The Illini look to avenge their Jan. 6 road loss to Northwestern this Sunday, as Illinois heads home to take on the Wildcats. Northwestern currently occupies last place in the Big Ten and is riding a nine-game losing streak, but the ‘Cats are still very much a dangerous opponent.
Here’s what the Illini will need to secure a win on Sunday.
Effective Guard Play
During their last game against No. 14 Purdue, Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier and Andres Feliz scored 9, 8, and 9 points respectively. Although this anomalous performance was due in no small part to playing one of the best teams in the country on the road, the performance of that back court trio was arguably the most important factor in Illinois’ ability to only muster 56 points in the game.
Aaron Jordan’s three-point shooting and the ability of Giorgi Bezhanishvili to establish himself in the paint are also pivotal, but they can be compensated for when Ayo, Trent and Andres are on their game.
Shut Down Vic Law
Northwestern forward Vic Law led the team with 13 points and 10 rebounds on 37 minutes in their Jan. 6 victory in Evanston. He’s also their leading scorer over the course of the season, averaging 15.5 points per game. Aaron Jordan and/or Kipper Nichols will need to play tough defense to neutralize him while Giorgi Bezhanishvili is covering NU center and second-leading scorer Dererk Pardon.
As Giorgi demonstrated in their last meeting, I’m fairly comfortable with his ability to handle Pardon.
Vic Law is a talented player who has given the Illini fits over the years, and shutting him down will be the key to minimizing Northwestern’s offensive capabilities.
Strong Home Atmosphere
This is a home game against an in-state rival with the full Orange Krush expected courtside. Visiting opponents should dread these matchups, and it takes an energized and engaged fanbase to make sure that happens. This has been a roller coaster season, but the way the players persevered through some tough times earlier in the year is more than deserving of your time on a Sunday if you can spare it.
With a win on Sunday, the Illini have a chance to move to 7-11 in conference and 11-18 overall. When times were looking bleak early in the year, I could not even imagine the possibility of 6 or more conference wins this year, much less a few against ranked opponents. That’s a testament to this team’s toughness, and I hope it becomes a hallmark of Brad Underwood’s teams going forward.
For vintage inspired, high quality, and well-designed University of Illinois apparel, check out Fourth and Kirby, and look for the TCR Collection while you’re at it!