Northwestern Wildcats vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Pick & Prediction JANUARY 24th 2024

When Illinois thrashed Northwestern by 30 points on Jan. 2, the Illini did not have Terrence Shannon Jr. available as he was serving an indefinite suspension for a pending rape charge in Kansas.

For the Wednesday rematch between No. 10 Illinois (14-4, 5-2 Big Ten) and Northwestern (13-5, 4-3) in Evanston, Ill., Shannon figures to be in the middle of everything after a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Friday that overrode the suspension.

Shannon, who was away from the team for three weeks, made his first appearance since Dec. 22 during the Fighting Illini’s 86-63 victory over Rutgers on Sunday in Champaign, Ill. While he finished with 16 points in 28 minutes off the bench, there were clear signs of rust.

Shannon averaged a team-best 21.7 points per game on 51.4 percent shooting from the floor and 40.8 percent success from 3-point range before his suspension. Against the Scarlet Knights he missed all five of his long-range attempts. Most were flat and short, a sign he didn’t have his basketball legs.

Illinois coach Brad Underwood added that Shannon’s defense was not at its usually stellar level.

“He was very tired early,” Underwood said. “Until you get adrenalin in you as an athlete, you can’t describe how much that will take out of you. He can run all the wind sprints he wants and all the treadmills and all the pool work and all that — and there’s nothing like the adrenalin of competition in a game.”

During Shannon’s absence, Illinois posted a 4-2 record as seniors Marcus Domask, Quincy Guerrier, Coleman Hawkins and Justin Harmon all played bigger roles — and Illinois’ offense actually performed more efficiently. In the team’s six games without Shannon — five versus Big Ten foes — they averaged 1.22 points per possession. In the 11 games with him, the Illini were at 1.12 points per possession.

“I was really excited about how our guys played when we didn’t have him because there was a tremendous connectivity,” Underwood said. “And, yet, we were really starting to find our groove before (his suspension). So I think the integration process has got to be a little bit patient with. But there’s no doubt, it’s back to who we were, so to speak.”

Illinois delivered its best all-around effort of the season in the first game with Northwestern. The Illini posted their fourth-best point total while also smothering the Wildcats’ offense.

Preseason All-Big Ten point guard Boo Buie managed 20 points for Northwestern on Jan. 2 in Champaign, but he posted four turnovers, four fouls and no assists before taking a seat next to head coach Chris Collins with 10 minutes to go. Collins saw no sense in spending Buie’s energy at the end of a blowout.

It turned out to be the right move, as in Northwestern’s next game, Buie stacked up 19 points and a career-high 10 assists in an 88-74 win over Michigan State.

Buie (17.9 points, 5.2 assists per game) continues to be the best barometer for how Northwestern will fare. In the Wildcats’ 75-69 loss at Nebraska on Saturday, Buie shot a season-worst 2-for-15 from the floor and finished with nine points.

“Boo’s been so good,” Collins said. “Especially from the 3-point line, I thought he got some looks. Then some of his floaters — that’s his patented shot — he got to his floater and had a couple that rimmed out on him. He just could never see the ball go through the hole.”

–Field Level Media

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