College Basketball Odds, Picks, Predictions for Rutgers vs. Illinois: Why the Lean is Toward Illini

College Basketball Odds, Picks, Predictions for Rutgers vs. Illinois: Why the Lean is Toward Illini article feature image

Justin Casterline/Getty Images, Pictured: Kofi Cockburn

  • Rutgers takes on Illinois in a Big Ten Conference battle on Friday evening.
  • Kofi Cockburn presents a major matchup advantage in favor of the Illini.
  • Tanner McGrath breaks down the matchup and offers up his best bet.

Rutgers vs. Illinois Odds

Friday, Dec. 3
7 p.m. ET
Rutgers Odds
-110o / -110u
Illinois Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

As December play heats up, we'll be getting more and more powerhouse in-conference play.

This is one of those matchups.

However, these two haven't lived up to their pre-season expectations. Rutgers has already lost buy games to Lafayette and Massachusetts, while Andre Curbelo has been a nightmare running the Illini offense.

But it's not all lost. Rutgers just picked up a win over Clemson, and Illinois has wins over Notre Dame and Kansas State.

But which team is in a better position to win this Big Ten matchup?

Harper The Key For Scarlet Knights

Steve Pikiell has done an incredible job turning around Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights need two things to go right to win games.

First, Rutgers has to play defense. Usually, the Knights are awesome on the defensive end, finishing 16th in defensive efficiency last season.

And while the interior defense has been up to snuff this year, the perimeter defense has been lacking. Rutgers is 340th percentile in spot-up PPP allowed (1.07) and 210th in 3-point defense (34.4%).

Second, Ron Harper Jr. needs to carry the team on offense. Rutgers started 7-1 last season because Harper was scoring 20+ points per game. In the Clemson victory, he dropped 23 while dishing out three assists and grabbing nine rebounds.

While Geo Baker is also an offensive threat, he's too inconsistent to be relied on night-in and night-out. Harper is the key for the Scarlet Knights.

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Illini Rely On Cockburn

At +700, Illinois was the clear pre-season value-pick to win the Big Ten. While Ayo Dosunmu left, Curbelo and Trent Frazier could replicate his production in the aggregate, and Kofi Cockburn would be a monster on the interior.

But through seven games, Curbelo has posted an abysmal 5.5:4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Against Marquette, Curbelo turned the ball over seven times, including a couple in disastrous fashion down the stretch.

Meanwhile, Trent Frazier has barely shouldered any of the scoring load. He's averaging fewer than nine points per game on 30% shooting.

Although he missed the first three games due to suspension, Cockburn has been the only Illini to live up to expectations. Over the last four games, he's averaging 27/10 on better than 70% shooting. He's also recorded a block and a steal in every game played.

Plus, the Illini have seen other contributors step up. Particularly Coleman Hawkins, who has scored double-digits four times and grabbed at least eight rebounds three times.

Rutgers vs. Illinois Betting Pick

Considering Illinois' early-season issues, I initially leaned Rutgers.

However, KenPom makes this spread 11, and Bart Torvik makes it 9.8. Therefore, the projections do show value on Illinois.

Moreover, nobody is going to stop Cockburn on the interior. Rutgers' center rotation stands 6-foot-10, 6-foot-8, and 6-foot-6. The 7-foot Cockburn, who is rolling right now, will dominate in this matchup.

I'm waiting to bet Illinois until I see more from Curbelo and Frazier, but the value is pretty clearly with the Illini.

Pick: Pass | Lean Illinois -7.5

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