Wisconsin Badgers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Preview and Pick

Wisconsin Badgers (21-4) -2, 118 O/U at Illinois Fighting Illini (11-15) +2, 118 O/U, Assembly Hall, Champaign, Ill., 9 PM Eastern, Wednesday
by Badger of Predictem.com

The 11th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers travel into enemy territory when they go to Assembly Hall in Champaign to take on the struggling Illinois Fighting Illini in a Big 10 Conference basketball game Wednesday.

The Badgers will be trying to win their fourth straight game over Illinois, as they beat them 70-60 in Madison back on January 10th. They will also be looking to win their third straight game overall after a home loss to Big 10 leader Purdue on February 9th, 72-67. The Badgers do sport a strong 7-2 SU record away from home this season (the best mark in the Big 10), including a 68-66 victory over Indiana last week on a bank-shot 3-pointer by center Brian Butch.

Illinois is still struggling to find their grove this season. Last Saturday the Illini lost a heartbreaker at Penn State, 52-51, when the Nittany Lions made two clutch free throws with just seven second left in the game. The loss was their fourth in their last five games, and their sixth straight loss in their last eight games in Big 10 play.

Sportsbooks have opened the game with Wisconsin listed as 2- point favorites, with a low 118-point total.

Wisconsin boasts a balanced offense that gets its scoring from a wide variety of players. Point guard Trevon Hughes, who had 22 points and 6 steals in the Badgers win over Illinois last time, is probably their best all-around player. But forward Marcus Landry (11.0 ppg), guard Michael Flowers (9.6 ppg) and Butch (team-leading 12.5 ppg) are all significant contributors on the offensive end.

Illinois has had a frustrating season overall, but their frustration seems to be higher when they have the ball on offense. Their 30.9 shooting percentage from 3-point range is one of the lowest in the NCAA, and the Illini have a tendency to settle for threes too often even though they dont shoot them all that well. When they do get the ball inside, and get fouled, the teams 59.9 free throw percentage makes it hard close ground.

Center Shaun Pruitt (12.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is the inside presence for the Illini, while guard Trent Meacham (10.6 ppg) is their best outside option on the floor. Meacham scored 11 points in the loss at Penn State, while Pruitt added 10 points as the Illini shot a poor 38.5 percent from the floor.

The one thing both teams seem to do extremely well is defend. Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the NCAA at contesting shots (38.6 FG% allowed - 14th), while Illinois isnt far behind in the same category (39.6 FG% - 25th). The Badgers are also 15th in rebounding margin (+7.0). With both teams strong defense (Badgers allow just 55.4 ppg; Illinois 62.1 ppg), its not really a surprise that the oddsmaker has opened the game at an ultra-low 118 total.Even though the Badgers have beaten the Illini in three straight, they havent been all that successful at Assembly Hall. The Badgers beat Illinois in their building last time they met (71-64 on Jan. 20th, 2007), it was the first time the Badgers have won on the road in this series in seven years.

A few other betting trends worth noting: the road team is 6-2 ATS in the last eight head-to-head meetings; the Illini are 0-6 SU versus ranked teams this season, and just 1-11 versus ranked teams the past two years; Wisconsin is not only 7-2 in their Big 10 road games this year, they are also 6-2 ATS in the last eight road games overall.

Both teams have been bad to bettors this season (Illini 10-15-1 ATS, Wisconsin 10-12 ATS), unless you like to bet the under. The under is 12-5 in the Badgers last 17 games overall, and 6-2 in their last eight games as the favorite. However, Illinois has only come in under the number in five of their 13 Big 10 games.

Badgers Pick: Even though the Illini have been losing a lot lately, its not like they are getting blown out (6.0 average margin in their last six losses). Plus, they just seem to have the Badgers number, especially at Assembly Hall with the rough crowd behind them. Im going out on a limb here with a gut feeling. Take Illinois plus the points in this game.