(#22) Illinois Fighting Illini (16-8, 8-5 Big 10) limp into Saturday’s road Big Ten Conference clash against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (17-8, 8-6 Big 10). The Fighting Illini hope to sweep the conference series against its opponent, having beaten the Scarlet Knights at home earlier in the season by three (54-51). The contest tips at 4:30 pm EST Saturday, February 15th on the Big Ten Network inside the Louis Brown Athletic Center in New Brunswick, N.J. The line favors Rutgers -3.5.
What to Know – Illinois
Illinois, losers of its last three conference contests, enter the weekend potentially without one of its top players in talented sophomore Ayo Dosunmu. Dosunmu, who was the leading scorer in the Illini’s victory earlier in the season against Rutgers, injured his knee on the final possession of the game against Michigan State earlier in the week and his status is health unknown. The Illini have been a mediocre .500 (4-4) record on the road this season.
Without Dosunmu in the lineup, look for Illinois to lean on freshman center Kofi Cockburn. The talented freshman comes into the weekend second on the team in scoring (13.7 ppg) and leading the team in rebounds (9.0 rpg). Dosunmu was the leading scorer when the Illini at home in the first contest against Rutgers back in early January.
The Fighting Illini come into the weekend averaging 73.6 ppg and allowing 64.9 for a positive 8.7 scoring margin. However, over its three-game losing streak the Illini are allowing 72.3 ppg. Illinois is just behind Rutgers in the NET rankings at 36th, but ahead in KenPom at 29th. The potential of Dosunmu being sideline hurts, but Illinois enters with its remaining starters and key reserves available for Saturday.
What to Know – Rutgers
Like the Illini, Rutgers comes into the weekend leaking oil with losses in its last three of four contests. Its lone win over that stretch was a comeback win over conference bottom-dweller Northwestern. The Scarlet Knights, like most of its conference foes, have been impressive on its home floor with a perfect 16-0 record. A win against the Illini would be huge for the Scarlet Knights bid to get back to the Big Dance.
When on offense the Scarlet Knights display an impressive balanced attack with three players averaging in double figures. Sophomore guard Ron Harper Jr. (11.2 ppg) lead the way for the home squad, followed closely behind by junior guard Geo Baker (10.1 ppg) and senior forward Akwasi Yeboah (10.0 ppg).
Rutgers posts a 70.4 scoring average while surrendering 61.8 ppg. Its scoring defense is tied with conference foe Purdue for 21st in the nation. The Scarlet Knights sit 32 in the NET rankings and 33rd in KenPom. There are no key injuries to report for the home team.
The Pick is In
Rutgers has yet to drop a game this season on their home court while the Illini are trying to fight off a potential four-game losing skid. Dosunmu’s status is unclear, but we feel it’d be a stretch for him to play. The Big 10 is always tough to predict, but we like Rutgers -3.5.