It’s the first of two basketball versions of the Land of Lincoln Trophy game as the #24 Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team (14-5, 7-2) visits the Northwestern Wildcats (9-9, 2-7) on Saturday. The Illini haven’t been as dominant at Welsh-Ryan Arena in recent years, as you might think, given the massive disparity in success of the two in state Big Ten programs.
That said, Illinois is massively favored for this late afternoon tip, so let’s break it all down now!
No Home Court Advantage at the Welsh
Northwestern is going to need a monster February, otherwise they will be missing the post season yet again. Right now they look like a lock to be in the dreaded Wednesday night session of the Big Ten Tournament. The main reason? Well, like Gil Gunderson on The Simpsons (who was obviously modeled after Shelly “The Machine” Lavine in Glengary Glen Ross), they just can’t close.
Still winless in the league, in four tries, the Wildcats held second half leads in three of those games. One of those Ls was double overtime, with the other three were of only a two possession margin.
However, getting close only counts in bocce ball, and the Cats are destined to finish with another losing conference record, for the eighth time in Chris Collins’ nine years.
With a new A.D. in Evanston does that mean his seat starts to warm? We looked at that already here.
His Big Ten record is only 51-107 (.323) and his lone season above .500 (2017) was just a 10-8. Three of the Cats’ home league losses came when students were not allowed to attend, due to Wildcats Wellness initiatives amid the current pandemic. Given how close those losses were, could a raucous student section have made a difference? We’ll never know.
Opposing Big Ten fan bases taking over Northwestern home games, for revenue sports, is a tale as old as time. With Illini basketball, this phenomena is even more pronounced, for obvious reasons.
Expect about 60% to 80% orange in the crowd this weekend.
#Illini #MichiganState game had serious vibes of 2 infamous Bruce Weber era contests:
2012: Illinois wins 42-41, next day we learned Weber was sacked
2007 NCAA Tourney: #12 seed ILL blows double digit lead late in 2nd half, loses to #5 seed Va Tech 54-52 @Frustrated_Fan
— Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) January 26, 2022
H to tha Izzo, V to the Izzay
With both sides having gotten their lone signature win over #10 Michigan State, it’s perfect to look at what MSU Coach Tom Izzo has said about both teams.
He pretty much nailed it on the two Illini basketball fifth year seniors/veteran leaders: “The leadership of Trent (Frazier) has been really good. Da’Monte (Williams) is a big key too. He’s their glue guy; he’s their Draymond Green. He keeps everyone together and doesn’t care if he gets shots or not. One of their best defenders.”
“I’ve liked Trent Frazier since he was a freshman; he’s a competitive SOB, he’s classy. I talked to him afterward. Does a decent job for a guy who’s not real big but plays hard as hell.”
Frazier is definitely Robin to Kofi Cockburn’s Batman. He’s saved this team’s ass numerous times this season. And Da’Monte Williams is just that rare breed of player who can take over a game without scoring, and relish doing so.
As for Northwestern, Izzo has said it after both meetings this season, they have good pieces, they really do. The roster has talent. Pete Nance will be a pro player somewhere. Chase Audige is a gamer.
So why can’t they put it all together? Why have they been so bad in conference play? I don’t have that answer.
That's almost 5 full 30 game seasons. Impressive. Then again it feels like he's been there since 2012
— Paul M. Banks (@PaulMBanks) January 26, 2022
No Kofi, No Belo, No Problem
Andre Curbelo, who just returned last week in the double overtime loss to Purdue, after being out for two months with a concussion, missed the ugly win over MSU, and will miss out again here due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Cockburn, who sustained a concussion in that Purdue loss on MLK Day, has missed the last two games due to concussion protocols. The official timetable for both to return is unknown, but Brad Underwood said to the media this morning that nothing has changed, in regards to their status.
By the Numbers
In case you’re wondering why this Illini basketball team is so much lower in the polls than in the other metrics/ranking systems, well the answer is simple. They hadn’t beaten a ranked team until Tuesday night versus Michigan State.
ESPN match-up predictor gives the Illini a 72.4% chance of winning this 3:30 pm tip on BTN. Illini basketball are currently registering the following rankings:
Kenpom 16 Sagarin 13 Net 13
Meanwhile the Wildcats are:
Kenpom 65, Sagarin 66, Net 77
The Illini basketball game at Purdue has been moved to Tuesday, Feb. 8. Tip-off from Mackey Arena remains 8 p.m. CT/9 p.m. ET and it will be televised by ESPN/2.
It was originally slated for Thursday, Feb. 10, but had to be moved for allowing the rescheduling of the postponed Purdue at Michigan game for Feb. 10.
Prediction: Illini basketball 69 (Nice), Northwestern 60
Bill S. Preston, Esq. and Ted Theodore Logan approve of this score line. I was only ten when that movie came out, so I didn’t get that joke at the time. Expect Illini basketball to grind out another ugly W.
Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”