Game Preview: Northwestern vs. Illinois

The tough stretch for Northwestern is about to get tougher. After falling at #12 Purdue, and in a heartbreaker to #18 Michigan State, the Wildcats are set to take on rival Illinois in Champaign.

Northwestern at Illinois

Thursday, Jan. 6th, 8:00 CT

Assembly Hall

Series Notes: Series Record: Illinois leads 127-35 Last Meeting:? Jan. 23rd, 2010: Northwestern 73, Illinois 68 Record at Champaign: Illinois leads 63-13 Series Streak at Champaign: Illinois W-8

Northwestern (9-3, 0-2) has lost their first two Big Ten games, and three of their last four. In desperate need of their first conference win, a date with the Illini may not be exactly what the Wildcats were hoping for.

#20 Illinois enters the game with a 12-3 record, with their losses coming to Texas, UIC, and Missouri. However, the Illini enter Thursday's game with two-straight wins, including an impressive win over #24 Wisconsin.

It will be a tough opponent, and a very challenging environment in Illinois' Assembly Hall, but Northwestern can never be counted out of a big game.

LOOKING BACK:

In their first matchup in Champaign, Northwestern gave the Illini all they could handle, but Illinois pulled an 89-83 overtime win. However, the ‘Cats got the better of their second matchup, earning a 73-68 win in Evanston.

KEY PLAYER FOR THE ‘CATS:

The key for Northwestern is the same key as the past couple games. Can John Shurna be John Shurna? Shurna injured his ankle on the December 23rd matchup with Mount St. Mary's and hasn't been himself since the injury.

Shurna finished with 11 points against Purdue and Michigan State, but finished Monday's MSU game shooting 1-11 from the field.

Much of the Wildcat's success is determined by Shurna's play, and much of Shurna's play is determined by his ankle. If Shurna can't perform to the best of his ability, the ‘Cats are in trouble.

KEY MATCHUP:

Juice Thompson vs. Demetri McCamey Northwestern needs to shut down Demetri McCamey. The Illini point guard enters the game averaging 16.3 PPG, shooting 50.9%, and 52.2% from three.

There's a big drop off for the Illini offense after McCamey. If Thompson can shut down McCamey, Bruce Weber will have to change his offensive game plan.

BONUS KEY MATCHUP: Northwestern bigs vs. Illinois bigs

Illinois is well-known for their guard play with McCamey along with D.J. Richardson and freshman Jereme Richmond. However, their forwards and center give the Illini a size advantage over most teams, including the ‘Cats. The Illini roll out three senior big men, creating a tough matchup for Northwestern. Forward Bill Cole (6-9, 215), forward Mike Davis (6-9, 225) and center Mike Tisdale (7-1, 250) will matchup against Drew Crawford (6-5, 205), John Shurna (6-8, 215), and Luka Mirkovic (6-11, 248).

With a tough matchup for the Wildcat bigs, look for Bill Carmody to call upon Davide Curletti and Mike Capocci to bring relief off the bench. The Wildcats will need to keep Illinois outside of the paint, and hope for missed shots. It will be a very tough challenge for Northwestern.

KEY TO A WILDCAT WIN:

Northwestern needs a big game from Drew Crawford. Regardless of Shurna's performance, Crawford needs to be a big part of the Wildcat offense. Crawford was called out by head coach Bill Carmody, when Carmody called Crawford a ‘cutie-pie'. Crawford responded with 17 points and eight rebounds against the Spartans.

Crawford cannot afford to have an off-night, because the Illini are too good of a team. Drew Crawford needs to step up his game in Champaign. Follow along with Purple Wildcats for Thursday's game. You can follow our twitter (twitter.com/NUScout) for in-game updates, and check out the site for postgame analysis.


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