The Big Ten had four games on Friday night and while only one looked intriguing on paper, three went down to the final minutes. Iowa and Wisconsin ended up scoring wins over underwhelming opponents at home, Northwestern got upset, and Illinois went on the road and beat a feisty Grand Canyon team.
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Game of the Day:
After an underwhelming performance on Tuesday night where Illinois needed overtime to beat Nicholls State at home, many were wondering how the Illini would show up in a challenging road environment. Grand Canyon didn’t project to be a great team, but it did look like a top 130 team on paper. Playing a team like that on the road isn’t easy.
However, Illinois controlled this one from the start in large part thanks to 21 points from Andres Felix and 23 points from freshman Kofi Cockburn. The Illini jumped out early and were able to hold on for an 83-71 win when all was said and done.
This isn’t a win that’s going to stand out on first appearance, but make no mistake about this game’s resume implications. Friday’s win will boost the team’s profile and help the Illini on Selection Sunday, assuming the team does work in the coming months. Road wins are always valuable and Grand Canyon figures to be a decent mid-major this year.
Illinois will now continue its trip out west with a road game against Arizona on Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats are currently rated as a top 20 team on KenPom. A win there would be massive for the Illini moving forward.
Game of the Day:
There really isn’t much to take away from this one. Iowa hosted an inferior opponent at home and was able to cruise to a 27-point victory to open the season. Luka Garza led the way for the Hawkeyes with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Notably, Jordan Bohannon did get on the floor and play 19 minutes. Fans will certainly hope that keeps up in the coming weeks. Iowa will now prepare for a game against DePaul at home on Monday.
-Merrimack Warriors 71, Northwestern Wildcats 61
The most stunning result from Friday night came in Evanston, as Northwestern fell to lowly Merrimack at home by double-digits. It was a crushing loss for the team and program and immediately raises questions about where things are heading this season and beyond.
To put into perspective just how bad this loss was for Northwestern, just consider Merrimack’s profile coming into this game. This is Merrimack’s first season in Division I. Moreover, the Warriors were rated outside the top 300 on KenPom and were coming off a loss to Maine coming into the game against Northwestern. For those wondering, Maine is currently rated 324th on KenPom and went 5-27 last season.
There’s simply no way to describe this loss as anything other than a total disaster for Northwestern. Look, even if this team didn’t have big goals this season (many projected the Wildcats to finish last in the Big Ten), dropping a game like this is a major program stain. It’s just the latest in a long decline from that legendary 2017 NCAA Tournament appearance.
Northwestern will now have to regroup for a matchup against Providence at home on Wednesday. The Friars are rated 22nd nationally on KenPom.
If you were only to look at the result of this game, there really wouldn’t be much intrigue. There just isn’t a lot to takeaway from Wisconsin beating Eastern Illinois at home. However, this game was probably a bit closer than fans would like to admit in the closing minutes. It was a seven-point game with roughly seven minutes remaining. Wisconsin was able to put things away after that, but there were a few minutes of sweat.
Moving forward, Wisconsin will prepare for McNeese State at home on Wednesday before hosting Marquette. It should be a fun week for the Badgers.