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Preview: Northwestern v. Illinois - Can 'Cats Get Their First B1G Victory?

Northwestern aims for their first conference win as Illinois comes to Welsh-Ryan Arena for a showdown with the Wildcats.

Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

By The Numbers:

Northwestern Team Illinois
7-9 Record 13-3
Unranked Rankings #23
162 RPI 14
162 BPI 37
171 KenPom 50
171 Sagarin 48

January 12th, 2014 - Welsh-Ryan Arena - Evanston, IL

7:30 ET - BTN

Line: Illinois by 5.5


Northwestern enters Sunday's matchup with Illinois on a four-game losing streak. The Wildcats' most recent loss came against Iowa on Thursday. NU went down 10-0 to start and never got back in the game. They shot a miserable 39 percent from the field and just over 20 percent from three point land. The Hawkeyes were able to dominate down low, allowing them to shoot 56.9 percent. Forwards Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White, and Adam Woodbury totaled 44 points. The 'Cats played good defense for the first ten minutes, as they did against Michigan, but lack of depth continues to wear them down in the second half. On the bright side for Northwestern, JerShon Cobb dropped 18 points, more points than he had in his last three games combined.

Illinois is coming off a blowout loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday. The Badgers doubled up the Illini at halftime, leading 50-25, and Wisconsin would extend the lead to as much as 30. Rayvonte Rice scored 19 points and Joseph Bertrand added 18, nearly a season high for the senior guard. The Illini simply couldn't find twine throughout the game, finishing with 31.6 percent from the field. Up until Wednesday, Illinois had been hot. They defeated Mizzou in December and took care of Indiana in overtime, which moved Illinois into the rankings at 23rd overall.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Northwestern Pos. Illinois
Dave Sobolewski G Tracy Abrams
JerShon Cobb G Rayvonte Rice
Sanjay Lumpkin G/F Joseph Bertrand
Drew Crawford G/F Jon Ekey
Alex Olah C Nnanna Egwu

Players To Watch:

JerShon Cobb- The junior guard finally showed some signs of life in Northwestern's last outing. He led the team with 18 points and looked as if he had regained his scoring knack. With all the double teams Drew Crawford is seeing, Cobb has plenty of opportunities to score. He also will have to match up on Rayvonte Rice, Illinois's leading scorer, granted Rice will also see some doubles. Cobb will be the most important player on the floor for Northwestern.

Sanjay Lumpkin- Lumpkin has disappeared from games of recent. He only has nine points in his last five outings and is no longer rebounding at his once strong pace. With Olah and Egwu battling down low, Lumpkin will have the opportunity to rebound on both ends, a department NU has been particularly poor in. Lumpkin can give the 'Cats a shot in this one by returning to his role player ways.

Tracy Abrams- Any guy matched up with Dave Sobolewski should have a good day. Expect Abrams to put some pressure on the 'Cats' point guard and try to force some turnovers. Abrams can set the tone in this game. NU wants to slow it down and limit possessions, but if Abrams pushes the rock and gets his wings involved, Illinios will be up quickly. Abrams can also improve on his 6-24 shooting mark from his last two games.

Joseph Bertrand- Bertrand has been hot of late, scoring in double figures in his last four outings. So much attention will be on keeping Rayvonte Rice off the board that Bertrand's streak of ten double digits surely won't end. He's also averaging seven rebounds per game over the same time period. The rebounding battle between Bertrand and Lumpkin can play a key role in this game.


Wisconsin definitely exposed the Illini's weaknesses and proved John Groce's squad may not be as good as their ranking. However, Illinois has a significant edge on Northwestern. Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice are much more talented and better scorers than NU's combo of Sobolewski and Cobb. The Illini should push the pace and get the 'Cats out of their game. These teams are pretty evenly matched in the post, there shouldn't be a large difference in the rebounding margin. The game will come down to getting good shots and limiting turnovers. Illinois's guard play gives them both those and a 73-65 victory over Northwestern.