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Northwestern basketball vs. Illinois: Preview/Game Thread

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After a much-needed week off, Northwestern returns to the court for a rematch with Illinois, and we can only hope it goes a little better than when NU played them in Champaign (if post-traumatic stress has caused you to forget what happened, click here).

It's tough to be too optimistic after that last debacle, but the Illini have been struggling since then, losing 4 out of 6 and falling out of Big Ten title contention. And all season long, Bruce Weber's team has played down to their competition away from home, losing at Penn State and Indiana in Big Ten play and somehow falling to Illinois-Chicago at the United Center back in December. The Penn State and Indiana losses are both somewhat understandable (it's always tough to win on the road in the Big Ten), but the UIC loss is completely inexplicable: the Flames are now 6-17 overall and 1-10 in the Horizon League, that would be a bad loss for the last place team in the Big Ten.

It will be interesting to see what Northwestern's game plan is this afternoon. Will Bill Carmody stick with the slowdown strategy that was so effective against Ohio State, or will he go back to what he did the previous 20 games, giving his talented offensive players the freedom to take the first decent shot? The answer will probably depend on the health of John Shurna. According to Lindsey Willhite, Shurna has passed his concussion test and will play, but given that he's barely practiced, his minutes will likely be limited.

The game is on CBS, marking the first time CBS has ever broadcast a game from Welsh-Ryan Arena, but if you live outside of Illinois, you're probably stuck with UCLA vs. St. John's, as the powers that be at CBS have accurately concluded that Steve Lavin facing his old team will draw more national interest. Apparently you can get a legal stream on CBSsports.com if you're not at the game, and if that fails, there are probably some illegal streams out there (assuming Homeland Security hasn't taken them over). Northwestern is somehow a 1.5 point favorite in this one, and NU hasn't lost a game they were favored in all season, so let's keep the streak going.