Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Iowa Hawkeyes Pick 2/2/20
Illinois Fighting Illini (16-5 SU, 11-8-1 ATS) vs. Iowa Hawkeyes (15-6 SU, 12-6-3 ATS)
When: Sunday, February 2, 1 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa
Point Spread: ILL +4.5/IOWA -4.5 (BetNow)
Total: O/U 146.5
Last Time Out:
Illinois handled Minnesota 59-51; Iowa lost 82-72 to Maryland.
Scouting the Fighting Illini:
The wins keep coming for Illinois, but the respect does not. After seven straight wins, Illinois finds itself an underdog at Iowa, most likely because the Illini keep pulling things out by the skin of their teeth. Leaving out the win over Purdue, a 79-62 thrashing at West Lafayette, Illinois has won its other four most recent games by an average of 4.33 points per game, with three of them decided by four or less.
What that leaves out is who those games were against. Illinois got a tough test from a rival in Northwestern, and its wins over Michigan and Rutgers were against a pair of likely NCAA tournament squads (I cannot believe I’m saying that about Rutgers). But for all of their success this year, Iowa remains a hurdle Illinois hasn’t proven it can solve. The Hawkeyes have won four straight over the Fighting Illini, and Illinois’ load of a center, Kofi Cockburn, hasn’t looked like himself as of later. He’s been held to 13 or less in four of Illinois’ past five games and has been inconsistent on the glass, something Illinois cannot afford to have happen in this game.
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Scouting the Hawkeyes:
One of the main reasons that Iowa looks poised to make it five straight over the Illini is because the Hawkeyes come in hot, having won five of six and climbed back into the mix for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The biggest reason for that has been the play of center Luka Garza, who has really stepped up his play in the conference schedule. Through 10 Big Ten games, one team has held Garza under 20 points: Nebraska, which doesn’t even have a center to match up with Garza. Since that game, his lowest output has been 21 points, and he’s gotten plenty of help from Iowa’s talented guards, as Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick have provided solid support in every game except the loss to the Terrapins.
Iowa’s defense. Which version is going to show up for the Hawks on Sunday? What’s made Iowa such a maddening team to figure out is that this squad is equally likely to hold a team in the 50s as it is to allow a team to flirt with 90 points. In four of its past seven games, Iowa has conceded at least 80 points, but in the other three, the opponent didn’t break 62. Making matters more complicated is that there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to which defense is going to show up on a given night. Against Maryland in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes seem to be ready to get blown out as their rotation was down to seven players. Instead, they held the Terrapins to 49 points and easily blew to a win. Fast forward three weeks and Iowa had its rotation back to normal for the return game in College Park. Maryland scored 82 points and won by 10. This defense defies logic.
Illinois will Cover if:
Ayo Dosunmu can keep up the shooting. The sophomore guard averages 16 points per game, and his play was critical against both Michigan and Rutgers. Iowa is likely to come out focused on him and willing to let Garza handle Cockburn, which is a look that few teams have the personnel to throw at Illinois. Dosunmu has to expect that he’s on his own in this game and step up with a great performance.
Iowa will Cover if:
The Hawkeyes can win the rebounding battle. Few teams can even hope to compete with Illinois on the glass, but Iowa grabs about 39 boards a game to Illinois’ 40.7 and has a powerful center in Garza. Given that Garza has two years of experience on Cockburn and is playing a heck of a lot better right now, he’s looking like the better bet to win the individual matchup. If that occurs, Iowa will likely win the overall matchup.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
I have been impressed with Illinois during its rise to the top of the Big Ten, and it wouldn’t shock me at all to see them pull out another win here. But I’m going with the Hawkeyes here because Illinois really isn’t getting the kind of production out of Cockburn that it needs. Unlike most teams in the Big Ten, Iowa has the personnel to take advantage of a less-than-great performance from Cockburn. Garza isn’t going to be intimidated by Cockburn’s size and has the knowledge to win this one-on-one battle.
I wouldn’t touch the over/under at all because of Iowa’s total inconsistency, but I think the Hawkeyes are a solid bet here.
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