The Illinois Fighting Illini have seemingly righted their ship, winning two consecutive games after a four-game skid. Illinois now sits at 18-9 overall with a Big Ten record of 10-6. On Thursday, they will head to Evanston to take on the Big Ten’s last-place team, the Northwestern Wildcats.
Northwestern is 6-20 on the season and just 1-15 in league play. They have lost 11 consecutive games and 16 of their last 17 with their lone win coming against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
These two teams met on Jan. 18 in Champaign, the Illini came away victorious, but the score was a lot closer than it probably should have been at 75-71. It should also be noted that Northwestern’s second-leading scorer, Boo Buie, did not play in that game.
Buie averages 10.5 points and 2.6 assists for the Wildcats on the season. He has played in nine games since returning from injury and has averaged 12.2 points and nearly four assists per game in his last six.
After losing Ayo Dosunmu for a game, Illinois has been very good in the two games since his return, defeating both Penn State and Nebraska. Dosunmu has been spectacular since returning from what looked two an ugly knee injury but came away relatively unscathed.
In the two games since his return, the star sophomore has averaged 21 points, three rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 58.1% from the floor.
Illinois is a 6.5-point favorite on the road, with the over/under set at 133.5.
A season to be forgotten
Boasting a record of 6-20, it’s no shock that Northwestern has struggled everywhere this season. The Wildcats are 4-10 straight up at home this season and just 3-11 against the spread.
On the season, they are just 10-15-1 ATS and 3-17 straight up as the dog. The total has gone under in 9 of their 14 home games.
Illini always fight on the road
Illinois has a reputation as being tremendous at home this season, but the Illini have also been good on the road from a wagering standpoint. They are a respectable 5-5 straight up in true road games and 6-5 against the spread in those games.
The Illini are 13-3 straight up as the favorite this season and have gone under in 16 of their 27 games, including six of their last eight games overall.
Certainly no time for Illinois to coast
The Illini are pretty safely in the NCAA Tournament at this point but cannot afford to take this loss regardless of resume. This is compounded by the fact that they still have to play Iowa, Ohio State, and Indiana before the Big Ten Tournament.
The close score from the previous game could be concerning, but it could also be motivational for the Illini, who are playing good basketball over the last week and a half.
The return of Boo Buie is a big deal from a talent perspective, but the Wildcats have not actually won many games with him back in the lineup. Northwestern has had opportunities recently, most notably against Purdue at home (lost by 3) and against Rutgers at the RAC when they led 29-11 at one point in the first half but ended up losing by 4 in overtime.
You learn how to close games with experience, and five of this team’s top six scorers are underclassmen while the sixth was playing lacrosse a year ago.
One team is looking at the tournament, and the other is looking for the season to end. Illinois covers, take the over.