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Odds & Pick for Illinois vs. Northwestern Basketball: Back Illini vs. Struggling Wildcats

Odds & Pick for Illinois vs. Northwestern Basketball: Back Illini vs. Struggling Wildcats article feature image

Rich Schultz/Getty Images. Pictured: Kofi Cockburn (center).

  • Illinois looks to stay hot against a stumbling Northwestern team on Thursday night in Champaign.
  • Ayo Dosumnu and Kofi Cockburn are two of college hoops' best players and are on fire for the Illini right now.
  • Tanner McGrath explains why he is backing Illinois to tame the Wildcats to continue moving up in the Big Ten.

Illinois vs. Northwestern Odds

Illinois Odds -7
Northwestern Odds +7
Moneyline N/A
Over/Under 150
Time | TV Thursday, 9 p.m. ET Big Ten Network
Odds via PointsBet, where you can get $250 FREE instantly after signing up AND your bets automatically sync to the Action app. Learn more about BetSync here.

Illinois opened as heavy favorites on the back of three straight Big Ten wins, while Northwestern enters Thursday night’s matchup coming off two rough losses to Iowa and Michigan.

Brad Underwood’s Fighting Illini are a force to be reckoned with. The only way to beat them is by containing the two-headed monster that is Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn.

Chris Collins’ Wildcats are a potential Cinderella story in the Big Ten this season. They’ve started conference play 3-2, with wins over Michigan State, Indiana and Ohio State.

However, I think Northwestern’s underdog story will be short-lived.

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A Tale of Two Teams

Illinois recent five-game stretch has been very impressive. The Fighting Illini have won four of those games, taking down Minnesota, Penn State, Indiana and Purdue while suffering a three-point road loss to Rutgers.

Losing to Rutgers in Piscataway is not a bad loss. The Scarlet Knights are one of the best teams in the country with a scary-good defense and one of the best go-to guys in the country in Ron Harper Jr. Rutgers also shot 21 more free throws than Illinois.

In the other four games, Illinois was dominant. It won by an average margin of 16.75 and was 4-0 against the spread (ATS).

This run has been powered by Dosunmu and Cockburn, of course. Over these past five games, Dosunmu has been averaging 20.8 points per game while Cockburn is at 20.4 points and 11.2 rebounds. Plus, both are still shooting over 50% from the field this season. It’s been nothing but outright dominance from these two.

Also, they have been ruthlessly efficient on offense, which has Illinois sixth in Offensive Efficiency per KenPom, shooting 57.3% from 2-point range and 41.8% from 3-point land.

Meanwhile, in Evanston, the Wildcats have skidded.

Northwestern just suffered back-to-back losses to Iowa and Michigan. Granted, those are two very good teams, but they didn’t just lose — they got crushed.

The Wildcats lost by 15 to Iowa as 11.5-point underdogs and by 19 to Michigan as 8.5-point underdogs. And both games were not as close as the scores indicated.

The Wildcats surprised their competition early because they were shooting hot. They shot 48.6% from the field and 42.2% from 3-point range in their first seven games, winning six of them.

But in its last two losses, Northwestern made just 16 of 43 from beyond the arc. Michigan is also one of the worst teams in the nation in defending the 3-point shot.

When Northwestern misses its outside shots, it makes it difficult to win. It doesn’t have a significant enough inside presence between Pete Nance and Robbie Beran to score efficiently in the post.

Unfortunately for Northwestern, Illinois’ perimeter defense is pretty good. Between guards Andre Curbelo, Trent Frazier and Adam Miller, the Illini have enough length and athleticism to defend Northwestern’s Boo Buie and Chase Audige. Teams are shooting just 31.1% from 3-point land against Illinois this season.

But Illinois is winning and covering right now. Meanwhile, I believe Northwestern is regressing to the mean after a very hot start.

Betting Analysis & Pick

It’s interesting to note that home underdogs in the Big Ten conference this season are 7-3 ATS.

However, disregarding the small sample size, I still don’t believe in Northwestern enough to bet the trend.

Collins’ Northwestern squad fights hard but has failed to cover in both their games against KenPom top-10 teams this season. Illinois is, also, a KenPom top-10 team, with two stars that will prove to be too talented for this Northwestern squad.

I like Illinois up to -7.5 in this spot.

Pick: Illinois -7 (up to -7.5)

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