Illinois men’s basketball continues league play at in-state rival Northwestern

Guard+Trent+Frazier+shoots+a+3+pointer+during+the+game+against+Michigan+State+on+Tuesday.+The+Illini+will+be+going+up+north+against+Northwestern+on+Saturday.+

Sydney Laput

Guard Trent Frazier shoots a 3 pointer during the game against Michigan State on Tuesday. The Illini will be going up north against Northwestern on Saturday.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

No. 24 Illinois will play its 10th Big Ten conference game against unranked Northwestern at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Illini (14-5, 7-2) sit atop the conference and have won six straight against the Wildcats (9-9, 2-7).

The Illini head to Evanston coming off a rough stretch which saw them go 1-2 over three games. Consecutive losses to No. 6 Purdue and Maryland nearly resulted in the Illini dropping out of the top-25. With a win at Northwestern, Illinois will be 2-0 this week and likely jump up in the rankings.

It is unknown whether preseason All-Americans Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo will play on Saturday. Cockburn hasn’t played since suffering a concussion against Purdue, and Curbelo did not suit up against Michigan State due to health and safety protocol.

Come Saturday it will be five days since Curbelo entered those protocols, so there is the possibility that he will play, though Curbelo “has not been with” the team, head coach Brad Underwood said on Friday.

It’ll likely be minutes before tipoff when Underwood reveals his hand. Northwestern’s scouting report is much simpler. The Illini will battle with two solid scorers in senior Pete Nance and junior Boo Buie. 

Nance is averaging 16 points per game with one less game played than Buie, who has averaged 14.9 himself. Underwood had high praise for Buie in his pregame press conference.

“He’s tremendous in the transition,” Underwood said. “He’s got the green light. He’s had 30-point games in conference games. He’s very effective off of ball screens, he’s got great range and he’s added a nice mid-range game. He’s turned into a very dynamic player in this league.”

Buie will have his work cut out for him Saturday, likely being guarded by Illinois senior Trent Frazier. Fraizer was left off the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year watch list. Underwood vehemently disagreed with the list, which was released Friday morning.

“What a joke,” Underwood said. “Obviously nobody has a clue what defense is. That he’s not on that award finalist list, obviously they don’t talk to college coaches. … He’s the best defender in the country. I look at what Ayo Dosumnu does in the NBA, he’s number one in terms of guys guarded in ball-screens and effectiveness, and Trent Frazier is better.”

Underwood continues to say it is likely Fraizer’s low number of steals that kept him off the list and attributed this to his team’s style of play. 

“It’s not a defensive player of the year award, in my opinion, if he’s not on it,” Underwood said.

 

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