Northwestern Hosts Illini Basketball: Four Things to Watch

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Northwestern and Illini basketball will square off just once this season, therefore making the lone meeting all the more meaningful. To add to the significance, the game will take place at the exact same venue that brought the most glorious moment in modern Illini basketball history.

Yes, NU’s temporary home is AllState Arena, where the famed “Miracle on Mannheim” occurred on March 26, 2005. The Illini, ostensibly left for dead in an Elite 8 game against Arizona, battled their way back from what seemed like an insurmountable deficit to force overtime and eventually win, punching their ticket to the Final Four.

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While, yes, Illinois did win the next game after that, which was obviously the biggest one more step closer to the national championship game, the Regional Final is Rosemont was the most memorable triumph of what was essentially the greatest season in school history.

This will be the first time that Illini basketball will play in the venue since that historic night. If you were there, just like Bill Murray was, and you remember your seat/saved your ticket stub, you might want to do a photo-opp with it. Yes, it goes without saying “wow, has Illini basketball really fallen down since 2005.”

Atmosphere/Crowd Partisanship

In the only home game so far of consequence/attractive non-conference tilt for Northwestern, they lost by a slim margin to Creighton. The Blue Jays faithful, who are known for traveling well, comprised about 1/4-1/5 of the crowd, which was officially recorded as 6,300. In reality, it was about 4-5,000 actual people in the building, which holds 18,500.

The AllState Arena/Rosemont Horizon is a great venue for wrestling and the circus, okay sometimes for concerts and decent for hockey. For hoops, it’s only fun if there’s a major game and/or team of tremendous consequence playing. There really isn’t a bad seat in the place so when you can get it filled up the energy can be fun.

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Of course, the venue needs to someday finally renovate the decor and update the interior, which screams 1970s adult film set. It’s clear they haven’t really upgraded the inside all too much since the year it opened.

This game definitely not be a packed house, or anything close to it. Neither one of these sides are truly Chicago’s B1G Team, but the area around Rosemont is certainly Illini country.

Tickets won’t be hard to come by, and the question to ponder here is- will the crowd only be slightly or heavily slanted toward orange over purple?

Step Up in Competition

Illini basketball faced all mid-majors, low majors, low low majors and high minors this season up  until the B1G/ACC Challenge, when they lost at Wake Forest. Of course, the Demon Deacons  are not good, at all, as they got off to an atrocious start this season. Illinois suffered a really bad loss tonight at WF. It’s on par with the Rutgers setback to close the regular season last year. 

The Deacons have already lost to Liberty, Georgia Southern, Houston and Drake.

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As for the Cats, they have played a lot of cupcakes themselves, as has every other team in the entire nation, but they have also faced three high major programs: Georgia Tech in the B1G/ACC Challenge, Texas Tech and the aforementioned Creighton. Of course, the results of the games didn’t turn out disastrously, as they got swept in all three. The looked better and kept in closer in their loss tonight in the challenge. They also lost to a much better team in Tech. 

Still, they need this game as much as Illinois does. The loser of this one is going to find themselves in a deeper hole to climb out of come January.

As is always the case with college basketball, you don’t really know a whole lot about your team until the conference season actually begins. About 4/5 or 9/10 of all the games up until then are nothing but glorified scrimmages.

Well, here you go B1G season begins here, and now comes another litmus test for both sides.

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This Needs the Land of Lincoln Hat!

Northwestern and Illini basketball don’t play for a trophy in hoops, like they do in football, but they easily could.

This game is always the Super Bowl for NU and their fans, and Illinois supporters are getting more and more up for these games every year.

In recent seasons, we’ve seen Northwestern host Illinois and give them a very damaging blemish to Illini basketball postseason resumes. On the flip side, NU had the greatest season in school history last season, but still got swept an Illini team that was clearly mediocre at best. In other words, whatever the result is Friday night, don’t be shocked by it.

Anything and everything can happen in a rivalry tilt like this.

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MSG Money Grab, and the Goofy, Disjointed Schedule that Followed

The B1G’s greedy and myopic decision to move the conference tournament to Madison Square Garden will eventually end up shooting them in the foot. This very dumb idea entails: moving the conference tournament up a whole week, giving postseason teams a lot of extra time off at the end of the year which could make them rusty for the big dance, wedging a lot of additional games into one week.

Here is the first example, as both teams will then tip a conference game (NU travels to Purdue, Illinois hosts Maryland) less than 48 hours after this concludes. And this contest will be played less than 72 hours after each team concludes one of their most marquee non-conference contests. While it is nice to have a couple conference games, i.e. something more interesting and meaningful, during a week that is traditionally reserved for dull, tedious cupcake opposition, this could still eventually have some adverse effects.

There will be plenty of weeks like this for everybody this season, and you know that the added workload, with its ramped up congestion, will take its toll on guys.

What’s probably worse though is the underlying cause.

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The B1G took its boneheaded decision to add Rutgers, which was about nothing more than getting New York City televisions to watch BTN, to its next illogical step. This was a money grab, plain and simple, and let’s just hope that no one gets hurt too badly as a direct consequence.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune corporation blogging community Chicago Now.

Follow him on TwitterInstagramSound Cloud, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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