The key question is whether Illinois will be motivated to play Boston in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament. That question is partially answered by the fact that the Illini are a profitable 8-1 ATS in all tournament games over the last two seasons. Let’s take a look at how these teams match up from a fundamental standpoint.
Illinois Offense vs. Boston Defense:
Illinois is averaging 64.6 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 67.6 points per game, thereby making the Illini 3.0 points per game worse than average offensively this season. The greater concern for Illinois backers is the fact that the Illini are averaging just 61.7 points per game on the road (40.5% FG) and 59.8 points over their last five games (43.5% FG). Meanwhile, Boston is 1.5 points per game better than average defensively (67.1 points per game to teams that would combine to average 68.6 points per game).
More importantly, the Terriers are limiting opponents to a mere 64.0 points per game at home and 62.6 points over their last five games. Overall, Boston possesses a 4.5 points per game advantage defensively over Illinois’ attack, but the edge could be greater based upon the home/road dichotomy of both teams.
Illinois Defense vs. Boston Offense:
Illinois’ strength is its defense that is allowing 62.5 points per game to teams that would combine to average 71.7 points per game. We also like the fact that Illinois is allowing just 61.4 points per game on the road and 62.2 points over its last five games. Boston’s offense is mediocre at best as the Terriers are averaging 71.5 points per game against teams that would combine to allow 68.2 points per game. With that said, it should be noted that the Terriers are 11-5 at home this season where they are averaging 72.9 points per game on 46.7% shooting from the field.
Being 9.2 points per game better than average defensively gives Illinois a significant 5.9 points per game advantage at the defensive end of the court. Another compelling issue is the team’s respective strengths of schedule. Illinois has played a much more difficult schedule and owns wins over UNLV, Missouri, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State and Iowa. While Boston defeated Maryland earlier in the season, the Terriers were also dominated by Connecticut, Harvard, George Washington and St. Joseph’s.
This is a difficult game to predict based upon the unknown variables like motivation and focus. If the Illini show up to play, they should advance to the second round of the NIT with ease. However, that is a big “if” and our experts are not willing to take the chance on Illinois’ mindset at the moment.