Beat writer Marcus Jackson, who is predicting like the Illini played at Wisconsin, vows to get back to his winning ways:
at No. 23 Illinois
7:15 p.m. today
Illinois (14-4, 1-3 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams So. 6-1 12.1
G D.J. Richardson Sr. 6-3 11.1
G Brandon Paul Sr. 6-4 18.1
F Tyler Griffey Sr. 6-9 7.8
C Nnanna Egwu So. 6-11 6.3
FYI: Fresh off a 16-point performance against Wisconsin, in which he made a three-pointer for the 24th straight game, Richardson is averaging 13.0 points in the last three games.
OFF THE BENCH
G Joseph Bertrand Jr. 6-6 9.6
F Sam McLaurin Sr. 6-8 3.6
F Myke Henry So. 6-6 3.3
Northwestern (10-7, 1-3 Big Ten)
P Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G David Sobolewski So. 6-1 11.5
G Reggie Hearn Sr. 6-4 13.7
F Kale Abrahamson Fr. 6-7 5.4
F Jared Swopshire Sr. 6-8 8.9
C Alex Olah Fr. 7-0 6.5
FYI: Sobolewski, a Naperville product, leads the Wildcats in scoring (12.3 points per game) and assists (5.0) in four Big Ten games.
OFF THE BENCH
G Alex Marcotullio Sr. 6-3 3.9
G Tre Demps Fr. 6-2 6.4
F Mike Turner Fr. 6-8 2.3
Site: The Assembly Hall (16,618) Champaign
TV: BTN — Dave Revsine (play-by-play) and former Ohio State All-American Jim Jackson (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (expert analysis) have the call on the Illini Sports Network on WDWS 1400-AM, WDAN 1490-AM, WHMS 97.5-FM, WDNL 102.1-FM and WPXN 104.9-FM.
Series: Illinois leads 129-37. Last meeting — Northwestern 74, Illinois 70, Feb. 5, 2012.
FYI: Northwestern’s win last year in Champaign snapped a nine-game losing skid at the Assembly Hall, where Illinois has won 28 of the last 30 in the series.
Marcus Jackson’s Storylines
What got lost in Illinois’ torrid start offensively this season was how well it defended. Only twice in the first 12 games did an opponent score more than 65 points. It’s happened five times in the last six games, and the three-point shot has killed the Illini. After making seven treys in the first two Big Ten games, Wisconsin torched Illinois for 10 three-pointers Saturday. Northwestern averages eight triples per game, a cause for concern. “We haven’t defended the three very well, got to have more of a sense of urgency,” Groce said.
After a 1-for-11 showing in Saturday’s loss at Wisconsin, Brandon Paul is looking to get back on track. The Wooden Award candidate was limited to single digits in scoring for the first time this season against the Badgers in his worst game of the year. “I got to the rim pretty much at will. A couple of times it rimmed out and I let it affect my game, and I can’t let that happen,” he said. It’s not just Paul; Groce said everyone has to elevate his game after Saturday’s debacle. “They can play better, they have played better and I’m confident that they will play better,” he said.
After a standout effort in an otherwise-dreadful day for Illinois on Saturday, Mike Shaw should see plenty of action in the rotation against the Wildcats. The sophomore forward played a season-high 19 minutes against the Badgers after averaging less than two minutes in the nine games he had appeared in to that point. “I thought he practiced well after he got back from Christmas. He’s been fairly consistent, probably just needed an opportunity, but we were playing pretty well and the rotation was pretty iron-clad at that point because we were in a flow as a team,” Groce said. “He stayed with it; I’ll give him credit. A lot of guys wouldn’t have been ready in the situation when we threw him in the game on Saturday. By no means am I saying he was perfect, but he played hard. He competed; he fought. He played with a sense of urgency that all of us have to play with.”
Illinois 72, Northwestern 62
One of the things about the Princeton offense that Northwestern runs is that it involves so much movement that if a defender isn’t doing what he’s supposed to do, all of a sudden he gets beat for a backdoor dunk. “We’re competing against a very precise offense. You watch them on film, how hard they cut, how well they screen, how well they move the basketball,” Groce said. “Some possessions, there’s some possessions where I rewind it to watch it just because I like watching it.” The Illinois players can’t afford to get caught watching or it’ll be a long night of backdoor buckets for the ‘Cats. The Illini responded after giving a subpar effort against Purdue with a win against Ohio State. They’re hoping for a similar showing after Saturday’s disappointment. (N-G record: 11-7)