Keys to an Illinois basketball win today against Northwestern

Illinois+Malcolm+Hill+%2821%29+looks+to+pass+the+ball+during+the+game+against+Penn+State+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Saturday%2C+February+11.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (21) looks to pass the ball during the game against Penn State at State Farm Center on Saturday, February 11.

By Matt Gertsmeier, Columnist

The Illinois basketball team has the opportunity to achieve a couple of milestones on Tuesday.

“Chicago’s Big Ten Team” is making the trek down south as Illinois has a chance to win back-to-back Big Ten games for the first time in two years and complete its second sweep of the season.

In order to break out the brooms, Illinois will need to emphasize a few things.

In Illinois’ 68-61 win over Northwestern earlier this season, Illinois was propelled by a strong defensive effort.

Forward Michael Finke and guard Malcolm Hill each stole the ball three times to add to the Illini’s total of nine steals against the Wildcats. Center Maverick Morgan had two blocks as Illinois had four total.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    In the early February matchup, Northwestern had its worst shooting night of the season putting up about 34 percent from the field. That’s going to have to continue to be the trend in Tuesday’s game.

    The Wildcats usually shoot 43 percent from the field. Northwestern has gone 8-1 when it shoots above 45 percent from the field.

    Limiting Northwestern on offense might not be as easy as it was earlier this season for Illinois with the return of Wildcat leading scorer Scottie Lindsey.

    A major influence in the Illini upset was the fact that Lindsey was sidelined with mono. Lindsey sat four games recovering from the illness while the Wildcats went 1-3. The Northwestern guard averages 15 points and four rebounds per game.

    Lindsey has shown that length and athleticism can prove to be a tough matchup for Illinois’ guards. It’ll be interesting to see who Illinois head coach John Groce starts and plays for a majority of the game. I would like to see Hill or freshman Kipper Nichols matchup against Lindsey.

    On the offensive side of things, Illinois is going to need to spread the wealth. On the year, Illinois has been averaging about 13 assists per game. When Illinois is finding the open man and has more than 13 assists, it has gone 10-3. That includes the first meeting with Northwestern when the Illini had 18 assists.

    Dropping dimes has gotten easier for Illinois as freshman guard Te’Jon Lucas is playing more and gaining more experience. Lucas is averaging just over four assists a game in his last seven starts for Illinois.

    I expect Lucas to make his eighth consecutive start today against Northwestern. With that in mind and the home crowd behind him, I don’t see how Lucas can’t have another strong passing night.

    One last ingredient of today’s recipe is going to be Hill’s offensive production. Hill has four regular season games left in his Illinois career. Depending on how Illinois fares in the conference tournament, he may only have five games left in his college career. I want Hill to ball out.

    Hill has always been one of the most selfless players on the Illinois rosters. I think that’s a great characteristic to possess, but now I want Hill to play selfishly.

    Hill just scored his 1,700th point and is now listed as the seventh on the Illinois all-time scoring list. Only 49 points separate Hill from the No. 4 spot. I want to see him go out with a bang. It’s going to take a miracle for Illinois to make the big dance, so why not finish with a different type of achievement?

    A win today is most likely not going to impact Illinois’ postseason chances. Playing for pride will have to do.

    Matt is a Junior in Business.

    [email protected]

    @MattGertsmeier