Northwestern Wildcats vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Preview

So Northwestern beat Nebraska! This matters, to a certain extent, but only if Northwestern can win some meaningful games, which well klssdfajkl;jfk;akglhd;lasiupo weonwoanvklwhyihateeverythinglkdas;l;fkjdals;kjfdfkls;iwouldntbetmoneyonitbecauseletsbehonesthereisagodandheisallknowingandallpowerfulandwatchescollegebasketballandhatesusallindividuallyandmakesussuffer. So, that's that.

Jump it.

So: Northwestern played Illinois a while ago, and, well, we could've won, as John Shurna got off to a cracking start with 17 first-half points to put Northwestern up ten, but Illinois ended the first period on a 5-0 run and proceeded to take the lead in the first few minutes of the second. Shurna only scored three in the second half, NU kept it close, Illinois took the lead by hitting a single free throw with the game tied after an epic no-call on a charge, and then Meyers Leonard blocked Drew Crawford's attempted game-winning layup.

This happened. This happened this happened this happened, and we must own it. Illinois more than any other team - well, maybe MSU - has taken Northwestern's still-beating heart, garnished it with a variety of peppers and spices, and eaten it while Northwestern watches. This isn't a real rivalry, but oh my, I do not like the Illinois basketball squad.

How has Illinois been since?: Inexplicable. Wins over OSU and MSU, losses to Penn State and Minnesota. If you think Northwestern is confusing, the sentence fragment I wrote right before this one is one you should become familiar with.

What can Northwestern do better against Illinois?: I have two things:

1: No bigs. Meyers Leonard is an NBA player. In NU's last game, he led Illinois in both points and rebounds with 12 and 8. (Yeah, only 12 points, but he went 4-for-8 from the line.) I wrote last time about how I didn't feel Illinois used Leonard well in their offense and still believe this, but the point is this: Leonard will get his. He will do this against Davide Curletti. He will do this against Luka Mirkovic. Neither is a) tall b) athletic c) reasonably defensively talented enough to expect to have more than an inkling of success against Leonard. In 38 minutes in the last game, the pair combined for eight points on nine shots and seven rebounds. It's not that they played badly, it's that it's not worth it. I feel Northwestern's best chance of success is to put a smaller guy on Leonard, run a unit with Shurna as the biggest player on the floor, and see what happens. NU won't be able to make Leonard uncomfortable on offense, but we can spread the floor and take away his best asset, his interior defense.

2. Don't stink: Last game, Northwestern's two best players, John Shurna and Drew Crawford, had 28 points on 29 shots. If that looks sucky, it's because it is. Crawford was in classic Bad Drew form, going 3-for-12 with eight points, and Shurna had only three points in the second half when NU needed him. This cannot be in a Northwestern win.

Two-parter: If given the opportunity, would you waterboard Meyers Leonard? And what song would you make him listen to on repeat for hours on end through an incomprehensibly large set of speakers to ease his rapid descent towards insanity?: Yes, and this one:

Can NU win?: I firmly believe so. I'm not a man of strong internet convictions, but Illinois is not as good as they play. I refuse to believe that they are. I have no evidence and no real reason to say this, but I stand behind it. Look, people: although I'm joking about waterboarding Meyers Leonard until the point of insanity while making him listen to Kreashawn, in all honesty, I listen to that song modestly ironically on a pretty regular basis, and I'm the one being waterboarded, and the one waterboarding me is Northwestern basketball. I foolishly expected this team to make the tournament, again, not because of any reason, but because I'm a senior here and I wanted it relatively badly. Well, the past few weeks - Nebraska included - have been troubling, and YOU'RE DAMN WELL RIGHT that I'm still drunk from Gone Greek Night, and in case you can't tell, cognitive dissonance is starting to set in. I feel like the dude who predicted the rapture would happen on May 21 chilling in his room on May 22 noticing that he's not chilling out in Heaven with his 63,999 best friends.

My point being, let's win. Shall we?

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