Illinois vs. Minnesota College Basketball Odds, Pick, Prediction: Can Illini Come Through in Big Ten Battle? (Tuesday, Jan. 4)
James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Kofi Cockburn.
- Illinois travels to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers in a Big Ten affair.
- The Gophers will have to find a way to stop Kofi Cockburn, who is averaging 21.8 points per game.
- Kyle Remillard dives into the game and offers up his best bet.
Illinois vs. Minnesota Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
Illinois and Minnesota meet on Tuesday night after each program had games canceled due to COVID-19 issues. This matchup was originally scheduled to be played Jan. 2 but was rescheduled to Jan. 4 due to health and safety protocols.
Minnesota is off to a 10-1 start for first-year head coach Ben Johnson. The group is 9-0 in nonconference play and split Big Ten matchups against Michigan and Michigan State. The Gophers have outscored their opponents by an average margin of nine points per game.
They will have their hands full against an Illinois squad that is 9-3 on the season but won both of its Big Ten games. The group owns the 13th-best scoring offense, averaging over 81 points per game. The Illini are a deep group led by seven-foot center Kofi Cockburn.
Minnesota’s ability to slow down Cockburn and the explosive Illinois offense will be a major factor in whether or not it can cover as home underdogs.
Illinois is happy to be 9-3 after losing a potential All-American guard in Andre Curbelo with a concussion earlier in the season. Cockburn was suspended for the first three games of the season, but the Illini have come out relatively unscathed.
Since Cockburn returned, he’s been a monster. The seven-footer is averaging 21.8 points and 12.1 rebounds per contest. He’s hitting 62% of his field-goal attempts and has a double-double in all but two games this season.
He could be in store for another huge game, as Minnesota lacks a big man who can stop him in the paint.
Alfonso Plummer has excelled since transferring to the program from Utah. The graduate student is averaging 17.3 points while hitting 45% of his 94 3-point attempts this season. He’s cash from the charity stripe, draining 36-of-37 attempts on the year.
Jacob Grandison and Trent Frazier have also hit over 40% of their attempts from behind the arc for Illinois.
In total, the Illini rank ninth in the nation, hitting 40% of their outside shots this season. The group has also made 54% of its 2-point attempts.
Thanks to Cockburn, Illinois ranks second in the nation in offensive rebounds, where they extends the possession on 42% of its misses. That could be another huge factor against an undersized Minnesota squad.
Minnesota hopes its nonconference dominance will carry over into Big Ten play. The Gophers started last season 9-1 before dropping 13 of their last 17 conference games.
Johnson has the program at 10-1 to start the season, but eight of those wins have come against teams that rank outside of KenPom’s top 100. Minnesota defeated Michigan on the road but lost by eight at home to Michigan State.
The Gophers run a thin bench with four starters seeing over 34 minutes per game. George Washington transfer Jamison Battle is leading the group, putting up 18.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. Over half of the forward’s shot attempts have come from behind the arc, where he is hitting 36%.
Senior guard Payton Willis has made an immediate impact since transferring from Charleston, averaging 16.3 points per game. He’s accounted for 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest.
Minnesota has thrived at guarding the perimeter, holding opponents to less than 25% shooting on attempts, which ranks third-best in the nation. Illinois has a plethora of shooters surrounding Cockburn down low, which will test the Gophers’ 3-point defense.
Johnson’s team hasn’t been as good at defending the paint, allowing opponents to hit 50% on 2-point attempts. The lack of size could be detrimental in attempting to slow down Illinois’ offense.
Illinois vs. Minnesota Betting Pick
This will be each teams’ first game since Dec. 22 due to COVID-19 interruptions. Minnesota plays its starters most of the game and rarely finds any production off the bench.
Minnesota had an easy nonconference schedule, which aided the team in its 10-1 start, but conference play will bring it back to earth.
Michigan State exposed the Gophers’ lack of size, working the ball down low to open opportunities outside, where they hit 48% of 3-point attempts. The Spartans out-rebounded the Gophers, 44-29, and Illinois will follow a similar blueprint in this matchup.
Minnesota’s tallest player who gets minutes is Eric Curry, who stands at six-foot-9 and weighs 240 pounds. He will be no match for Cockburn, who will own a three-inch and fifty-pound advantage. In the two matchups last season, Cockburn hit 21-of-27 field goal attempts, scoring 22 and 33 points against Curry.
The Fighting Illini’s prominent offense will be too much for the Golden Gophers.