Game: Wisconsin Badgers @ Illinois Fighting Illini
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Odds: Badgers +7, Illini -7
It’s a battle for first place in the Big Ten tonight as No. 11 Wisconsin travels to No. 18 Illinois. The Badgers are 17-3 this season and 8-2 in conference play. The Illini are 15-5 overall with the same conference mark. The Badgers have won nine of their last ten games. The only loss was to the other 8-2 team in the Big Ten, Michigan State.
Illinois will have both Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo back in the lineup. The 7-foot Cockburn is the Illini’s best player. He averages 21.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. He ranks in the top 40 in the nation in usage rate and shot percentage. Wisconsin will have a difficult time defending him in the post. Curbelo hasn’t played since the Illini lost to Maryland on Jan. 21. He was out due to COVID. Curbelo averages 10.2 points and a team-high 4.3 assists.
Wisconsin has one of the best players in the country too in 6-5 guard Johnny Davis. He leads the Badgers with 21.4 points per game and also averages a team-best 7.9 rebounds. Davis has a strong supporting cast with Brad Davison (15.7 ppg), 6-9 Tyler Wahl (10.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), and 7-footer Steven Crowl (9.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg). Wisconsin has won its last two in a row over Nebraska and Minnesota after losing to the Spartans on Jan. 21.
The Badgers have actually thrived in the role of underdog this season. They are a 7-point underdog tonight and have played that role four times this season. All four times, the Badgers covered the spread by winning outright. One of those wins was a 74-69 win over No. 4 Purdue on Jan. 3.
Wisconsin has also managed to perform well on the road lately. The Badgers lost to Ohio State on the road on Dec. 11. It was an ugly 73-55 loss, but since then Wisconsin has won four straight road games. The first was the win over Purdue followed by wins against Maryland, Northwestern, and Nebraska. The Badgers are 5-1 straight up on the road this year and 4-2 ATS.
With Cockburn and Curbelo back on the floor for Illinois, the Illini have the potential to be a Final Four team. Without them, Illinois had to resort to relying on its defense. In its last two games, the Illini held its opponents to just 56 and 55 points. They won both games, beating Michigan State 56-55 and Northwestern 59-56. With Cockburn back in the lineup, expect Illinois to get closer to its 77.2 points per game scoring average.
Both teams trend toward the Over in game totals. The total has gone Over in eight of the last 11 Wisconsin games. In Illinois games, the total has gone Over in 11 of the last 16. The Badgers have won the last three straight over Illinois and two of the game totals went Over.