Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#649 Michigan vs.
#650 Illinois
Friday, January 14, 2022 at 9:00pm EST
Written by Nathaniel Reeves

The No. 25 Illinois Fighting Illini will look to remain unbeaten when they host the Michigan Wolverines on Friday night at the State Farm Center. Michigan is having a disappointing season at 7-6 (1-2 Big Ten), and took another rough loss by a 75-67 final on the road against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights as a 3.5-point favorite in its most recent game on January 4. Illinois is coming off an 81-71 road win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Tuesday as a 12.5-point favorite to remain tied for first place at 12-3 (5-0 Big Ten).

This is historically a very competitive series with Illinois holding a narrow 65-63 advantage after crushing Michigan 76-53 on the road in the lone meeting last season.

Michigan hopes to get season turned around after 10-day pause

After being ranked as high as No. 4 early in the season, Michigan has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country and lost for the third time in its last four games after being handled at Rutgers back on January 4 before a COVID pause. The Wolverines never lead in Piscataway, as Rutgers gradually built a lead that stretched all the way to 53-36 with 13:13 to go before a late spurt by Michigan made things a little more respectable.

Hunter Dickinson led the Wolverines with 25 points on 10/16 shooting from the field, while Moussa Diabate piled up 15 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Michigan shot just 3/15 from three-point range, and couldn't get enough stops on the other end as Rutgers finished with a mark of 48.2% from the field including 11/23 from deep.

"There were also some times where we did have a defensive breakdown to allow some of those threes. Those are teachable moments, and we’ll continue to keep teaching and growing, and I trust we will get better in those areas. We will learn how to finish games,” head coach Juwan Howard said via Maize N' Brew.

The Wolverines are just 5-8 against the spread and have failed to cover in three of their last four games with losses to Minnesota, UCF and Rutgers as a favorite. Overs are 7-6 for Michigan, with five of its last seven games going over the betting total.

Michigan is only around average in scoring on both sides of the ball, with the offense putting up 72.8 points per game on decent shooting splits of 53.8% from two and 34% from three. The Wolverines have been a mixed bag defensively, allowing 66.8 points per game with opponents shooting 48.1% from two and 29% from three, the latter of which is 35th-best in the nation.

Dickinson is at least having another terrific season with 16.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game on 59.1% shooting from the floor. Eli Brooks adds 12.9 points, three assists and 1.2 steals per game, while highly-touted freshman Caleb Houstan scores 9.5 points per game.

The Wolverines were missing some depth in their last game with Brandon Johns, Terrence Williams and Frankie Collins all in COVID protocol, and its unclear if there were additional positives since or if anyone is still waiting to test out after their pause. Bench guard Zeb Jackson also didn't make the trip with the team for an undisclosed reason.

Illinois wins for 10th time in 11 games to remain unbeaten in Big Ten

The Fighting Illini are really on a roll following a shaky 2-2 start with each of the victories during this current five-game win streak coming by double-digits as they overcame a slow start to win at Nebraska on Tuesday. Nebraska looked good out of the gate with a 16-4 advantage just four minutes into the game, but Illinois got back on track with an extended 18-3 run, and another 12-2 surge down the stretch sealed the victory with the Cornhuskers still hanging within one possession at the 5:00 mark of the second.

Trent Frazier went off for 29 points, five assists and four steals, while Kofi Cocburn recorded another double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds. Illinois shot 47% from the field, and a 14-6 advantage in offensive rebounds made a major difference.

“Huge shoutout to Omar for coming in, stepping in for Kofi giving us some tremendous minutes,” Frazier said via WCIA.com, referencing forward Omar Payne, who hasn't played much but provided eight points, five rebounds and four blocks on Tuesday. “Blocked shots, catching lobs, he was unbelievable for us tonight.”

The Fighting Illini are 8-7 against the spread and had covered in four straight games before falling just short of doing so at Nebraska. Overs are a strong 10-4-1 for the Fighting Illini, with eight of their last 10 games going over the betting total.

This is a potent Illinois offense at 80.5 points per game to rank 25th nationally on 53.1% shooting from two and 38.7% shooting from three, the 19th-best mark in college basketball. Illinois defense is also quite effective defensively with 91 points per game allowed on shooting splits of 42.5% from two, a top 10 mark in the nation, and 32.7% from three.

Cockburn is cruising toward another consensus All-American nod with an average of 22 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game on 60.1% shooting from the floor. Utah transfer Alfonso Plummer gives his new team 15.9 points per game on 40.9% shooting from three, while Frazier piles up 12.8 points, 3.1 assists and 1.5 steals per contest.

Starting point guard Andre Curbelo has been limited to four games while recovering from a concussion and remains out indefinitely. Guard Austin Hutcherson is out for the season with a hernia.

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Full-Game Side Bet

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While Michigan has the upside to be a better team than what is has shown so far, things aren't clicking at the moment, and it's hard to trust the Wolverines here based on their recent form. This looks like a particularly tough situation coming off a COVID pause on the road at Illinois, which is on an absolute roll right now with impressive numbers on both sides of the ball.

The biggest problem right now for Michigan is point guard play after the excellent Mike Jones left this offseason, as Coastal Carolina transfer DeVante' Jones hasn't fit in with this roster and turns the ball over at a rate of 22.1%. Add in there's not much consistent perimeter shooting outside of Brooks to provide spacing for Dickinson down low, and this has suddenly become a Michigan offense that has struggled for long stretches against opponents far worse than the Fighting Illini.

Illinois has the well-rounded metrics of a Final Four contender, raking 26th or better in KenPom on both sides of the ball and quickly improving, with the inside-out game of the dominant Cockburn plus three starters shooting 38.8% or better from three proving tough to stop. Until Michigan shows some improvement, it is worth fading in Big Ten play, and the Fighting Illini will keep surging here.

Prediction: Illinois -8.5

Full-Game Total Pick

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The problems for the Wolverines just aren't limited to the offense, as Michigan's defense has slipped to 47th in KenPom with uninspiring numbers in the paint while forcing turnovers at a bottom-five rate in the entire nation. That will allow the lethal Illinois offense to get too comfortable, and beyond being an excellent shooting team, the Fighting Illini grab 41.3% of their own misses to lead college basketball.

Illinois' defense is good but not as efficient as the top 10 offense at No. 26 in KenPom while also forcing very few turnovers, and the Michigan offense at least has the upside to get better soon enough if the five-star freshman Houstan can start finding his shot. The Fighting Illini can also get up and down the court quickly when the situation calls for it, and with each team featuring an ultra-efficient big man, these defenses will be challenged.

Prediction: Over 145
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Written By Nathaniel Reeves , "Nathaniel Reeves"

Nathaniel Reeves is an avid sports fan with degrees in journalism from the University of Washington and statistics from Western Washington University. He's always had a passion for applying statistical analysis to sports betting and has successfully handicapped college football, college basketball, and Esports for years. Nathaniel has endured being a lifelong fan of the Seattle Mariners, along with the Seattle Seahawks, UW Huskies and soon to be Seattle Kraken. He has been a very successful sports bettor the last several years and we are thrilled that Nate has chosen to bring his talents to us here at Winners & Whiners. You would be very wise to follow him daily. 
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