It is a Top 25 Big Ten Conference battle on Sunday when the No. 23 Illinois Fighting Illini host the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes in the final game of the regular season for both teams. The Illini are trying to avenge a loss earlier in the season to the Hawkeyes that ended with some back-and-forth barking during the postgame handshake.
Stakes are high Sunday, as a win for either team would give them a double-bye in next weekend’s Big Ten Conference Tournament. Tip-off is at 7 pm EST inside the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill. The Illinois Fighting Illini are three-point favorites at home.
What to Know – Iowa
Iowa brings a five-game winning streak over the Illini into Sunday night’s showdown. The Hawkeyes are looking to bounce back from a rare home loss Tuesday to Purdue. Iowa has seven wins over ranked opponents this season, which is most in the nation entering the weekend.
Luka Garza has scored 20 or more points in 15 straight conference games and 18 of 19 games this season. The junior center leads the league in scoring, averaging 23.7 points per game. Garza paced the Hawkeyes in their last meeting against the Illini, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Behind Garza, sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp (14.4 ppg) adds an additional element to a Hawkeyes offense that ranks first in the league scoring 77.8 per game.
Defensively the Hawkeyes allow opponents to score at 72.1 points per game. The visitors held the Illini to 65 points early in the year. Iowa ranks 24th in the KenPom rankings and 34th in the NCAA NET rankings system.
What to Know – Illinois
Like the Hawkeyes, the Illini are trying to bounce back from a loss earlier in the week at Ohio State. The Illini was outscored by the Buckeyes 41-26 in the second half. Illinois had won four in a row before falling to Ohio State on Thursday. At home this season, the hosts are 14-3 inside the State Farm Center with those losses by a total of 12 points.
Three players boast a double-digit scoring average for the Illini: sophomore guard Ayo Dosumnu (16.6 ppg), freshman center Kofi Cockburn (13.4 ppg) and senior guard Andres Feliz (10.9 ppg). Feliz poured in 17 points to lead Illinois in scoring against the Hawkeyes in their first meeting.
Illinois has been involved in a slew of close games this season, with 14 of its 19 conference contests being decided by single digits. The hosts average 72.0 points and surrender 64.9 per game. The Illini are behind the Hawkeyes in both the KenPom (30th) and NET (36th) rankings.
The Pick is In
There should be some fireworks in this one after the postgame handshake led to some jawing between the two coaching staffs. The motivation for a double-bye in the conference tournament is also in play. We like the Illini -3 here.