NCAA Basketball Spread: Off
Bruce Weber may be coaching his last regular season game as the Illinois coach in this one. The Fighting Illini have underperformed expectations this year, and many fans seem eager for a change. Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin Badgers picked up a huge win at Columbus last weekend, and they are firmly in the NCAA Tournament again this year. The Badgers will be the clear favorite here, but Illinois is still a dangerous team.
Brandon Paul lit up Ohio State for 43 points this year, and he has shown he is fully capable of taking over a game. Paul is the Fighting Illini’s leading scorer at 14.6 points per game. Still, he is only shooting 39% from the floor. D.J. Richardson hasn’t turned into quite the star most thought he would be when he first came to Illinois, but he does average 12.3 points per game. Meyers Leonard is the key for this team. When Leonard plays very well the Fighting Illini are a very tough team to beat. He had 22 points and 14 boards in the team’s impressive win over Iowa last Sunday evening. Leonard is a 7’1 center who has both strength to fight in the paint and enough to touch to knock down mid-range jumpers.
Bruce Weber’s teams are typically known for their tough defense, but this squad has struggled of late on the defensive end. Five of their last eight opponents have scored at least 70 points. The Fighting Illini really need to hold teams to about 60 points per game. The biggest issue defensively has been the fact that opponents shoot a stunning 38% from beyond the arc.
Wisconsin is one of those teams that is never easy to beat because of their methodical style of play. Wisconsin plays at the slowest tempo of any team in college basketball.The Badgers take great care of the basketball, and they play terrific half court defense. If you are going to beat this team, you’ll have to earn it the hard way. Wisconsin is first in the nation in total defense. Opponents average just 51.8 points per game against this defense. They allow opponents to shoot just 27.8% from beyond the arc.
Jordan Taylor will likely finish his career with the best assist/turnover ratio in the history of college basketball. That is precisely the reason the Badgers are able to be successful running Bo Ryan’s offensive sets, because they know they have a point guard who will put them in a good position each time down the floor. Wisconsin relies heavily on the outside shot. Almost every player on this team can shoot it from three-point range. The Badgers big men are tough, but they aren’t really low post scorers.
This one might be closer than most expect, since both teams like a slow pace and a game that isn’t particularly pretty offensively. Look for the Badgers to win the turnover margin and that should be enough to give them a close win.
Prediction: Wisconsin 59 Illinois 54
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