Entering Wednesday, the Big Ten Conference had eight different teams with records of 11-7, 11-8, or 10-8 within conference play and two of those teams get to hook up on Thursday with a chance to move ahead when the Illinois Fighting Illini host the Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan Wolverines vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (-3.5, 144.5)
Much like the majority of Big Ten teams, the Wolverines have been far more dominant at home, ranking 16th in the nation in points allowed on a per-possession basis, but are surrendering 17.1 points per 100 possessions fewer at home than when playing on the road.
Both teams have had to deal with injuries throughout the season, but Illinois got its top scorer Terrence Shannon back from a concussion last week while Michigan has been without its number two scorer Jett Howard the past two games.
Overall this season, the Wolverines are 2-1 in games in which Howard does not play, but have seen their offensive efficiency drop, averaging 65.3 points per game in regulation without him. This excludes the points scored in overtime in the team’s most recent game against Wisconsin.
Howard went through most of the team’s pregame warmups before Sunday’s game versus Wisconsin before being ruled out, suggesting he may not be 100 percent for this game. For the season as a 6-foot-8 wing, Howard is averaging 14.4 points per game on 36.9% 3-point shooting.
This injury could prove crucial considering Illinois excels from inside the arc both on offense and defense, ranking 16th in the nation in offensive 2-point shooting percentage and 10th in defensive 2-point shooting percentage.
With Howard at best playing at less than 100 percent, Illinois won’t have to worry about perimeter weapons and can force the action inside, further forcing top Michigan scorer and rebounder Hunter Dickinson to take more outside shots himself. Overall this season, Dickinson has attempted just 1.4 3-pointers per game with Howard on the floor compared to 4.0 per game without.
Illinois already has the advantage on the glass, ranking 26th in the nation in rebound rate compared to Michigan which ranks 163rd. If the Fighting Illini limit Dickinson, who averages 17.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game, and consistently pull him away from the basket, they’ll be able to win from within.
The Play: Illinois -3.5
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