For the first time in the history of this matchup, the #4 Illinois Fighting Illini (18-6, 14-4 Big Ten) take on the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (18-1, 13-1 Big Ten) in a battle of AP Top 5 teams on Tuesday night. Tuesday’s contest was initially scheduled for a mid-February tilt but was postponed due to COVID protocols within the Wolverines basketball program.
The tipoff is set for 7 pm ET inside the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, MI. Michigan is an 8.5-point favorite in the Top 5 battle, according to oddsmakers.
What to Know – Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois suffered back-to-back losses in mid-January but rebounded nicely to win nine of their next ten games. The Fighting Illini have slid into a potential one-seed spot in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today.
The Fighting Illini rank second in the conference scoring 81.2 points per game offensively. Illinois is first in field goal percentage (50.1%) and third from beyond the arc (38.1%). Defensively, the Illini rank sixth, holding opponents to 69.2 points per game. The defense is third in field goal percentage defense (41.1%) and sixth in three-point percentage defense (33.2%).
Center Kofi Cockburn scored a team-high 19 points, and reserve guard Andre Curbelo came off the bench to add 17 points in Illini’s 74-69 victory over Wisconsin on Saturday. The Illini shot 52.1% (25-of-48) from the floor and knocked down only 5-of-9 threes.
The Illini are 15-9 against the spread this season, including 7-3 ATS over their last 10. Illinois is 12-6 ATS in conference games and 6-4 in games played away from Champaign.
What to Know – Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines are one of only two teams with one loss on the season while playing in arguably the toughest basketball conference in college basketball. Like the Illini, if the season ended today, Michigan would be a top seed in the NCAA bracket.
Michigan is right behind the Illini in scoring, averaging 78.8 points per game. The Wolverines rank second in both field goal percentage (49.7%) and three-point percentage (39.0%). Michigan’s defense is third in the conference surrendering 65.2 points per game and rank first in field goal percentage defense (38.4%) and fourth in three-point percentage defense (32.7%).
In Saturday’s 16-point road win over Indiana, guard Franz Wagner poured in a game-high 21 points in the victory. Forward Isaiah Livers added 16 points and ten rebounds. Michigan outrebounded Indiana, 37-27, and finished 17-of-19 (89.5%) from the free-throw line.
Michigan is an impressive 15-4 ATS this year with a 6-1 mark over their last seven games. The Wolverines are 11-3 ATS against Big Ten opponents and 9-3 on their home floor.
The Pick is In
Tuesday’s game should be one of the best games of the season in the Big Ten, and there has been a long list of battles this season. These two teams are primed to make deep runs into the postseason and have played sound basketball all season.
Michigan is a better overall team, but it is hard to see this game not being within a possession throughout 40 minutes of play. Michigan might win, but it’ll be close.
The Pick: Illinois Fighting Illini +8.5