NCAA basketball preview and pick for Illinois at Michigan
When it comes time to dole out the seeds for this year's NCAA Tournament, Tuesday night's game between the Michigan Wolverines and Illinois Fighting Illini could loom large. These are two of the best teams in the country, and both of them have a case to be a #1 seed in the Big Dance.
Well, actually Michigan has the better case, with their 18-1 record and #2 national ranking, but there sits Illinois, at #4 despite having six defeats on its ledger.
This one starts at 7 PM ET on ESPN2 from the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor. If you're a customer at BetAnySports, you'll have the opportunity to place wagers even after the game starts as you take advantage of what's available at Sports Betting Prime.
ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI at MICHIGAN WOLVERINES, 7 PM ET (ESPN2)
College Basketball Betting Odds: Michigan -7.5, Total 145
Illinois obviously has a lot of notable victims, including Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin (twice). They've won nine of their last ten, with the lone slip-up during that period coming at the hands of Michigan State.
Against Wisconsin last time out they shot 52% and went to the line 27 times, but also committed 20 turnovers, which is never a good sign.
The biggest question mark for the Illini is the availability of Ayo Dosunmu. The 6-5 junior guard, who is averaging 21 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists and might wind up being the Big Ten Player of the Year, has had to sit out the last two games with a broken nose. All measures are being taken to get him on the floor, although it should be noted that Illinois has captured these last two victories without him.
He's a 40% shooter from three-point range, but the Illini are loaded with outside weaponry. They're hitting 38.1% from the arc overall. Andre Cutelo, a 6-1 guard, isn't a three-point threat, but he came off the bench to contribute 17 points against Wisconsin and 12 rebounds and eight assists against Nebraska.
A very interesting battle is going to be waged on the inside. Hunter Dickinson is the seven-foot freshman phenom for Michigan, although he's not necessarily been on fire lately. Illinois counters with the Jamaican, Kofi Cockburn, a seven-footer with more bulk (285 pounds' worth) who leads the Big Ten with 67% from the field and had during one stretch registered eleven consecutive double-doubles, and has 16 overall.
The fact is, both of these teams can shoot from about anywhere. Michigan and Illinois are 13th and 14th nationwide in Effective Field Goal Percentage, but the Wolverines have hit 77.6% from the line - that's an edge for them.
Michigan, coached by former 'Fab Five' member Juwan Howard, is actually in the top five in both offensive AND defensive efficiency. They have allowed just 41% shooting inside the arc. They have seven consecutive wins over teams ranked among the top 40 by KenPom. And they cooled down Luka Garza considerably in the process of beating Iowa 79-57. That's Iowa, the fifth-ranked team in the Associated Press poll.
Franz Wagner had 21 points against both Iowa and Indiana. And 6-7 forward Isaiah Livers is on fire, hitting 27 of 51 from three-point territory over his last eight games.
It's not that Illinois can't defend; obviously they can. But Michigan has to be given the advantage there, leaving the Illini hoping to get at least two or three shooters hot. And Dosunmu's injury casts some doubt over the situation.
It's a big price tag. But you could argue that, considering the grueling demands of the schedule in the Big Ten, which is the nation's best conference, they may be the best team in the nation right now. They continue to answer the bell.
In a measured recommendation, we're laying the points.
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