Michigan vs. Illinois Basketball Pick
Michigan Wolverines (15-0 SU, 7-8 ATS) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (4-11 SU, 6-9 ATS)
When: Thursday, January 10, 2019 – 8 PM ET
Where: State Farm Center, Champaign, Ill.
By: Dan Jamison, College Basketball Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: MICH -8.5/ILL +8.5 (-105 at 5Dimes)
Total: O/U 136
Last Time Out: Michigan beat Indiana 74-63; Illinois lost to Northwestern 68-66.
Scouting the Wolverines:
Michigan isn’t an attractive team to watch for most fans, but it is effective. The Wolverines have continued to grind one offense after another into mulch, no matter how good that offense had seemed to be. What makes the Wolverines so tough for offenses to deal with is that they don’t win by forcing opponents into bad passes or mental mistakes. In fact, against Indiana, they only forced seven turnovers for the game. Instead, Michigan wins by forcing opponents into difficult shots and denying the easy basket. That’s the biggest reason that Michigan has run through 15 straight opponents: defense is much easier to be consistent on than offense.
Scouting the Fighting Illini:
Illinois has faced perhaps the most brutal schedule in the entire country, and it’s left Brad Underwood’s team with a deceptive 4-11 record. Other than Florida Atlantic, Illinois hasn’t lost to a squad outside of a power conference, and that suggests that wins are likely going to come for the Illini eventually. Underwood’s teams usually get better as the season goes along, and with Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu establishing themselves as solid scoring, that appears to be happening again this season. In truth, Illinois would have had a win at Northwestern if the Illini could hit their deep shots, but they went 0-for-11 from behind the arc in Evanston.
The 3-point arc. Illinois is not a bad 3-point shooting team, but the Illini couldn’t hit anything when they lost at Northwestern. Unfortunately for them, Michigan is excellent at denying the easy shot and forcing a team to go to its plan B. Given that Illinois shot zero percent from the arc in its most recent game, the Wolverines are likely to focus on denying the interior scoring and forcing the Illini to the outside. If Illinois isn’t able to hit its shots from deep, Michigan is likely to run away with the game relatively early.
Michigan will Cover if:
The Wolverines can keep the Illinois crowd from getting into the game. No matter how poor their record has been in recent years, the Illini get great fan support at home, which is one reason why all four of their victories have come in Champaign. Michigan needs to take the Illinois fans out of the game early by not giving them a reason to get excited. If the Illini fans start to believe they can win, the task will get that much more difficult for the Wolverines.
Illinois will Cover if:
The Illini can play Michigan’s game and not force things that aren’t there. Playing with Michigan requires a team to be smart when it has the ball and take the few things that the Wolverines are willing to give them. Michigan can make even the best teams look foolish by forcing them into mistakes, and the Illini are far from one of the best teams in the Big Ten. Illinois has to make sure that it’s taking smart shots and avoiding silly errors in order to have a chance at staying in the game and pulling the upset.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread:
Yes, Illinois’ record is ugly, but there’s actually a fair amount to like here about the Illini’s chances. Illinois has struggled this season, but it’s hard to get things going when you find yourself playing talented opponents night after night. Michigan might be the toughest opponent that Illinois has played all season, but in terms of the spread, that’s actually working to the Illini’s advantage.
In a situation like this, the bookmakers tend to go too high toward the team that’s struggling and provide them with too many points, giving them a realistic chance to pull off the cover despite the gulf in talent. Plus, Michigan has shown a severe lack of ability to overwhelm its opponent when it faces a lesser squad. The Wolverines are just 1-4 against the spread when facing a team that owns a losing record, and the fact that the Illini showed some improvements against Indiana and Northwestern says that they’ll push Michigan a little more than expected.
I’m not crazy enough to say the Illini have a chance to beat the Wolverines, but I think a close game that’s not decided until the final three minutes feels right for this game. At the moment, this line feels like it’s about two points higher than it should be. My gut says that John Beilein’s Wolverines walk out with a win, but the Illini push them to the end and land the cover.