After a tough road loss to Purdue that saw it fall out of the AP Top 25, Northwestern (18-5, 7-3 Big Ten) will look to get back on track at home against Illinois on Tuesday.
Illinois (13-11, 3-8 Big Ten) comes into this game on a three-game losing streak composed of losses to Penn State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The Fighting Illini have faced a relatively tough slate of Big Ten opponents, and a win over Michigan remains a bright spot on an otherwise forgetful resume. Illinois is ranked 80th nationally by KenPom and is 70th in RPI.
John Groce’s team gets most of its offense from senior guard Malcolm Hill, who is averaging 17 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, and also contributing nearly 3 assists. He’s generally joined in the backcourt by the ageless Tracy Abrams. However, the fellow senior has seen a dip in production in nearly every statistic this season, including his minutes. He only played three minutes in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota. Expect freshman Te’Jon Lucas to get most of the playing time at point guard on Tuesday.
That loss to Minnesota was highlighted by Illinois’ abysmal outside shooting. Hill shot 0-for-7 from beyond the arc and sophomore guard Jalen Coleman-Lands finished 0-for-8 from downtown.
Senior 6-foot-10 center Maverick Morgan contributes just over 10 points per game, and sophomore power forward Leron Black averages 9 points per game and has a ridiculous defensive rebound percentage of 27.5, good for 20th in the nation. Black is only 6-foot-7, but like the Northwestern big men, he knows how to effectively use his frame to get rebounds. Another player to look out for is freshman forward Kipper Nichols.
Illinois brings a very young team to Welsh-Ryan. Five of their first eight in the rotation are underclassmen, three of whom are freshmen. The Fighting Illini have shown inexperience in their slow start to conference play, but they are a team capable of scoring and will certainly test Northwestern’s depth with Scottie Lindsey missing a second consecutive game. Look for Illinois to push to get ahead early, but if the shots aren’t falling, the Wildcats will likely be able to capitalize.
Game time: 7 p.m. CT
TV Channel: BTN
Online streaming: BTN2Go
Mobile: BTN2Go app
Radio: WGN 720
Betting line: Northwestern -6