Northwestern (5-0) vs. Illinois State (5-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 24, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: South Padre Island Convention Center (2,500) -- South Padre Island, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: NU 4-0, ISU 3-0. Away Record: NU 0-0, ISU 1-0. Neutral Record: NU 1-1, ISU 1-0. Conference Record: NU 0-0, ISU 0-0. Series Record: Illinois State leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: A couple of foes from the Land of Lincoln collide in the title tilt of the South Padre Island Invitational, as the Northwestern Wildcats face the Illinois State Redbirds.
Bill Carmody's Wildcats improved to 5-0 in the semifinal round by stifling the TCU Horned Frogs on the way to a 55-31 victory. The 31 points scored by TCU were the fewest by a Northwestern opponent in more than 16 years. The team held the Frogs 26.5 percent shooting from the floor and without a three- pointer, marking the first time an NU opponent has gone without a trey since Jan. 12, 2002. Carmody's team had a modest performance of its own at the offensive end as it made just 18-of-47 field goal attempts, but it converted 13-of-14 at the charity stripe to make up for the poor shooting and cruise to its fifth straight victory.
The Redbirds are not going to be an easy out for the Wildcats. Illinois State continued its impressive start under first-year head coach Dan Muller on Friday as it ran past UAB to a 77-65 victory. Muller will tie the school record for best start by a first-year head coach if ISU manages to win the championship. It is quite possible with the way its offensive is scorching the nets. The Redbirds are posting 88.2 ppg on 52 percent shooting from the floor. ISU cooled down to net 77 points on 40.9 percent shooting versus the Blazers in the semifinals, but it managed to force 27 turnovers and hold UAB under 40 percent shooting to remain unbeaten.
This will be just the fourth meeting between these intrastate rivals. Illinois State holds a 2-1 edge in series after winning the last two encounters.
The Wildcats have a few different scoring options within their Princeton-style offense. Reggie Hearn's marksman-like three-point shooting (14-of-23) has yielded him a team-best 14 ppg. The senior guard continued his solid play on Friday by knocking down 4-of-8 attempts from the floor for 12 points. Senior forward Jared Swopshire paced the team with 15 points versus the Horned Frogs. NU is playing well despite a somewhat slow start to the season by Drew Crawford, was one of the top scorers (16.1 ppg) in the Big Ten last season playing alongside the league's leader, John Shurna. With his high-scoring teammate departed, it is just a matter of time before the senior slasher starts lighting up the scoreboard. Crawford has been fairly conservative to start the season, but it is working as NU is currently ranked first in Division I with 21.1 apg.
The Redbirds have a talented trio that is going to be a challenge for even NU's defense to slow down. Forward Jackie Carmichael's low-post skills have given him a team-best 16.8 ppg, which he is accompanying with 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per contest. Senior guard Tyler Brown is producing 15.4 ppg on 46.9 percent shooting from the floor. Both Carmichael and Brown may be passed in the coming weeks if Bryant Allen stays hot. The junior scored a career-high 30 points and also registered six steals in Friday's semifinal game to steal the show. Add in Jon Ekey's rebounding abilities and Kaza Keane's strong passing skills, and ISU has a very well-rounded starting five.
Although the Redbirds are off to a fast start, they will lose some steam when they run into the Cats' strict defensive system. Northwestern can get out on the break and score points when needed, so ISU will need to deliver strong performances at both ends to remain perfect.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northwestern 73, Illinois State 66
11/24 10:37:22 ET