The Illinois at Duke pick is the highlight of the 2020 ACC / Big 10 Challenge. Both teams are great as the Fighting Illini are ranked #9 in the nation and the Blue Devils #11, but both squads are flawed early this season as well.
Illinois barely survived in a last second 77-75 win at home over Ohio as -15.5 favorites two Fridays ago and ultimately fell 82-69 in a neutral site game against #2 Baylor last Wednesday. Duke failed their only test in which they weren’t a -30 point favorite or better this year, falling 75-69 to Michigan State last Tuesday as -4 favorites.
Absence of a Crowd Helps Illini
Under normal non-pandemic circumstances the Illinois at Duke pick would have featured one of the most electric atmospheres of the young 2020/21 season. Alas with no fans allowed in attendance, the Blue Devils lose one of the best home court advantages in all of college basketball. Michigan State has already proven that this season, winning by 6 at Cameron Indoor Stadium last week.
Illinois has had a couple blips this year, but their 2-point win over Ohio came while playing a third game in three days. The Fighting Illini went blow-for-blow with #2 Baylor for the first half last week entering the break down 31-30, but a 51-39 deficit in the 2nd half did Brad Underwood’s team in.
So basically the illini come into Tuesday’s game with some concerns, but many more reasons to be optimistic. Ayo Dosunmu should be the best player on the court vs. Duke, as he’s scored at least 18 points in all four games this year while also adding 7.3 rebounds/game. 7’0 Kofi Cockburn will be a load against a Duke team that starts three guards and a 6’9″ and 6’5″ forward.
Duke Always Tough In These Spots
The Blue Devils are a young squad this year, and Mike Krzyzewski is still trying to see what he has while starting 8 different players this season (Illinois has had the same starting lineup in each of their games). The Blue Devils started two sophomores, two freshman, and a senior last game which would seem to favor the Illini.
One freshman with a huge task on Tuesday is Mark Williams, the 7-footer who will likely be tasked with trying to slow down Cockburn – the Illinois center who entertained NBA thoughts last offseason. Duke’s Matthew Hurt will also likely try to match Dosunmu blow for blow in scoring, as the Blue Devils forward has gone for 21 and 24 the last two games.
Krzyzewski thinks he has an x-factor in 5-star freshman Jalen Johnson, but Illinois has a newcomer in Adam Miller that is averaging 14.5 ppg in his first four collegiate games. The Illini also have a deep and veteran-laden bench fueled by Giorgi Bezhanishvili who had 15 points in reserve time vs. Baylor last week and Andre Curbelo who is averaging 10.0 ppg so far.
Free Illinois at Duke Pick
One of the big reasons the Blue Devils lost to Michigan State last week is because they were outrebounded 46-36. That’s not good heading into a meeting with Illinois’ #1 rebounding team in the nation. Dosunmu has been lights out, Cockburn should dominate a young Duke front court, and the Illinois bench will provide the edge – especially with no fans in attendance at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Illinois 78 – Duke 69
Free Pick: Illinois +4