when looking at recent years. The Wildcats have a two-game winning streak at the State Farm Center (2012 and 2013) and the four double-play series between the two programs since 2007 have each resulted in a 1-1 tie.
Illinois has three games left in the regular season (Northwestern, Nebraska, and @ Purdue) and it appears they'll need to run the table to stay in NCAA Tournament consideration. In SB Nation's latest bracketology, Illinois is listed as a No. 11 seed and is projected to play Texas in the First Four at Dayton; the winner of that game would face No. 6 seed VCU in the First Round. It's possible that going 2-1 (losing to Purdue) plus another victory in the Big Ten Tournament could be enough, but that'd make for a long Selection Sunday.
The 2014-15 season marks the 10-year anniversary of Illinois Basketball's 2004-05 Final Four run and the program will be honoring the team at halftime of Saturday's game; Roger Powell, Jack Ingram, and Rich McBride are scheduled to make an appearance. Dee Brown and Deron Williams, unfortunately, won't be able to make it because they're still playing professionally.
Illinois Fighting Illini:
- Jaylon Tate | SO
- Kendrick Nunn | SO
- Malcolm Hill | SO
- Leron Black | FR
- Nnanna Egwu | SR
- Bryant McIntosh | FR
- Tre Demps | JR
- Scottie Lindsey | FR
- Vic Law | FR
- Alex Olah | JR
Northwestern's Four Factors:
|Effective FG %||50.3% (114th)||47.7 (118th)|
|Turnover %||18.2% (106th)||15.7 (339th)|
|Offensive Rebounding %||28.9% (250th)||29.5 (103rd)|
|FTA/FGA||28.6 (340th)||33.4 (101st)|
Northwestern's offensive numbers aren't as bad you'd think. The Wildcats score 33.4% of their points from behind the arch (2nd highest in the Big Ten), 49.4% from two-point range, and 17.2% from the free throw line. As a team, Northwestern is shooting a respectable 37.4% from long range during conference play and they're only turning the ball over on 18.2% of their possessions. However one thing that pops out from the stat sheet is their complete inability to get to the free throw line; they're 340th out of 351 teams in that aspect.
Northwestern is horrible at forcing turnovers. The team's steal rate of 5.8% is third-worst in the nation and they're only generating turnovers on 15.7% of opposing possessions (339th). One thing the Wildcats are good at, though, is interior defense; opponents are only shooting 43.4% from two-point range (38th).
John Groce Northwestern Preview:
TCR Prediction: Illinois 56, Northwestern 52
KenPom Prediction: Illinois 64, Northwestern 57 (76% W)