Northwestern -1.5 at Illinois O/U 135
Second meeting of this in-state battle between Northwestern and Illinois. In the previous contest, two weeks ago in Evanston, the Illini walked out with a 68-61 victory so expect the NU group to be revenge-minded tonight. The Wildcats were minus star guard Scottie Lindsey in the initial matchup but he returned to the starting lineup Saturday and played 24 minutes. With Lindsay back, not only does Northwestern have the leading scorer (15.0 ppg) on the floor tonight but his presence also boosts their defense significantly. Lindsay combined with Vic Law gives NU arguably the best set of wing defenders in the Big Ten which should make life a bit tougher on the Fighting Illini’s perimeter shooting this time around.
Northwestern kept Illinois interior threat Maverick Morgan pretty quiet in the initial meeting holding him to 5-of-12 shooting and only two free throw attempts but the Illini nailed 42% (8-of-21) from three-point land. Have to believe Lindsay’s presence will help quiet the Illinois guards and wing players who accounted for 56 points last time.
While the defense should be in better position to allow a more season like FG% (Northwestern allows just 39.5% from the field this year), the offense is likely to benefit as well with a third scoring threat on the floor. Game #1 saw Vic Law and Brian McIntosh forced to carry the burden but Lindsay will loosen things up since he’ll demand defensive attention as well. Saturday’s home scare versus Rutgers which ended in a Northwestern 69-65 late come from behind win, probably worked out the kinks of reintegrating Lindsay so look for the offense to be more fluid tonight.
We’re at that stage of the season where teams that are unsure of the NCAA Tournament status must win their winnable games. This is one of those for Chris Collins’ crew which is staring right down the barrel of a three game regular season finish that includes at Indiana plus home vs. Michigan and Purdue. Winning this one is ultra-important for the ‘Cats and the situation suggests they’ll be focused. That plus the return of Lindsay is enough to lay the short favorite price.