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Scouting Report: Northwestern

Illinois shouldn’t have lost the first time.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Northwestern Nuccio DiNuzzo-USA TODAY Sports

First Matchup

Somehow, Illinois actually did lose to the 3-14 Wildcats back on Jan. 6. Despite leading 31-25 at half, Illinois fell 68-66. Ayo led things for the Illini with 18 points, but he was 0-of-4 from beyond the arc. Frazier had just six points and was 0-for-3 from three point land.

In fact, this game was quite different than what we have been seeing as of late. Da’Monte Williams had 10 points, Adonis De La Rosa had 12, and Andres Feliz scored just a pair. The biggest issue? Going 0-of-11 from long range. That’s right: not a single three-pointer went in for Illinois. If they were 1-11, theoretically, they would’ve won the game.

Northwestern, by contrast, had a relatively balanced scoring attack with five players in double figures. Vic Law has 13 and Ryan Taylor had 12. Despite shooting 40 percent from the field overall (12-of-30 2FG), the Wildcats hit 8-of-19 three pointers. That was enough for the win.

This year, so far

The Kitties...well, they haven’t been great. In fact, they’re currently in dead last in the Big Ten with a 3-14 record and just 12 wins on the season overall. Obviously, Illinois has yet to eclipse the 12-win mark, but teams Northwestern has beaten include McKendree, New Orleans, Binghamton and La Salle. They did handily defeat Utah 79-57 on Nov. 25, but their only conference wins were against Illinois, Rutgers and Indiana.

But again, they have beaten us once already, and it’s the Big Ten. Anything can happen, and Underwood’s Illini have yet to prove (to me) that they can consistently be in the next tier above teams like Penn State, Rutgers and Northwestern.

Players to Watch

The obvious answer here is the senior 6-foot-7 forward Vic Law. The St. Rita’s alum led the ‘Cats in scoring in the last matchup between these two teams. Ryan Taylor, the grad transfer from Evansville, had a solid shooting game in the first matchup. He was 4-of-8 from three. Twelve points. That’s it. But he is 6-foot-6, which is immediately going to cause matchup problems for Illinois. Maybe Brad can throw Tev or Alan Griffin some more minutes, because I think AJ or Trent might have difficultly guarding that length.

Derek Pardon has also been a solid contributor so far this year, and he stands at 6-foot-8. Barrett Benson is 6-foot-10 and will likely see a lot of Giorgi in the low post. Giorgi only had eight points in the last matchup, but Benson had two. Benson’s career high in points was 12 against Binghamton.

Prediction

This is one the Illini can’t let get away. And I don’t think they will. After a very disappointing performance against the Nittany Lions, I hope and expect that Underwood will have the boys motivated and ready to finish the season strong.

Trent has been slumping the past few games. That’s not a secret. After he and Ayo were in a rhythm together like we had all hoped, they both have been shooting poorly over the past few games. Ayo’s three point percentage is down below 35 percent. Giorgi has one of his worst games of the year against Penn State (and Purdue).

But since the first matchup between these two teams, Illinois has beaten Maryland, Michigan State, Rutgers, and Minnesota. Andres has shown that he is one of the most mentally tough guards in the game. Giorgi broke Deon Thomas’ freshman scoring record. This is not the same team as it was eight weeks ago, and I think it will show.

Illinois 82, Northwestern 70

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