Eleven games to glory, right?
Northwestern (13-18, 4-16 B1G) embarks on its postseason journey tonight at the United Center against Illinois (11-20, 7-13) in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
There doesn’t appear to be a Kemba Walker on this Northwestern team, but the oddsmakers think the Wildcats have a good chance at winning tonight, at least. KenPom even favors Northwestern by a point. The Wildcats beat Illinois back in January for one of their four conference wins before losing by five in Champaign on March 3. Illinois shot 38 free throws in that game.
Much of the pregame attention is focused on senior Vic Law, who suffered a nasty shin injury on Saturday. The program announced Law is probable for tonight’s matchup after receiving stitches, but it’s unclear if the All-Conference honoree will be at full strength.
Ryan Taylor will presumably be back after missing Senior Day with an illness.
We all know that Northwestern has the worst offense in the Big Ten. On March 3, the Wildcats proved they can score against Illinois’ defense, putting up 49 points in the second half behind hot shooting from Taylor, Miller Kopp, and A.J. Turner. With Law coming off an injury, you figure Illinois will gameplan to double Dererk Pardon in the post, making it crucial for NU’s shooters to knock down their open looks. The Fighting Illini picked up seven steals against NU’s inexperienced ball-handlers in Champaign, and Brad Underwood’s squad will likely use the press again.
On the other end, Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili are Illinois’ most talented scorers. NU has done a good job on Bezhanishvili this season as the freshman has only made six field goals in two games. Dosunmu is averaging 15 points a game in two games against the Wildcats this season.
Illinois lost both its Big Ten matchups after defeating NU ten days ago. The winner of tonight’s game will face Iowa on Thursday. Here’s how to watch:
Tipoff: 8 p.m.
Location: United Center
Radio: ESPN 1000 AM
KenPom says: 69-68, Northwestern (52 percent chance of winning)
Betting line: Illinois -1.5, O/U 136.5