The stakes couldn’t be higher in this Big Ten matchup as the Michigan Wolverines take on the Illinois Fighting Illini. Both hovering around the bubble, both desperately needing a win to pad their resume. Illinois opens as the home favorite, currently sitting at -3.5. Even as an underdog, Michigan is more than poised to get the upset victory while on the road.
Michigan Vs. Illinois Odds
The opening spread of -3.5 comes as a bit of a surprise as most projections have this a pick’em when on a neutral court. Giving three and a half points for a home court advantage seems lofty, but the number is the number at the end of the day. What is more surprising is that Illinois has taken on immediate money, going up to -4 in some shops as of writing. That piqued my interest as I was already looking for a Michigan position, now giving me the benefit of waiting to get a better number as we near tip off.
As for the total, points are expected to be scored at a quick pace as oddsmakers opened the total at 144.5. Bettors have yet to make a stand on either end, keeping the current total the same as the opener. This is an immediate pass for me as Illinois has too much offensive variance on their end that brings too much mystery towards which side of the total will cash. They have been reeling in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, now sitting at 71st in the nation per Kenpom.
Michigan Vs. Illinois Prediction & Pick
The Pick: Wait on Michigan spread
With money immediately coming in on Illinois, I will be patient and wait to see how high this can go before taking a position on the Wolverines. I doubt we will see the spread get up to +6, a key number in basketball, but I am comfortable with taking any number above +4. The Wolverines are the more well-rounded unit, ranking top-60 in both Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiency. Their defensive capabilities will go a long way in this matchup, getting the privilege of an anemic Illinois unit.
The problems don’t just end there, as the program may be without Jayden Epps who collapsed in practice on Wednesday. Head coach Brad Underwood has later on confirmed that Epps is okay. Epps currently averages 10 points per game for the Fighting Illini.
#Illini Matthew Mayer and Terrence Shannon Jr. talk about Jayden Epps going down at practice.
Shannon: "It really was scary, that's my teammate."
Mayer: "He's obviously okay, so everyone's okay with that, but we don't know what's going to happen to him the rest of the season." pic.twitter.com/eLIz8vOvGn
— Brice Bement (@BriceBement) March 1, 2023
It’s hard to gauge what the Illinois offense will look like to start with should Epps sit this one out, but rest assured perimeter looks will not get any easier against Michigan’s defense. They rank well above average in perimeter defense, holding opponents to 32.1% from three. Although it should be noted that Michigan has regressed in that area, allowing opposing offenses to shoot 34.5% from three in their last few contests. Lucky for them, Illinois already struggles as a perimeter shooting unit as they average 31% as a team from deep.
With the perimeter serving as a non-factor when Illinois is on offense, that means we are in for a battle of the interior. Coleman Hawkins for Illinois serves as their primary big man, averaging 9.9 points per game. Their transfer Mathew Mayer is stringy and mainly hovers around the mid-range and perimeter.
Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson is a decent on-ball defender in his own right, but now gets the added benefit of help defense as the Wolverines can sag down into the interior. This clogs up cutting lanes for the slashing Illinois guards, daring the Fighting Illini to beat them from over the top.
Michigan Vs. Illinois Key Matchups
Can Michigan’s offense continue their hot run of scoring success?
Michigan versatile scoring vs Illinois defense
Michigan’s recent string of success has been their ability to score in multiple ways. Once basing a brunt of their scoring on the back of Hunter Dickinson, now being able to field multiple scoring threats with the emergence of Jett Howard and Kobe Bufkin.
Their ability to score in different ways will be vital against an elite Illinois defense as they currently rank 25th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
For a brief period of time, Michigan was oddly straying away from their star big man. Bringing him out towards the perimeter and not even giving him a look on an offensive set. They will need to put Dickinson back on the block, forcing Illinois to sag down and respect his scoring ability.
With money hitting Illinois early on, I will pass on this for now and wait and see how high this can go before taking a position on Michigan.