Northwestern vs. Illinois basketball preview

USA TODAY Sports

The Northwestern Wildcats take on Illinois in a rivalry-ish thing, looking to complete a season sweep over Champaign-Urbana's Big Ten Team® for the first time since 1966. Oh, and they still only have seven healthy guys :(

Northwestern plays Illinois tomorrow. It's sold out! That means a lot of people from Illinois will be there, but hopefully some Northwestern fans will show up to support a team that's playing its goshdanged heart out.

Did you know Northwestern hasn't beaten Illinois twice in a season since 1966? Jesus! Hey, they should try to do that! It would be some real CHICAGO'S BIG TEN TEAM stuff for Northwestern to Just Like Football Illinois both times in one year.

Last time we met: Illinois was ranked - haha - but Reggie Hearn lit up Champaign for the second straight year, putting up 20 on just seven shots. NU was up 36-21 at the break, and Illinois couldn't mount a rally as they struggled with turnovers and bricked every open shot.

Since then? That was part of a dismal stretch where Illinois lost six of seven, harsh mean regression after starting out 12-0. But they've rebounded since, knocking off Indiana at home on a Tyler Griffey layup with the clock expiring and then beating Minnesota on the road, following that up with a 20-point beatdown of Purdue?

Olah? Maybe. It would be nice to have him for depth reasons, but Northwestern obviously did well without him against Ohio State. Nikola Cerina played better than Michael Turner generally does, and Michael Turner played better than most Northwestern centers of the post-Eschmeyer era. It's doubtful both guys do that again, though - Olah has certainly been the most consistent.

What we gonna do: I'll say the same thing I said last time about Illinois. When they're hot, they're hard to beat with a ton of streaky shooters. When they're cold, they're cold. You're not going to beat Illinois - they're going to beat you or beat themselves. The switchy 2-3 - it's not really an amoeba defense, but we'll call it that - was so effective against Ohio State in part because the Buckeyes weren't expecting it and seemed confused by the switching, and in part because it fits Northwestern's personnel: running a 1-3-1 for an entire game is a virtual impossibility unless you're willing to play ten guys just because of how much hustle it takes, and right now, Northwestern only has seven. Plus, Michael Turner and Kale Abrahamson are huge mismatches in any one-on-one setting. I expect them to continue playing it. And if you're wondering whether Northwestern will be burning and concerning, last game had just 55 possessions, NU's third-slowest game in a year filled with slow games.

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