Big Ten Rivals Clash in Champaign: Northwestern Wildcats at Illinois Fighting Illini

Northwestern Wildcats at Illinois Fighting Illini
Assembly Hall – Champaign, Illinois
Sunday, February 5, 2012, 3:00 pm Eastern, TV: Big Ten Net
Opening Line: Illinois -6
Current Line: Illinois -5 1/2
Opening Total: 130
Current Total: 130
Opening Money Line: Illinois -260 / Northwestern +220
Current Money Line: Illinois -260 / Northwestern +220

Illinois hosts in-state rival Northwestern Sunday in a key Big ten game. Illinois is a 5 1/2 point favorite.

The 13-8 Northwestern Wildcats are the only team in one of the six power conferences who have never qualified for the NCAA tournament. They face an uphill climb to rectify that situatio. The Wildcats are 3-6 in the Big Ten as they travel to take on instate rival Illinois Sunday. Northwestern won at home against Nebraska 84-74 Thursday night to snap a three game losing streak. The Fighting Illini are 16-6 overall, and 5-4 in the Big Ten. Illinois won Tuesday night at home against Michigan St 42-41 to snap a three game losing streak of their own. Illinois leads the series against their rivals 129-36, including 64-13 at home. Illinois won earlier this season 57-56 in Evanston. Illinois has beaten Northwestern 9 straight times at home. In fact, Northwestern has won in Champaign only once since 1980.

Northwestern is coached by Bill Carmody. The Wildcats have wins over LSU, Tulsa, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech, Penn St, and Michigan St. Northwestern has losses to Baylor, Creighton, Ohio St, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Purdue. All losses are to likely tournament teams. Northwestern has played a very difficult schedule and has an RPI of 45.

Illinois is coached by Bruce Weber. The Illini have wins over Richmond, Illinois St, Maryland, Gonzaga, Cornell, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio St. Illinois has losses to UNLV, Missouri, Purdue, Penn St, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Northwestern is outscoring opponents 69-67 this season. The Wildcats are shooting 44.6% from the field, and 37.6% from 3 point range. Northwestern makes 69.6% from the free throw line. The Wildcats average 31 rebounds a game and have a rebounding margin of -4.3. Northwestern averages 15.9 assists, 10.3 turnovers, 6.1 steals, and 4 blocks a game. Wildcat opponents are shooting 44.2% from the field and 35.2% from 3 point range. Northwestern forces 12.6 turnovers a game on defense.

Northwestern forward John Shurna averages 19.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1 steal, and 1.6 blocks a game. He leads the Wildcats in scoring, rebounds, and blocks. He makes 42.7% from 3 point range. Drew Crawford averages 17.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals a game. He makes 44.7% from 3 point range. Dave Sobolewski averages 8.1 points, 3 rebounds, 3.9 assists to lead the team, and 1 steal a game. JerShon Cobb averages 1.3 steals a game to lead the team but he is out indefinitely with a hip injury. Center Luka Mirkovic is questionable with an ankle injury. Guard Tre Demps is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Illinois is outscoring opponents 67-61 this season. The Illini are shooting 44.5% from the field, including 31.3% from 3 point range. Illinois makes 70.8% of their free throws. The Illini average 34.3 rebounds a game and have a rebounding margin of +2.8. Illinois averages 12.6 assists, 13.9 turnovers, 5.6 steals, and 4.6 blocks a game. Illini opponents are shooting 40.2% from the field, including 35.4% from 3 point range. Illinois forces 14.3 turnovers a game on defense.

Illinois guard  Brandon Paul averages 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.6 steals a game. He leads the Illini in scoring, assists, and steals, and is making 32.1% of his three pointers. Meyers Leonard averages 13 points, 8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 2.1 blocks a game. He leads the team in blocks and rebounds. D.J. Richardson averages 12.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2 assists a game. He is shooting 37.9% from 3 point range. Sam Maniscalco averages 7.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists a game. Guard Devin Langford is out indefinitely with a broken finger.

Illinois is 9-11 against the spread and the total is 10-10 this season. Northwestern is 7-9 ATS and the total is 10-6 this season. The underdog has covered 4 of the last 5 games in this series, and the over is 4-1 in the same span. The Wildcats are 2-6 ATS in Sunday games, 1-4 in road games, and in road games against teams with winning home records, and 0-5 after a straight up win. The Fighting Illini are 2-6 ATS after a straight up win, 2-8 after a cover, and 0-4 in Sunday games.

Neither of these teams rebound very well, but play good defense. I could see a similar score to their last meeting, a close game in the high 50’s or low 60’s. I like Illinois playing at home.

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