Evanston, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - In the Top 25 for the first time this season, the 23rd-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini hit the road for a Big Ten battle with the Northwestern Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday evening.
John Groce's Illini are an impressive 13-3 on the year. Illinois opened the Big Ten slate with two straight wins, but struggled last week with a 95-70 loss at No. 4 Wisconsin. The loss ended a longer four-game win streak for the Illini, who are just 1-2 in true road games this season.
Chris Collins' first season in Evanston hasn't exactly gotten off to a rousing start. The Wildcats have had some problems with consistency and the result is a less than stellar 7-9 overall record. Northwestern is still searching for its first league win on the campaign, losing three straight Big Ten matchups entering this contest, including a 93-67 rout at the hands of nationally- ranked Iowa on Thursday.
Illinois has dominated this series, with a 130-38 all-time advantage between these instate rivals, including a 60-24 edge in games played in Evanston.
The Illini didn't perform well in their first game as a ranked team, as they were simply overpowered by the Badgers last week. Illinois struggled big time in the first half, shooting an ugly 27 percent from the floor and was doubled up by Wisconsin on the scoreboard at the half (50-25). Overall, the Illini finished with a .316 shooting efficiency in the lopsided loss. Rayvonte Rice led all scorers with 19 points. Joseph Bertrand was a close second on the team with 18 points. Nnanna Egwu added just four points to the cause, but did grab a team-high 10 rebounds.
Illinois isn't an offensive juggernaut, posting modest numbers at that end of the floor with 72.1 ppg on .429 shooting. However, the team does have a prolific scorer in Rice, who leads the way in both the scoring column (18.8 ppg) and on the boards (6.0 rpg). Tracy Abrams and Bertrand are complementary scorers with 12.6 and 11.4 ppg, respectively.
The Wildcats' woes have come offensively this season, as they are averaging just 64.6 ppg this year. That number has been even worse in league play, with Northwestern averaging a mere 55.7 ppg against Big Ten opponents, while allowing over 81. Drew Crawford leads the way as both NU's top scorer (15.7 ppg) and rebounder (6.9 rpg). JerShon Cobb is the only other double-figure scorer on the roster (12.0 ppg), although Tre Demps (9.9 ppg) and Alex Olah (9.1 ppg) aren't far off the mark.
Northwestern got off to a slow start and the Hawkeyes took advantage, steadily increasing their lead as the game wore on and finishing off the Wildcats in what turned out to be a lopsided affair. Iowa outrebounded Northwestern 41-28 and outshot the visiting Wildcats, 56.9 percent to 39 percent. Cobb led NU with 18 points in the loss. Crawford chipped in with 12.