After a crushing loss at Georgia Tech, Northwestern (4-3) is going right back to work. Due to a condensed Big Ten schedule, conference play starts in the first week of December as Illinois (6-1) travels to Allstate Arena to take on the Wildcats.
Northwestern is in a bit of a crisis. Caleb Friedman already covered the pre-game situation, but it’s safe to say this is a must-win game for Northwestern for morale and for the team’s résumé.
As we all know, Illinois is a very familiar opponent for the Wildcats. The Illini won both games against Northwestern last season with John Groce as head coach. Illinois then fired Groce and replaced him with former Oklahoma State head coach Brad Underwood.
Underwood hasn’t had much time to put his stamp on the program just yet. Meanwhile, Illinois has lost Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, and Tracy Abrams to graduation. Jalen Coleman-Lands has transferred to DePaul. With no seniors in the rotation, Illinois is a young and unproven team. Illinois will roll out Kipper Nichols, who once sat out a year due to transfer rules but has blossomed into a great two-way player over the last season and a half. Nichols is averaging 11.6 points per game and is shooting at a 53 eFG% clip this season.
Junior Aaron Jordan and freshman Mark Smith have also shown flashes of brilliance. Smith, former Mr. Basketball in Illinois, was a four-star recruit and already looks like a stud. Aaron Jordan dropped 20 points against Wake Forest and 16 against NC Central. The junior never did much under Groce, but he seems to be thriving in the Underwood system.
This young Illini team has already notched six wins, but did lose against its first real competition at a mediocre Wake Forest team. Northwestern will be the most talented team Illinois has played this season, and the Illini should be extra-motivated to win the first round of the in-state rivalry series.
Catch the game on BTN, or better yet, head out to Rosemont and show your support. We have another late tip.
Game Time: 8 p.m. CST
Mobile: BTN2Go App
Radio: WGN AM 720, WNUR 89.3 FM
KenPom prediction: 80-70 (70% chance to win)
Betting Line: NU -5.5, over/under 145.5