Northwestern looks to bounce back from a disappointing start to the season when it opens up Big Ten play at home against Illinois on Friday. The Wildcats began the new campaign in the Top 25 for the first time in program history but proceeded to drop three of their first seven games, including a 52-51 setback to Georgia Tech on a buzzer-beater in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday, to fall out of the rankings and they hope to end a two-game slide in the rivalry with the Fighting Illini.
“Obviously it’s a disappointing way to lose,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins told reporters. “We were never offensively able to get into a rhythm.” Illinois suffered its first setback of the season Tuesday as it dropped an 80-73 decision to Wake Forest as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Fighting Illini have won four of the last five meetings with Northwestern, including both matchups last season, and hope their up-tempo offense under first-year coach Brad Underwood can solve a Wildcats defense, which has given up an average of 51 points over their last two games. “When we get the ball to our spot we’re one of the best teams in the country,” Underwood told reporters. “We just have to clean up the turnovers and if we do that we’ll give ourselves a chance most nights on the road.”
TV: 9 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
ABOUT ILLINOIS (6-1): Junior guard Aaron Jordan came off the bench to go 4-of-6 from 3-point range en route to a career-high 20 points as the Fighting Illini’s reserves combined to score 43 in the loss versus Wake Forest. Kipper Nichols added 14 points and seven rebounds while Leron Black contributed 10 points and seven boards to finish in double figures for the sixth time in seven games. Michael Finke, who was plagued by foul trouble for most of the evening, was held to a season-low two points after averaging 18.3 points over his previous three games.
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (4-3): Bryant McIntosh led the way with 18 points to go along with six rebounds and five assists in the loss to Georgia Tech to finish with at least five helpers for the fifth time in seven games. Vic Law added 10 points while junior forward Dererk Pardon registered 10 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the season and the sixth of his career. Scottie Linsdey and Aaron Falzon, whom Collins called “the two best shooters on the team,” combined to go 1-for-16 from the field, including 12 straight misses from 3-point land, in the loss to the Yellow Jackets.
1. Illinois has won four of the last six road meetings with Northwestern.
2. Jordan leads the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (65.5).
3. The Wildcats have forced 15 or more turnovers in four games this season.
PREDICTION: Illinois 74, Northwestern 71