By Shawn Muller–
With the Big Ten Conference winning the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for the first time in eleven tries last season, both Illinois and Northwestern looked to do their part this year in ensuring that conference bragging rights would stay in the Midwest for at least one more year.
The 2010 Edition of the challenge began on Monday night, with the Minnesota Golden Gophers getting upset by the Virginia Cavaliers. Though a Gopher loss was not how the Big Ten wanted to start things off in the title defense, both the Wildcats and Illini were not about to let their conference brethren go down before the series even began.
Northwestern dismantled the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 91-71 at Welsh Ryan Arena in Evanston on Tuesday night. The Wildcats shot a blistering 65 percent from the field as a team, led by Forwards John Shurna (21 pts) and Drew Crawford (19 pts). With the win over Georgia Tech, Northwestern improved their record to 5-0 on the season.
This win for the Wildcats wasn’t just important from a conference bragging rights standpoint, it also ensured a quality win over a quality opponent for their tournament resume come March. Northwestern (which has been well documented) has never been invited to the “Big Dance” in the entire history of the basketball program. The past is the past, however, and the 2010-11 edition of Wildcats basketball may just be the team to finally make history and get that long-awaited invite.
Northwestern should remain undefeated in their final four non-conference games remaining on their schedule before they open up conference play against the Purdue Boilermakers on December, 31st. By doing so, the Wildcats would be 9-0 heading into conference play. If they can manage to go .500 in the Big Ten, and with how strong the conference is this season from top to bottom, there is no reason to believe this team won’t be dancing at long last.
As impressive as Northwestern was in their beat down of the Yellow Jackets, the Fighting Illini were just as dominant in their win over the North Carolina Tar Heels at Assembly Hall in Champaign.
The 21st Ranked Illini took out the Tar Heels 79-67 on the shoulders of Forward Mike Davis (20pts & 10reb) and Point Guard Demetri McCamey (17pts & 8assts). In total, Illinois had five players hit double figures in scoring. Carolina kept the game close at the opening tip, trailing the Illini 37-30 at the half, but the second half would belong to the Orange and Blue. The closest Carolina would get to Illinois was 11 points in the second half .
With the win over the Tar Heels, Illinois improved it’s record to 7-1 overall.
Illinois is expected to be right in the thick of the Big Ten Conference race this year along with Purdue, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The Illini have five remaining non-conference games left on the slate, with big ones against #24 Gonzaga and #8 Missouri, before opening up the Big Ten slate against Iowa on December 29th. With the way the Illini have played up to this point in the young season, there is no reason to believe that the Illini won‘t be in the thick of the conference championship race until the end. Quite simply, The Fighting Illini are legit…
Big Ten basketball in the state of Illinois should be pretty entertaining this season to say the least…
Big Ten/ACC Challenge Info:
The Big Ten now holds a 4-2 lead over the ACC in this years challenge heading in to Wednesday. With the five remaining contests scheduled for tonight, the Big Ten needs just two more victories to claim its second straight challenge title.
Shawn Muller has lived in Chicago for 7 years. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and just recently received his certificate in radio broadcasting in October of 2010. Sports have always been a passion of Shawn’s. In his free time, Shawn enjoys spending time with his wife Melissa and 3 year old daughter Ava, catching any live sporting event, and traveling. Check out his radio show, “Grab Some Bench with Muller and Bangser” at www.blogtalkradio.com/spmuller24.