CBB Picks: Illinois vs. Wisconsin
Illinois Fighting Illini (17-6 SU, 13-9-1 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (16-8 SU, 11-12-1 ATS)
When: Saturday, February 27, 2 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Point Spread: ILL +4.5/WIS -4.5 (GTBets)
Last Time Out:
Illinois handled Nebraska 86-70; Wisconsin defeated Northwestern 68-51.
About the Matchup:
With Ohio State losing to Michigan State on Thursday, the door is now open for Illinois to earn its way to a No. 1 seed. It’s not going to be easy, as the Illini finish with three consecutive road games at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State before entering the wood chipper that is the Big Ten tournament, but the opportunity is there. To make it happen, however, the Illini likely has to go at least 2-1 in this stretch and can’t have the one be the season finale in Columbus. Given that they’ll probably have an easier time with Wisconsin than Michigan, this is as close as it gets to must-win for Illinois.
This might be the perfect time to play Wisconsin, then, because the Badgers are sinking under the weight of the Big Ten. The Badgers are just 4-5 in their past nine games, and while most of those are good losses to the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois, there was also a setback at Penn State. The Badgers haven’t been getting good wins during that stretch either, as their best win in 2021 came at a mediocre Maryland. Wisconsin’s not at risk of missing the tournament because the Badgers are believed to have done enough to build a solid resume, but they’re trending downward and might end up on the 7 or 8 line. A win over Illinois would make this profile look a lot better in a hurry.
Scouting the Fighting Illini:
The big question surrounding Illinois is whether Ayo Dosunmu will be able to play. Dosunmu was knocked out of action against Michigan State on Tuesday with a facial injury, and he wasn’t on the floor for the Illini’s win over Nebraska on Thursday. Truthfully, having to beat the Huskers without Dosunmu might have been a good wake-up call for the Illini, who weren’t exactly looking stellar before that game, having wheezed past Nebraska and Northwestern before slamming a collapsing Minnesota.
If Dosunmu can’t go again, the key will be getting help off the bench to replace Dosunmu’s impact. Adam Miller did a nice job of filling in with an 18-point showing, but the 3-point shooting really has to be better as a whole for the Illini. Illinois shot just 4-for-23 from behind the arc against the Huskers, and that isn’t good enough to beat most teams in the Big Ten. Jacob Grandison and Andre Curbelo did do an excellent job of shooting inside the arc against Nebraska coming off the bench, and they’ve got to extend their range a bit in this one.
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Scouting the Badgers:
Wisconsin’s defense has been good enough to stop the likes of Northwestern and Nebraska this year, but the Badgers’ calling card really hasn’t been on display this season against the elite teams in the Big Ten. Case in point: the Badgers allowed Iowa to shoot over 60 percent from behind the arc in a 15-point loss at home to the Hawkeyes, which flies in the face of everything that Wisconsin basketball is supposed to be about.
Actually, the entire game against Iowa was a total disaster from a Wisconsin standpoint, as the Badgers’ offense looked nothing like its ideal gameplan. Wisconsin is at its best when it slows the game down and takes the air out of the ball, but the Badgers put up an almost-unthinkable 70 shots, including 34 from behind the arc. Wisconsin is usually more comfortable when there are only about 70 shots in the entire game, and the fact that the Badgers were out of their element was obvious. Only Micah Potter had a decent game shooting, and that’s just not enough to get the job done.
Kofi Cockburn. How does Wisconsin choose to play against the big man? Big centers have been the big weakness for the Badgers, who got pounded in Champaign in large part because Cockburn did whatever he wanted as far as both scoring and rebounding. Wisconsin still doesn’t have an answer for powerful centers, which it proved in the loss to Iowa by allowing Luka Garza to dominate the game from start to finish.
Cockburn doesn’t present quite the same problems as Garza, who can score from anywhere on the court, but the Illinois big man is even more powerful than his Iowa counterpart. If Wisconsin isn’t ready to bang around inside, this could end badly.
Illinois will Cover If:
The Illini can take advantage of open shots that the Badgers are willing to give them. Wisconsin’s defense is not what it usually is, and the Illini need to get hot from 3-point range to take advantage of that. The Badgers might try to sell out on Cockburn, given how badly they’ve been defending the arc as of late, and the only way to beat that effort is to hit some shots.
Wisconsin will Cover If:
The Badgers can overwhelm the Illini guards. With Dosunmu hurt, the load falls to Illinois’ other guards to pick up the slack, and that’s a much tougher task against the likes of Wisconsin than it is against a team like Nebraska. Wisconsin has to stop the Illinois guards in order to keep Cockburn from taking over the game.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
With or without Dosunmu, Illinois is still one of the best teams in the nation, and Wisconsin just doesn’t appear to be on that tier. The Illini seems to be comfortable enough without Dosunmu to get a result, and the Badgers have been middling at best for the past month. Wisconsin really needs a win here, but I just don’t think I can trust the Badgers in this spot. Give me Illinois.