Illini Whip Northwestern; Wildcats in 0-3 in Big Ten

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Last year’s game was A BIT closer than this. When the Illinois Fighting Illini took on their rival Northwestern Wildcats for the first time in 2010, the annual meeting in Champaign resulted in an exciting and very high-scoring overtime thriller in which the Cats took care of the ball astonishingly well, committed very few mistakes, but fell just short.

This battle to be Chicago’s Big Ten team, was quite a different story.

It was long settled by halftime, as the Illini came out shooting fire and smoke like the mid ’90s “NBA Jam Session” arcade game. They made their first six threes, and shot a ridiculous 82% for the half. They also out-rebounded NU in the first twenty minutes 19-5. That added up to 47-24 lead at the break.

Yes, ILL doubled up the NU scoring output already by halftime.

By Paul M. Banks

In their 88-63 win, Illinois set a new school record for single game shooting (71%) breaking the old record of 69%. They finished with a 38-16 advantage for points in the paint, and an eye-popping 40-17 rebounding advantage. A lot of bad trends re-surfaced for the Wildcats in this one:

-Horrible interior defense

Illini senior center Mike Tisdale has 31 in this game last year, and took it inside early and often again. He finished with 13 points on 6-8 shooting. His protege, (or understudy if you will- despite the fact that he has much more raw talent) Meyers Leonard also contributed 11 points on 4-5 from the field. Illinois held a 22-2 points in the paint advantage at halftime.

“You have a game in three days, and that’s good, but the way we were tonight. I don’t know if it was effort, but it didn’t seem, the way we were tonight that we had the energy that was needed to win on the road against a good team,” NU Head Coach Bill Carmody said.

-Luka Mirkovic struggles on the road

Luka has put up a few impressive games in Welsh-Ryan here and there. On the road though, he has issues. He went just 1-4 from the floor tonight, finishing with 2 points. The Cats are last in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, and it’s on Luka, NU’s tallest player by far, to do something about that. And he makes Tisdale look like Oscar Robertson when he guards him. Which is no small feat, because there’s been a few games where Mike has played like Ashley Tisdale these past couple seasons. Coincidentally, Tis’ teammate, Demetri McCamey won an award this week named for the big O. (no, not the big O, get your mind out of the gutter).

-Promising non-conference season gives way to terrible start in Big Ten play

This happened last year as well. In 2009, NU rode their stellar non-con performance into their first national ranking in 40 some years. Then Big Ten play began and the wheels fell right off. In 2010, NU started 9-1 before starting the conference slate 0-3 in 2011. Tonight really was (pardon the horribly shop-worn platitude) a “must-win” game for them.

At least it gets easier Sunday when the Indiana Hoosiers visit Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“You have to have a good start when you’re on the road. And we didn’t have a good start, good middle or good end,” Carmody said.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.com

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