College Basketball Odds & Picks for Illinois vs. Northwestern on Saturday, Jan. 29
Michael Hickey/Getty Images. Pictured: Kofi Cockburn.
- Illinois takes on Northwestern in a game that will be very dependent on the status of big man Kofi Cockburn.
- The Illini are coming off of a monster win against Michigan State without arguably their two best players.
- D.J. James breaks down the matchup and offers up his best bet.
Illinois vs. Northwestern Odds
-105o / -115u
-105o / -115u
The in-state Big Ten rivalry between the Northwestern Wildcats and Illinois Fighting Illini tips off on the Wildcats’ home court in Evanston, Illinois. The Illini beat Michigan State on Tuesday night without Kofi Cockburn (concussion protocol) or Andre Curbelo (health and safety protocol). This was monumental, considering the many injuries coach Brad Underwood and the Illinois team has dealt with.
Northwestern, on the other hand, lost yet another close game to Michigan on Wednesday night. Rebounding and outside shooting should play into the Illinois advantage, regardless of if Cockburn plays or not. However, the Illinois spread will be tough to cover without him.
Starting with Cockburn, he is a Wooden Award contender for the Illini. He is one of the best rebounders in the country and averages 21.1 points per game. He is critical to their offensive attack. Almost every Illinois possession goes through Cockburn, so if he plays, it is worth about four points to the spread.
Curbelo is also a phenomenal guard, but the Illinois team has proven it can do well without him when Trent Frazier takes over the point. Still, this is a detriment to the team with him not on the floor.
The Illini team thrives beyond the arc with 37.1% of their 2021-2022 point distribution coming from outside success. Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison love to shoot and do well from there, each hitting over 35% from 3-point land.
Northwestern is absolutely brutal when guarding 3-pointers. Opponents are shooting 36.5% from downtown, so look for the Illini to take advantage. With Cockburn on the floor, he will distract defenders and further open up the perimeter (again, if he plays).
Assuming there is no Cockburn in this game, Luke Goode, Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk, Da’Monte Williams, Omar Payne and Coleman Hawkins play a vital role. All need to fill into those shoes.
Goode will be more of a perimeter shooter and strong defender. The others will all have to log major minutes inside. Michigan State is a great rebounding team, and even though Illinois lost the rebounding battle overall, these guys all played a vital role. The Illini deep bench makes up for Cockburn’s absence.
Northwestern can crash the glass defensively. With Cockburn out, it can chisel into the usual Illinois margin. Pete Nance and Ryan Young are the usual suspects down low, so they should be able to take advantage. There is a reason Northwestern ranks 38th in defensive rebounding percentage.
The Wildcats also need success from downtown to win games. Boo Buie, Ty Berry, Pete Nance and Robbie Beran are all consistent deep threats. They have enough players to distribute the ball and find open looks. In fact, Illinois’ weakest defensive attribute is defending the three, allowing opponents to shoot 32.3%, so the Wildcats will find some open looks outside.
The Wildcats will need to improve down low. They only shoot 48.5% on two-pointers this season. Nance and Young shoot over 50% on the season, but Buie and Chase Audige take matters into their own hands a bit too often. If they do so, this will be a problem.
Frazier, one of the Big Ten’s best defenders, will be marked up with one of them, so it will be a tall task to manufacture shots alone.
Illinois vs. Northwestern Betting Pick
This game comes down to Cockburn’s status. Curbelo is out, as he has been quarantining and not practicing, per Brad Underwood.
Illinois will still win and cover this spread if it can shoot well from outside. There is a sizable number of former Illinois students in the Chicagoland area, so it will also feel like a home game, negating the usual three-ish-point edge for the Wildcats in Evanston.
Take the Illinois line if it gets to -3 with no Cockburn, but if he is playing, take it to -6.5. Illinois should lead most of the game if he plays, and it should cover this by exhausting the Wildcats’ posts and perimeter defense.