PREVIEW: Illinois at Northwestern

Lead basketball reporter Derek Piper previews Illinois' road game at Northwestern on Saturday night.

Illinois (11-13, 3-8) at

Northwestern (16-9, 4-8)

Date & Time: Feb. 13, 7 p.m. CT

Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, Ill.)


Quick Hits

  • Northwestern has lost six of their last seven after a 15-3 start to the season.
  • The Wildcats are coming off a 71-63 loss at Ohio State on Tuesday.
  • Northwestern is 2-4 at home in the Big Ten this season.
  • Illinois is 132-39 all-time against Northwestern, and they won both meetings last season.
  • The Illini are 3-2 against the Wildcats under John Groce.
  • Illinois has not played since falling 77-65 against Iowa last Sunday.
  • Groce said on Friday that big man Mike Thorne Jr. continues to be out indefinitely.

Projected Starters

Khalid Lewis (GR): Lewis had two points, three assists and two turnovers in 30 minutes against Iowa last Sunday. He was just 1-of-5 from the field, as he continues to struggle on finishing at or near the rim. Lewis has played 76 minutes combined between Illinois' last two games.

Jalen Coleman-Lands (FR): Coleman-Lands has taken off over the last two games, while going 11-of-25 (44 percent) from three. He led the Illini with 17 points against Iowa. Coleman-Lands said he feels he could play some lead guard if needed.

Kendrick Nunn (JR): Nunn has gone just 10-of-40 (25 percent) from the field over the last three games. He admitted that he did not play smart against Iowa last Sunday. Nunn was 2-of-13 from the field and 0-of-7 from three.

Malcolm Hill (JR): Hill was efficiently productive against Iowa with 14 points on nine shots, along with eight rebounds and four assists. He is now the second leading scorer in the Big Ten with 18.9 points per game.

Maverick Morgan (JR): Morgan had 10 points and seven rebounds against Iowa. He has averaged 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds over the last five games.


Michael Finke (R-FR): Finke posted five points and four rebounds in his return to action last Sunday. The bye week was good for Finke to recover from his knee contusion.

D.J. Williams (FR): Williams has taken some big steps forward over the last two games. He finished with a career-high eight points and four rebounds against Iowa in 15 minutes of action. The Illini hope he can become a reliable contributor off the bench down the stretch.

Jaylon Tate (JR): Tate has played just 19 minutes combined in the last two contests. During that stretch, he has provided two points (0-of-2 from the field), three assists and no turnovers.

Aaron Jordan (FR): Jordan had three points, two rebounds and a block in nine minutes off the bench against Iowa. He has made four of his last seven attempts from three.

Alex Austin (R-JR): Austin played just four minutes against Iowa and he didn't take a shot. With Jordan and Williams playing well, Austin probably won't see too much floor time.

Cameron Liss (SO): Liss did not play against Iowa. He has appeared in two games this season.

Northwestern Starters

Bryant McIntosh (SO): McIntosh is 12th in the Big Ten with 14.8 points per game, and he is second in the conference with 6.6 assists per contest. McIntosh is shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from three this season.

Tre Demps (R-SR): Demps has been filling it up recently - averaging 22.3 points per game over the last three contests. He is shooting just 29.6 percent from three this season, but he has found his stroke of late.

Sanjay Lumpkin (R-JR): Lumpkin doesn't bring a whole lot to the table offensively, but the 6-foot-6 guard leads the team with 5.6 rebounds per game.

Aaron Falzon (FR): Falzon has provided a big boost for the Wildcats in his freshman campaign. He has averaged 9.2 points in 27.3 minutes per game during Big Ten play.

Dererk Pardon (FR): Pardon has been another impressive freshman after sitting out the first semester. He has averaged 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds in 13 games this season.

Three Things I'm Looking For

1. Play with high energy. The Illini got a much-needed break this past week with six days between games. Groce said that he focused on getting his team's minds and bodies right this week by watching a lot of film, shooting and doing non-contact drills. He wants his team to be fresh when they take the court on Saturday night. The Illini need to bring that energy in this rivalry game. Effort should not be a question, and we should see more of a bounce in their step.

2. More freshmen takeoff. Consistency is the key for many freshmen, and the Illini are hopeful that Coleman-Lands and Williams will develop that after their recent outings. Talent is not a question with either one. Now, it's about getting over that hump of inconsistency and being able to be productive game in and game out. Coleman-Lands said on Friday that he feels very comfortable in the offense and things are starting to roll for him. He added that he thinks he could play some lead guard as well - but he'll leave it up to Groce to decide how to use him. Meanwhile, Williams has gained more confidence and he has been more aggressive with his preparation. This would be a big game for both to step up.

3. Execute against the zone. Northwestern plays quite a bit of 2-3 zone on defense, which presents certain challenges for the Illini. Luckily, they have had all week to prepare. The key to beating the zone is getting dribble penetration in the gaps of the defense, and kicking it out to the open man when it collapses. Good ball movement on the perimeter is also important. The Illini must do these things, and they can't fall in love with the three if it's not falling. Having Nunn closer to 100 percent should help, as he can take it off the dribble or hit threes from the corner. Nunn's highest point total in Big Ten play (25) came at Northwestern last season.


The Illini have won their last two Big Ten road games, but they came against Minnesota and Rutgers (0-23 combined in Big Ten play). Northwestern will certainly be a stiffer challenge, although they've struggled to pull off wins recently. The Illini have to find a way to contain McIntosh and Demps, who can go off on any given night. This will be the only meeting between the teams in the regular season. Northwestern is a seven-point favorite, but a fresh and focused Illini squad should have a good chance to pull off the win.

Illinois 73, Northwestern 70

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