With just four regular season games left for each before the start of the Big 10 Tournament, the pressure surrounding Illinois and Northwestern is reaching its climax. Both schools are squarely on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, and each can solidify their case with a big win this week.
The pressure surrounding each program comes under different circumstances but with similar stakes. Illinois was a Top 25 team not long ago, but a five-game losing streak has made coach Bruce Weber's job security shakier than ever. Weber sounds like a man already resigned to his fate, but if the Illini can turn it around and make some noise in March Madness, public perception would likely change in a heartbeat. The Illini face Ohio State this week, who they defeated in an instant classic earlier this season behind the night of guard Brandon Paul's life.
Northwestern has never made the NCAA Tournament in school history, and has a pivotal Tuesday matchup at home against Michigan this week. The Wolverines look like a safe bet to be awarded an at-large bid into March Madness, but the Wildcats (16-10 overall) likely need to go 3-1 and win a game or two in the Big 10 Tournament before it plays itself off the bubble and into the field.
Here's what the rest of the week holds for our local college basketball teams:
Tuesday, February 21
Illinois at Ohio State 7 p.m.
Michigan at Northwestern 8 p.m.
Saturday, February 25
Notre Dame at St. John's 12 p.m.
Northwestern @ Penn State 9 p.m.