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January 12, 2014

No. 23 Illlini travel to Northwestern




The No. 23 Fighting Illini head to Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats on Sunday evening as they try and bounce back from a tough loss at Wisconsin.

Although Northwestern is struggling, they also seem to save their best for when the state's flagship University comes to town.

Here's a look at the particulars and our keys to the game.


Setting the stage

#23 Illinois (13-3, 2-1) at Northwestern (7-9, 0-3)
Jan. 12, 2014 // 6:30 PM CST // Evanston, Ill. // Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117)
TV: BTN - Eric Collins (Play-By-Play), Mike Kelley (Analyst)
Radio: Fighting Illini Sports Network - Brian Barnhart (Play-By-Play), Jerry Hester (Analyst)
Satellite Radio: Sirius - 85, XM - 85


Storylines

* This is the only meeting this season between Illinois and Northwestern. The Illini are attempting to win three straight at Evanston since claiming four in a row at Welsh-Ryan Arena from 2005-09.

* Illinois has scored 70 or more points in three straight Big Ten games for the first time since also doing so in three consecutive games from Feb. 5-13, 2011 (70 at Northwestern, 71 at Minnesota, 70 vs. Purdue).

* Only three teams have exceeded 70 points against Illinois this season: Oregon, Indiana and Wisconsin. With the 95-70 loss at Wisconsin on Wednesday, Illinois fell for the first time this season when scoring 70-plus points. The Illini are now 9-1 this season and 23-3 overall under Coach John Groce when reaching the 70-point marker.

* The Big Ten's leading scorer with an 18.8-point average (61st in NCAA), Rayvonte Rice has averaged 20.2 points over the last 11 games (222), led by a career-high 29 points against Indiana on Dec. 31. Rice has been the Illini's leading scorer in each of the last four games, averaging 22.8 points (91) along with 7.8 rebounds (31) over that stretch.


Keys to the game

1. Three point shooting - Northwestern shoots a lot of 3's, but they haven't made very many. The only scary thing is that they get hot for one game and pull an upset. Of course, Illinois hopes this isn't that game. The Illini need to limit their attempts and force them into tough two point shots.

2. Get to the rim - Northwestern doesn't protect the rim well and they foul a lot, so this is an excellent opportunity for Illinois to use Rice, Abrams and Bertrand to attack the basket and find very little resistance at the basket. If Illinois settles for lots of jumpers, that could mean a long day, and a tighter game.

3. Lock down defense - Northwestern is not very good on offense against high major opponents. They have scored below a point per possession in 6 of their last 7 games, including under .85 PPP in 5 of those games. Illinois, the Wisconsin debacle notwithstanding, has been solid defensively and should be able to slow down the Wildcats with some pressure defense.


Prediction

Northwestern hasn't been able to get over the hump. They have some really bad losses and their best win is probably Western Michigan. Illinois should win this one, but it won't be as easy as it should be due to the fact that this may be Northwestern's World Series. Illinois pulls it out, 70-63.


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