Illinois

Wisconsin vs. Illinois: NCAA Basketball Picks and Predictions


Wisconsin vs. Illinois: NCAA Basketball Picks and PredictionsWisconsin vs. Illinois: NCAA Basketball Picks and PredictionsJonathan Davis #1 of the Wisconsin Badgers. Stacy Revere/Getty Images/AFP

Wisconsin and Illinois meet in a Big Ten showdown between ranked teams. Top sportsbooks are offering us a great opportunity with this contest. Match-up details are something that the betting sites are not accounting for with their posted odds. You should keep these match-up details in mind when placing your bets.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini

Saturday, February 8, 2021 – 2:30 PM ET at State Farm Center

Illinois Offense vs. Wisconsin Defense: Illinois’ Size Down Low

Offensively, the Illini will exploit the Badger defense in two ways, one being with their monster of a center. On defense, Wisconsin does not possess the size or physicality to deal with Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn, Illinois’ starting center who ranks fifth in the Big Ten with a 66.9 two-point field-goal percentage, will have a 37-pound edge over his Badger counterpart, Micah Potter.

The Illini seven-footer will use his physicality to bully defenders near the basket, which he can attack with momentum. Given his physical advantages, Cockburn will demand double teams from opposing defenses — with Wisconsin’s defense providing no exception here. The problem is: when teams double Cockburn, some teammate of Cockburn is going to become open behind the arc.

Partly due to their players’ ability to get open, the Illini own the nation’s ninth-best three-point percentage and the third-best three-point percentage in the Big Ten. While the Illini can play with two bigs on the court at the same time, they typically won’t play those two bigs at the same time. And, for Illinois’ sake, I’m glad that they don’t because then they have more capable shooters on the court.

Four different Illini players are converting over 40 percent of their three-point attempts this season. Two are most notable for their higher volume and minute load: Ayo Dosunmu and Trent Frazier. 

Kofi Cockburn of Illinois.Kofi Cockburn of Illinois.Kofi Cockburn #21 of the Illinois Fighting Illini. Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images/AFP

Illinois Offense vs. Wisconsin Defense: Illinois’ Backcourt

The second way that the Illini offense will plague Wisconsin is with their quick and athletic backcourt. Containing speedy ball-handlers has been a huge problem for the Badger defense all season. In the first meeting between Wisconsin and Penn State, for example, Myreon Jones and Izaiah Brockington produced 38 points together as they beat Badger defenders one-on-one in order to penetrate inside.

It’s true that the Badgers won the rematch with Penn State. Wisconsin has had success in rematches. But defensively, Wisconsin is consistently at its worst when it plays a team for the first of two times as it will play Illinois today. Illinois will utilize dribble hand-offs and ball-screens on offense in order to facilitate dribble penetration.

With Cockburn demanding attention inside and with a bevy of capable shooters hanging around the perimeter, Illinois also likes to spread a defense out in order to take away the help defense that Wisconsin will typically want to rely on. In spreading the defense out. the Illini create one-on-one match-ups that guys like Dosunmu love to exploit.

Collectively, they own the nation’s 26th-best field-goal percentage at the rim because they possess this source of scoring at the rim in addition to Cockburn.

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Wisconsin Offense vs. Illinois Defense 

Kofi Cockburn’s physicality has a downside that an opposing offense will exploit: he is not comfortable away from the basket. When playing Illinois, Ohio State scored 87 points partly because it was able to thrive at the basket.

Like Wisconsin, the Buckeyes don’t typically attempt a lot of shots at the rim. But they were able to use their versatility — embodied especially by their smaller, three-point shooting center — in order to attack inside.

Take a look at 1:45 in the following video:

You see Ohio State’s center hanging around behind the arc, thus forcing Cockburn away from the basket so that he can account for him along the perimeter. Cockburn’s distance from the rim — where he typically appears lost — gives the Buckeyes a great opportunity to drive inside, which they do. 

They cause the Illini defense to collapse inside, which leaves potential three-point shooters wide-open. The frequency with which guys get open shots from deep against the Illini helps explain why they allow the Big Ten’s highest three-point percentage. Wisconsin loves to shoot three-pointers and it is good at doing so. 

The Badgers attempt three-pointers at one of the nation’s highest rates and also own one of the nation’s best three-point field goal percentages. They have able spot-up shooters like center Micah Potter and guard Brad Davison who will benefit from the offense’s drive-and-kick game. 

There are also more athletic guys, like D’Mitrik Trice, who can create their own shot. Potter, Davison, and Trice are all converting over 37 percent of their three-point attempts.

See 3:45 in the following video:

Potter is able to bring his counterpart away from the basket, leaving decisive room in front of the basket for Trice to cut inside for an open layup.

The Verdict

I don’t trust Wisconsin’s defense to handle either Cockburn or Illinois’ array of quick rim-attackers. But the Badgers can also score a lot by using Potter’s comfort behind the arc to keep Cockburn away from the basket and therefore to attack the basket without Illinois’ rim-protection there as a deterrent. 

They will also create three-point shooting opportunities for a group that can match Illinois’ deeply supported prowess from behind the arc.

For the above reasons, take the over with your College Basketball picks.

NCAAB Pick: Over 136 at (-105) with Heritage Sports (visit our Heritage Sports Review)

Over 136(-105)

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*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.


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