The Fighting Illini get their first significant test of the season on Monday heading into the November 15th Illinois at Marquette matchup. Brad Underwood’s squad has won their first two games by an average of 30.5 ppg but at home and against the likes of Jackson State (71-47) and Arkansas State (92-53) as -25 and -16.5 favorites respectively.
Marquette has started 2-0 just like Illinois, but in less impressive fashion. The Golden Eagles beat SIU-Edwardsville 88-77 in the season opener but as -20.5 favorites. Marquette also struggled on Friday against New Hampshire, 75-70 as -13 point favorites with both games coming in Milwaukee. Some growing pains are expected though as new coach Shaka Smart takes over the Golden Eagles.
Illinois Cruising Even Without Cockburn
Competition aside, one of the more impressive things about their 2-0 start with a couple dominating victories is that they’ve done it without All-American candidate Kofi Cockburn. The 7-footer tested the NBA waters after averaging 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds, but decided to return to Illinois. Before opting to come back to Champaign, he sold some of his Fighting Illini gear (before the new NIL laws went into effect) and now must serve a 3-game suspension.
Cockburn will finish up his suspension in the November 15th Illinois at Marquette matchup, but one thing his absence has done is help the Fighting Illini create some depth. Jacob Grandison averaged 4.5 ppg last season, but has a 20 and a 15 point output in two games. Trent Frazier is going to provide invaluable experience in his 5th year on campus, and he had 12 points playing his first game of the year on Saturday.
Illinois has also gotten some great post play in their first two games, with 6’10” Coleman Hawkins posting a 17 point, 12 rebound performance on Saturday and averaging 15/10 so far.6’10” Omar Payne is a solid rim defender who had 3 blocks vs. Jackson State while Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk has 10 boards in both of the Illini’s games.
Can Marquette Put it All Together?
The Golden Eagles have fought to a 2-0 record, but they’re also working out the kinks that come from making the coaching switch from Steve Wojciechowski to Shaka Smart. Smart decided to leave Texas for Marquette even after winning 19+ games in five of his six seasons in Austin. The departure was mutual though, because the Longhorns also didn’t win one NCAA tournament game during his tenure.
Instead Smart has taken up shop in Milwaukee, which is 1.5 hours East of where he went to high school in Oregon, Wisconsin. Marquette brass hopes that he can invigorate the program and the Golden Eagles have run an up beat tempo with a shot every 13 seconds through two games. Smart called this type of play “havoc” when he led VCU to a Final 4 berth in 2011.
Marquette has had two major bright spots stick out through their 2-0 record, the biggest being Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell who has gone for 21 and 26 points in his first two games at Fiserv Forum. Justin Lewis has been solid too, going for 17 points and 11 rebounds in each of the Golden Eagles’ first two wins.
November 15th Illinois at Marquette Pick
Monday night marks the first major test for both teams, with Illinois trying to get to 3-0 before they welcome Cockburn back and Smart trying to justify his hire to alumni with the major upset. We don’t know much about either team based on the competition they’ve played so far, therefore you have to go with the home dogs in this one.
Marquette 74 – Illinois 77
Free PIck: Marquette +8.5