(10-2, 6-6 ATS)
Illinois Fighting Illini
(10-1, 2-5 ATS)
The Illinois Fighting Illini and Missouri Tigers take each other on every single year on the gridiron, and when they meet, fireworks are sure to happen. Now that both teams are in the Top 25 in the land on the hardwood, you can bet that there is going to be just as much in the way of explosives coming up on Wednesday night.
Illinois is fresh off of the embarrassing loss against the Illinois Chicago Flames at the United Center over the weekend, a defeat that really set back a team that thought it was set to go to the Final Four this year. This is the last test before the Big Ten schedule starts, but the good news is that a win in this one really should get the Illini off to a five game winning streak halfway through the first month of the new year. Demetri McCarney was out of this world in the first half against the Flames, but in the second half, he and the rest of his mates really shriveled up and fell apart. McCarney is averaging 15.8 points per game on the season, and he is a real superstar in the making. He is nailing 50.9 percent of his shots from long range and is tops on the team in minutes played at 32.0 per game. Three other players are averaging double digits in scoring, but the man to really watch of that bunch was Mike Tisdale, who is not only the fourth leading scorer on the club at 10.2 points per game, but he is also the leader rebounder at 7.0 per game and has the most blocks on the club with 19.
The suspension to Michael Dixon Jr. has really put the Tigers behind the eight ball for the rest of the calendar year, as it has really thinned down a team that is built upon its depth. Still, there is no fear to go at least eight or nine deep on this club, and at any time, any of the nine could be called upon. The ‘Zou loves what Marcus Denmon has done this year, particularly of late. The streaky guard does a little bit of everything, averaging a team high 16.8 points per game to go with 4.1 boards, 2.0 assists, and 2.0 steals. He has averaged 19.3 points per game since an overtime loss to the Georgetown Hoyas that ended the month of November. Ricardo Ratliffe is going to have a tall task against a large Illinois team in this one. He is the team’s top rebounder with 7.5 per game, and when he is at his best on the glass, the Tigers are really rolling. Ratliffe is not only great at starting the fast break for Missouri, but he also is the team’s second leading scorer at 12.3 points per game. Laurence Bowers and Kim English are also good for at least ten points per game. The man that has really taken over point guard duties was Phil Pressey, but his broken finger suffered against Central Arkansas is going to cost him two to three weeks of action.
There are just too many injuries for the Tigers to overcome in this one. When healthy, Missouri would be the pick, but without its first and second string point guards on the court, it is going to take a tremendous effort to be able to overcome the Illini. Illinois gets back on track after the loss to UIC with a dominating victory over a Top 25 rival.
NCAA Basketball Free Pick: Illinois Fighting Illini -1.5