Arizona vs. Illinois Odds & Picks: Betting Value on Home Underdog

Arizona vs. Illinois Odds & Picks: Betting Value on Home Underdog article feature image

Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Kofi Cockburn.

  • The Arizona Wildcats take on the Illinois Fighting Illini in Saturday afternoon college basketball action.
  • The Illini enter as 2-point underdogs, but DJ James thinks the wrong team is favored in this matchup.
  • Check out his betting guide for Saturday's game below.

Arizona vs. Illinois Odds

Saturday, Dec. 11
5 p.m. ET
Arizona Odds
-110o / -110u
Illinois Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via PointsBet. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

The Illinois Fighting Illini look to add to their NCAA Tournament resume, after an impressive Big Ten road win over Iowa. They have now started 2-0 in Big Ten play, with the other win being a 35-point rout over Rutgers, who just upset Purdue in Piscataway, New Jersey.

As always, the Big Ten looks to be all over the place, while Arizona is the likely candidate out West to take over the Pac-12. The Wildcats currently rank ninth in KenPom with notable wins over Wichita State, Wyoming and Michigan.

Illinois on the road could surely be their most significant test to date, as the Illini now look like the team they should have been in the preseason. Even if Andre Curbelo is sidelined yet again with a neck/concussion issue, Illinois seems poised to squeeze out a close victory at the State Farm Center on Saturday afternoon.

Arizona Wildcats

Arizona might be the most impressive underrated team in college basketball at the moment. It may be missing a role player in Kim Aiken, Jr., but this should not should not shift the line too much. Otherwise, the Wildacts are a healthy squad ready to gear up against one of the Power Six’s toughest teams at home.

The Wildcats have the best defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, in the NCAA now. Yes, this includes lesser competition for the most part, but they are lethal on the defensive end, particularly in the post with Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo.

Koloko averages 3.3 blocks per game, while Ballo averages one. They should be able to have a rotation of the two contesting shots from potential Wooden Award winner, Kofi Cockburn. Combined, however, the two average 22.8 and 13.6 minutes per game. This is where Illinois will get a slight edge, so expect Cockburn to log heavy minutes, which he is used to (31.0 per game). When he is on the floor and these two are not, Illinois will have a heavy edge in the post.

Rebounding has been a key to Arizona’s early success this season. It is pulling in 44.6 rebounds each game. The only issue is the Illini are hauling in a similar number at 43.6. With Cockburn on the floor more often than the Wildcat bigs, Illinois might be able to eliminate a clear advantage Arizona has had over other opponents so far this season.

Arizona has had one of the strongest post games in all of college basketball. The Wildcats are hitting 59.8% of their two-point shots, ranking third in the NCAA. Azuolas Tubelis is a lethal freshman. He is their offensive go-to, along with Koloko down low, averaging 15.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

He has shown the propensity to rattle, averaging two turnovers per game. Having Cockburn and Coleman Hawkins on Illinois defending the block and logging more minutes on average than the Wildcat posts should be the antidote needed to limit typical production in the block for Arizona.

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Illinois Fighting Illini

The Illini have shockingly done better with Andre Curbelo off of the floor, but this is mainly attributable to leftover concussion/neck issues for the star sophomore. No matter what, he is a plus at full health on the court. Even without him, the Illini offense should be in good hands with Trent Frazier, Alfonso Plummer and Da’Monte Williams manning the point.

Now, basketball fans cannot discuss this Illinois team without bringing up Kofi Cockburn. As mentioned above, he logs more time on the court than all of the Arizona posts. Being complemented with Hawkins and either Omar Payne or Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk should be enough artillery to counter the Wildcat attack, at least on the defensive end.

The only issue Illinois will see is when Cockburn leaves the floor. Unless he is in foul trouble, expect to see him for close to 35 minutes of regulation.

Finally, Illinois has a major advantage from beyond the three-point arc. Alfonso Plummer has been an answered prayer for the Illini faithful, especially with critical injuries and illnesses to the Illinois backcourt (Frazier, Curbelo, and Jacob Grandison).

Plummer is shooting 43.1% from downtown, and he is not even the best weapon Illinois has from deep. Grandison is shooting 48.4%. Frazier started hitting his threes consistently in the game against Iowa (3-for-5 from three-point range). Arizona is only shooting 33.8% collectively from downtown, so this is a clear boost to Illinois.

Illinois’ main issue this season has been taking care of the ball. Arizona will be the tallest task the Illini offense has been assigned. Arizona ranks 60th in turnover percentage, so it is not necessarily at the top of the heap, since its strength comes from inside. If Illinois can take care of the ball more than usual and hit its threes, this issue becomes null.

Arizona vs. Illinois Betting Pick

Illinois should be a slight favorite at home. It opened as underdogs at +2 in Champaign, so this has some value on the home side. If the Illini can get the ball to Cockburn every possession, somehow limit turnovers and make their threes, they can beat anyone in the country, particularly at their home court.

Pick: Illinois +2 (Play to -1.5)

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