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Illini basketball preview: Northwestern

That Maryland win was a lot of fun, wasn’t it? Unfortunately, without Rayvonte Rice, the team that showed up against Nebraska is closer to what the Illini are as a group. Malcolm Hill is a sophomore, just 19 years old, and unlike one-and-done kids, he’s not ready to be the guy every night for Illinois, but the supporting cast hasn’t shown a willingness to pick him up when he’s not his absolute best.

Which is just how things are for a while, Illinois’s offense will sputter and surge, and if you can find a pattern to it you’re smarter than I. There are teams at least in the Big Ten struggling at least as much as the Illini, though, such as Northwestern.

In terms of offense, Northwestern is bad, certainly worse than Illinois on all but its worst nights. The Wildcats average 65 points (248th in the country) per game, but make up for it on the defensive end by giving up only 61 (77th). Northwestern lack any starpower, however. Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh average just 12 points per game, which pretty much levels the field against Illinois sans Rice.

Despite their struggles, Northwestern has had some bright spots, including a win against Rutgers to open conference play and forcing overtime against Michigan State on Sunday. Illinois are narrow favorites in the betting odds right now, and I think that’s a fair place for them to be. The Illini should beat Northwestern, but whether they will is in doubt. I think they squeak past.

My prediction: Illinois 60 – Northwestern 57

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