Playing each other twice a season, competing in the Big Ten and only being a three-hour car ride away from each other, one might think NU and the University of Illinois would be fierce basketball rivals.
But Evanston resident and Illini fan Young Choi doesn’t see any contest.
“No, there’s no rivalry in basketball,” he said between bursts of applause directed towards the halftime entertainment. “There’s a lack of competition between the schools.”
Choi’s words rang true Wednesday night, as the Fighting Illini out-powered the Wildcats 58 to 43. The game lacked the adrenaline-pumping atmosphere found at heated rivalry games like Duke vs. North Carolina, played that same night (not to compare either team to some of the ACC’s finest squads), as Welsh-Ryan Arena resembled a orange prairie with an occasional smidgen of barely-moving purple patches.
The lack of energy in the arena could be credited to the lukewarm view Illinois (18-8) takes of in-state opponent NU (11-12). The Wildcats’ poor performance over the last few seasons, coupled with the fact the Illini have seen great success including an appearance in the national championship game in 2005, has resulted in many Illini-backers brushing NU off as an easy victory. Choi said the ‘Cats need to turn their program around if they ever hope to put a scare in the Illini.
“Once NU starts rebuilding, we may take them seriously,” he said. “But they’ve been doing that for a while now.”
Northwestern junior Bryan Lochman said he also believed the Wildcats’ woeful ways were no match for the powerhouse Illini.
“The team is not nearly as good as [Illinois] most of the time,” he said from the top row of the NU student section, no one near him.
The McCormick student said the two teams seem like natural rivals because they’re in the same division and state, but the lack of NU campus excitement may be part of the problem.
“The student section isn’t even full,” he said, motioning to the empty bleachers around him. “Against Wisconsin and Ohio State, it was at least full.”
Evanston resident Heath Port, an Illini fan since he was a child, said Illinois is more concerned with teams on their level.
“Indiana is a big rival of ours,” he said, clad in an Illini hat and jacket. “The games with ranked teams are usually more intense.”
Even though Northwestern isn’t so hot on the hardwood, the school does have one athletic boast to their name, Port said.
“I think football games between the two are much more intense,” he said with a smile. “I don’t think NU considers Illinois a rival [there] though.”
Photos by Tom Giratikanon