HQ forecast: UI 67, Northwestern 59

Beat writer Marcus Jackson's take on today's game: Illinois at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m., BTN

Lineups
Illinois (18-8, 5-7 Big Ten)
STARTERS
P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    Tracy Abrams    So.    6-1    10.8
G    D.J. Richardson    Sr.    6-3    12.5
G    Brandon Paul    Sr.    6-4    16.7
F    Sam McLaurin    Sr.    6-8    4.3
C    Nnanna Egwu    So.    6-11    6.5
FYI: Richardson, who has hit a three-pointer in his last 32 games, has reached double figures in the last seven games, averaging 17.1 points during that span.
OFF THE BENCH
G    Joseph Bertrand    Jr.    6-6    8.4
F    Tyler Griffey    Sr.    6-9    7.6
F    Myke Henry    So.    6-6    3.3

Northwestern (13-12, 4-8 Big Ten)
STARTERS
P    Name    Yr.    Ht.    PPG
G    David Sobolewski    So.    6-1    11.5
G    Reggie Hearn    Sr.    6-4    13.7
G    Tre Demps    Fr.    6-2    6.4
F    Kale Abrahamson    Fr.    6-7    5.4
F    Mike Turner    Fr.    6-8    2.3
FYI: Demps scored a career-high 16 points in Thursday’s loss at No. 13 Ohio State. He’s averaging 9.9 points in the last 16 games.
OFF THE BENCH
G    Alex Marcotullio    Sr.    6-3    3.9
F    Nikola Cerina    Jr.    6-9    1.1
C    Alex Olah    Fr.    7-0    6.5

Details

Site: Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117), Evanston
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (play-by-play) and former Wisconsin guard Mike Kelley (analyst) have the call.
Radio: Brian Barnhart (play-by-play) and former Illini Jerry Hester (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 129-38. Last meeting — Northwestern 68, Illinois 54, Jan. 17.
FYI: The last time Northwestern beat Illinois twice in the same season was 1966.

Marcus Jackson’s storylines

1 Considering its depleted roster, the fact that Northwestern has won as many games as it has in Big Ten play is somewhat remarkable. The Wildcats lost top returning scorer Drew Crawford (shoulder) and projected starter JerShon Cobb (violation of team rules) early. Louisville transfer Jared Swopshire (knee) is out for the rest of the season, and center Alex Olah missed Thursday’s game with a head injury. Despite the issues, Northwestern gave Ohio State a battle with only seven scholarship players available. The surging Illini can’t overlook the rivals from the north.

2 When these teams last met a month ago, Northwestern’s bench outscored Illinois’ 22-6. One of the big reasons Illinois is in line for its first four-game Big Ten win streak in three years is the contributions from the reserves. The Illini bench has outscored its opponents 71-38 in the last three games. “It’s good seeing a lot of guys getting confidence,” D.J. Richardson said. “This is like the perfect time. Myke Henry stepped up, Joe (Bertrand) had 12 boards… and (Tyler) Griffey has been playing great for us. A lot of teams in the country can’t produce from the bench like that.”

3 One of the most impressive aspects of Illinois’ recent resurgence: it’s been winning games despite not getting much scoring from top scorer Brandon Paul. Paul had 10 at Minnesota and a season-low three points against Purdue. If he can get his scoring punch back, the Illini feel good about closing the season on a high note. “He’s kept a good attitude even though he hasn’t been scoring,” Richardson said. “He’s a gifted scorer, he’s a good player. We obviously need him, but he doesn’t care about scoring as long as we win. He’s happy, we’re happy. If he starts scoring again, that gives us another weapon.”

Prediction: UI 67, Northwestern 59
Illinois has lost consecutive games to the Wildcats for the first time in 46 years, when the guys in Purple won three straight. Avoiding a repeat of that won’t be easy, even though Northwestern is beyond banged up. “Last time we played, I remember thinking in the game ‘Man, they’re really carving us up right now,’ “ Sam McLaurin said. “We couldn’t stop anything they were doing. They shot the ball really well, too. Hopefully we can limit some of that.” No matter how depleted, Northwestern always gives itself a chance — like it did Thursday at Ohio State — because of how well it runs its offense. Overlooking the Wildcats is not an option for the Illini if they want to maintain their firm standing in the field of 68 for the NCAA tournament. (N-G record 14-12)

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