Northwestern vs Illinois Odds & Prediction: Illini to End Wildcats’ Hot Streak

Northwestern vs Illinois Odds & Prediction: Illini to End Wildcats’ Hot Streak article feature image

Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Matthew Mayer (Illinois)

Northwestern vs Illinois Odds

Thursday, Feb. 23
9 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
Northwestern Odds
-110o / -110u
Illinois Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via PointsBet. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

Editor's Note: Illinois' Terrence Shannon Jr. (concussion) will be available for tonight's game against Northwestern, per Jon Rothstein.

The red-hot Northwestern Wildcats hit the road after a three-game home stretch as they head to Champaign to take on Illinois.

Northwestern has been one of the biggest surprises of the year in the Big Ten, and it has won — and covered — five straight. The Wildcats took down Purdue before a late-win against Indiana and a blowout of Iowa in Evanston.

Illinois remains without star Terrence Shannon Jr., who has missed the team's last two games. The Illini did beat Minnesota on Monday, but had dropped two straight prior.

Can Illinois avenge its loss to Northwestern from nearly two months ago, or will the Wildcats run away with another double-digit victory, this time on the road?

Northwestern Wildcats

There have been few seasons more impressive than that of Northwestern. Entering as 250/1 to win the Big Ten, the Wildcats are firmly in second place and just a game behind Purdue.

Northwestern has won five straight, doing so on the back of its suffocating defense. Chris Collins' squad has held opponents to 63 points or less in all but one conference win (Indiana) — and that includes a 73-60 win against Illinois in early January.

Collins deploys a compact defense. The Wildcats are great with spacing and deploy frequent post traps. This is a disruptive defense that ranks 30th in turnover rate and isn't shy of double teaming.

NW cuts off the inside and forces teams to beat it from the perimeter. The Wildcats are 319th in 3PA/FGA (42.2%) and just outside the top 100 in 3P%. This is a suffocating defense where turnovers are constant.

Transition offense is where Northwestern thrives. It's a relentless offense that attacks the rim at a top 10 rate, per ShotQuality.

Slow the Wildcats down, though, and they struggle.

Northwestern's offense is incredibly heavy in the pick-and-roll. It runs that play type over 20% of the time — eighth-most in college basketball — before either attacking at the rim or kicking it to the perimeter for catch-and-shoot 3s. Half of NW's offense comes either in the PnR or off catch-and-shoot 3s.

The issue with the Wildcats — and why they rely on turnovers — is their defensive-savvy guards' lack of success rate on offense. This is a team outside the top 300 in eFG%.

NW doesn't turn the ball over and the offense often runs through Boo Buie and Chase Audige. Both take 28% of shots while on the floor, with Buie better inside and in terms of drawing contact. Meanwhile, Audige is Northwestern's best shooter.

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Illinois Fighting Illini

One of my biggest takeaways from last weekend's slate was how well Illinois played in its near-win inside Assembly Hall without Shannon.

Shannon (17.0 PPG) has still not cleared the concussion protocol and will likely miss Thursday's conference bout.

But the Illini are in good hands even without their do-it-all senior.

The Illini love to run-and-gun. Quick 3s and attacks in transition are preferred, and we saw that often with Matthew Mayer against Indiana. The Baylor transfer is the primary scorer on offense without Shannon and is the team's best 3-point shooter (36.8%).

Illinois shoots 3s at an incredibly high clip (42.5% 3PA/FGA), but the success has not followed.

As a team, Illinois is 299th in 3-point shooting. But it's long and physical, which translates to plenty of second-chance opportunities and success inside the paint.

That interior presence is led by Dain Dainja and Coleman Hawkins. There are few players that took a sophomore year leap quite like Dainja. He ranks inside the top 10 in Big Ten play in offensive rebounding rate, block rate and 2-point%.

As a team, Illinois is 16th in 2-point offense. It can be turnover prone at times, but its transition defense is among the most elite in college basketball.

Brad Underwood's squad is the No. 1 half-court defense and third in transition, per ShotQuality. The Illini are second in the pick-and-roll and fourth at defending at the rim.

Illinois has three players inside the top 15 in block rate — Dainja, Hawkins and Mayer — and ranks ninth in 2-point defense.

The Illini rank outside of the top 100 in 3-point defense, but they rarely ever give up looks from the perimeter. Only 30.7% of field goals come from 3. Instead, Illinois extends its defensive pressure and funnels opponents inside where Dainja awaits.

Northwestern vs Illinois Betting Pick

This is a completely different Illinois team from its Jan. 4 loss to Northwestern.

The Illini were still finding their footing and had yet to win a conference game. Skyy Clark was still with the program — he has since left — and Sencire Harris played just nine minutes. Ty Rodgers also rarely saw the floor.

This Illinois team is much more polished. The team is much better from top to bottom and the comfortability with one another is obvious. Even without Shannon, the fight from this Illini team nearly led to a win inside Assembly Hall.

This is the perfect spot to fade Northwestern. The Wildcats' stock couldn't be any higher and are now gearing up for a physical defensive bout with Illinois' size.

The Illini are dominant at shutting down the pick-and-roll and their defensive pressure forces opponents off the perimeter. That's the two main facets of Northwestern's offense.

The Northwestern magic has been enough to firmly secure an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. But I love this spot for Illinois despite being shorthanded.

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