NCAA Basketball Spread: Off
Michigan State has separated themselves at the top of the Big Ten standings, but Michigan is tied for second with Ohio State. Illinois is generally a player in the Big Ten race, but the Fighting Illini have stumbled through this season. Bruce Weber’s team has picked up some impressive victories, but they have also suffered multiple disappointing losses. Champaign is never an easy place to play. Let’s take a closer look at this one.
John Beilein has done a wonderful job turning around the Michigan basketball program. This was a program that was no better than mediocre just a few short years ago, but they are now back in the thick of things in the Big Ten. Going into this season the big question mark for this team was the point guard spot. Michigan lost an impressive play maker when Darius Morris decided to go pro. It turns out the Wolverines best player this season has been freshman sensation Trey Burke. Burke averages 14.2 points per game, and he has already racked up 138 assists this year. Tim Hardaway Jr. averages 14.1 points per game, but he has been struggling with his shot of late.
Michigan relies heavily on its ability to hit outside shots. Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz both shoot 41% from beyond the arc. Stu Douglass is another guy capable of heating up from three-point range. Jordan Morgan is the team’s best low post player, and they need him to stay out of foul trouble in this game. Michigan allows just 60.4 points per game.
Illinois is 13-3 at home this year, and they have beaten both Michigan State and Ohio State. The Fighting Illini have proven they can beat the best in the conference, but they have also gone through stretches where they look like they couldn’t beat anyone. Brandon Paul is the Fighting Illini’s top scorer at 14.6 per game. Paul scored 18 of the team’s 42 points in their win over Michigan State. He piled up 43 points in an amazing performance when Illinois beat Ohio State. The man who can make a real difference for this team is Meyers Leonard. Leonard had his best game of the season this past Sunday against Iowa. Leonard scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in that game. If Leonard dominates in the post this is a completely different team.
Bruce Weber’s teams generally play terrific defense, but this squad has struggled. Six of their last nine opponents have scored at least 70 points. If Illinois is going to finish the season strong they must get back to playing strong half court defense. In this one, they’ll need to get out quickly and not let Michigan heat up from outside.
Illinois is a dangerous team right now. They are a wounded, but very talented team that is capable of beating anyone in the league. I expect a strong effort from Illinois here. Look for them to pull off another upset.
Prediction: Illinois 66 Michigan 61
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