Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Michigan Wolverines Pick 1/25/20
Illinois Fighting Illini (14-5 SU, 9-8-1 ATS) vs. Michigan Wolverines (11-7 SU, 8-9-1 ATS)
When: Saturday, January 25, Noon
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Point Spread: ILL +3.5/MICH -3.5
Total: O/U 140.5
Last Time Out:
Illinois routed Purdue 79-62; Michigan lost 72-63 to Penn State
Scouting the Fighting Illini:
Illinois is growing up in a hurry, and the Fighting Illini have become the surprise of the Big Ten after winning their past five and entering a first-place tie with Michigan State. Now the Illini get the chance to see how far they’ve come by facing Michigan, who they handled fairly easily at the start of the conference season when the teams met in Champaign. But this time, Illinois comes in as the visitor with the target on its back after jumping into the national rankings as a result of completing a sweep of Purdue, winning at Wisconsin, and edging a shockingly competent Rutgers squad.
To get another result, Illinois is going to have to win with its play in the paint. The Illini have one of the toughest centers in the nation in Kofi Cockburn, and the 290-pound big man was dominant against Michigan the first time, scoring 19 points. A similar performance is likely required.
Scouting the Wolverines:
Man, does that start seem like it was forever ago. Michigan was the hot name in college basketball at the Battle 4 Atlantis, winning the tournament and knocking off Iowa State, North Carolina and Gonzaga in the process. Normally, that would be a great sign of things to come for a college basketball squad, but Iowa State has shown itself to be a mediocre squad at best, and North Carolina has been exposed as something well short of that. What’s been left has been a Michigan squad that probably was not ready for the target on its back and certainly wasn’t ready to lose Isaiah Livers to a groin injury. The Wolverines have now dropped three in a row and look like they could be in danger of missing out on the NCAA tournament entirely if they don’t get things turned around quickly.
The real cause for concern for Michigan has been the way that it’s played over the past nine games, dating back to the trip to Champaign. Michigan has won just three of its past nine, and the Wolverines have found themselves forced to play the opponent’s game nearly every time. Against Illinois, that meant the Wolverines got bludgeoned inside, which cannot repeat itself if they’re going to have a chance.
Toughness. Illinois’ rise has been all about showing its opponents how tough it is. The Fighting Illini know that they’re a load to deal with inside, and they love to throw their size around and limit teams to one shot per trip to the basket. They did this to significant effect against Purdue, as the Boilermakers found out that Illinois wasn’t intimidated by Mackey Arena the way, so many other teams have been this year. Purdue has crushed the likes of Michigan State, Virginia, and Wisconsin by 19 points or more in West Lafayette, but Illinois showed no fear and blitzed the Boilers by 17 on the road. Michigan has to find another level to its game to try to go toe-to-toe with an opponent who has been here before and will not be intimidated.
Illinois will Cover if:
The Fighting Illini can keep the game inside the paint. The last time these teams played, neither team shot it better than 20 percent from behind the arc. 3-pointers play right into Illinois’ hands because they allow for a lot of crazy rebounds, which the Illini grab better than just about anyone. If the ball bounces off the rim a lot, it’s the Illini’s game.
Michigan will Cover if:
The Wolverines can show some interior toughness. Michigan is not going to outrebound Illinois, but if the Wolverines can be competitive with the Illini on the glass, that would make a huge difference in staying competitive on the scoreboard. What Michigan can’t do is let Cockburn go to work again and keep the Wolverines from getting second-chance points. If that happens, the Wolverines are in deep trouble.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
This will be a tough test for Illinois, but I think it’s one that the Illini have the ability to handle. Illinois has been playing top-quality defense for a while now, and the size that they boast inside has made them difficult to handle. They know what they’re doing on the glass, and they seem to have finally grown up enough to handle the pressure of the Big Ten. Conversely, I don’t know if Juwan Howard knows how to keep the locker room together as a first-year head coach who came from the NBA, where team unity isn’t really a thing. I see the Wolverines as fractured, and I don’t want to trust them here. Give me the Illini.
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