No. 23 Illinois at Northwestern, 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Illinois (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Tracy Abrams Jr. 6-2 12.6
G Rayvonte Rice Jr. 6-4 18.8
G Joseph Bertrand Sr. 6-6 11.4
F Jon Ekey Sr. 6-7 8.1
C Nnanna Egwu Jr. 6-11 7.7
FYI: Bertrand has scored in double figures in each of the last four games, marking the first time in his career he’s done that. He’s averaging 14 points and seven rebounds in that stretch.
OFF THE BENCH
G Jaylon Tate Fr. 6-3 2.8
G Kendrick Nunn Fr. 6-3 3.6
G/F Malcolm Hill Fr. 6-6 3.3
Northwestern (7-9, 0-3)
Pos. Name Yr. Ht. PPG
G Dave Sobolewski Jr. 6-1 7.1
G JerShon Cobb Jr. 6-4 12.0
F Sanjay Lumpkin Fr. 6-5 4.4
F Drew Crawford Sr. 6-5 15.7
C Alex Olah So. 7-0 9.1
FYI: Crawford is the Big Ten’s active career scoring leader with 1,654 points, good for fifth in Northwestern history. He’s 35 points behind Michael Thompson for fourth place.
OFF THE BENCH
G Tre Demps So. 6-2 9.9
F Kale Abrahamson So. 6-7 4.4
F Nathan Taphorn Fr. 6-7 3.3
Site: Welsh-Ryan Arena (8,117), Evanston.
TV: BTN — Eric Collins (play-by-play) and Mike Kelley (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 110-79. Last meeting: Illinois 62, Northwestern 41, Feb. 17 2013 (Evanston).
FYI: The Illini are looking to win three straight at Welsh-Ryan Arena for the first time since running off four in a row from 2005 to ’09.
Marcus Jackson’s storylines
1. The biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s loss at Wisconsin for Illinois was the defensive end of the floor, where the 95 points allowed were the most under John Groce. What can that be attributed to? “(Wisconsin) played terrific. That was probably the biggest thing,” Groce said. The Illinois coach acknowledged some mistakes his team made on the defensive end, and the last two days defense has been the focus, but during the decisive 20-0 run that the Badgers made, the other end of the floor was Illinois’ biggest issue. “I thought our offense attributed to some of that run with shot selection and plays that we made that were a little out of character,” Groce said.
2. For 13 years, preparing a scouting report for games against Northwestern were nightmares for Illinois coaches. Under Bill Carmody, the Wildcats operated primarily in a Princeton-style offense designed to create back-door layups. With new coach Chris Collins calling the shots, the preparation is different. Floor spacing, ball screens and transition opportunities are part of what Northwestern is trying to create now. “They play a lot different. Last year was a lot of back cutting,” Bertrand said. “This year they’ve got Crawford back. He’s made a lot of plays for them, and he’s a big part of what they do. They can still shoot and play, but the system’s a little different.”
3. After Wednesday’s loss at Wisconsin, Groce said the blame should fall on himself and the team captains (Bertrand, Abrams, Egwu, Ekey). In the days following that and leading up to Sunday’s game, the coach has liked what he’s seen from those guys in terms of getting the team back on track, and it hasn’t come as a surprise. “Our guys have always responded, for the most part, very well to some adversity,” he said. “I thought we had great leadership the last couple days from our older guys, which has been pretty steady all year.” With defense being the priority, practices Thursday and Friday were physical, with everyone eager to mix it up. “It’s been pretty good. Guys are bringing a lot of energy,” Abrams said. “We’re a little bit more together.”
Prediction: Illinois 74, Northwestern 60
This is the only crack the two basketball programs, which like to go back and forth about which one can claim Chicago as its own, will get at one another. It’s the only chance in the regular season for Abrams to match up against an old AAU teammate, in Sobolewski, so the emotions will run high. “It’s a lot more competitive,” Abrams said. “All games are competitive, but knowing that you’re going to know the guy you’re going up against, you’ll have a conversation with him after the season and you can have those rights and say, ‘We got y’all this year.’ “ When Abrams sees Sobolewski or Crawford, the lone Chicagoland products on the Northwestern roster, this summer, he will hope to have those bragging rights. (N-G record: 14-2)