- Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn and the No. 18 Illinois Fighting Illini (6-3, 2-1 Big Ten) host the struggling Indiana Hoosiers (5-3, 0-1 Big Ten) Saturday, Dec. 26 at 4:00 p.m. ET
- The Fighting Illini are coming off a 98-81 road victory over Penn State, while the Hoosiers lost at home Wednesday to Northwestern 74-67
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup
The up-and-down season of the No. f18 Illinois Fighting Illini (6-3, 2-1 Big Ten) marches on this weekend against the mercurial Indiana Hoosiers (5-3, 0-1 Big Ten). Tip off is set for Saturday, Dec. 26 at 4:00 p.m. ET in Champaign.
Saying Brad Underwood’s Illini have been inconsistent so far this season would be an understatement. The team picked to win the Big Ten in the preseason media poll went into Cameron Indoor and beat Duke — but has also already lost three games. Illinois beat Penn State Wednesday 98-81, the most regulation points in a Big Ten contest the program has scored since 1995.
Meantime, Archie Miller’s Hoosiers are coming off a seven-point loss to the Wildcats in Assembly Hall that saw them turn the ball over 16 times and allow Northwestern to shoot 56-percent from the field. Now, Illinois is favored to hand Indiana its second straight defeat to a program hailing from The Land of Lincoln.
Indiana vs #18 Illinois Odds
|Indiana||+6.5 (-104)||+265||145.5 (-110)|
|#18 Illinois||-6.5 (-118)||-330||145.5 (-110)|
Odds taken Dec. 25th at FanDuel.
Illinois is still rated No. 7 by KenPom (good for the third-best spot in the conference) and the only team in the top-20 with three losses. The rating is also the highest for any team in the country with three defeats (ahead of North Carolina at No. 21 and Indiana at No. 22).
After dropping a narrow 91-88 decision to Rutgers in the first leg of a two-game road swing last Sunday, the Illini took care of business at Penn State that was very much a gut check game.
The dynamic duo of Dosunmu and Cockburn came through big, with Dosunmu going for 30 points and Cockburn dropping 23 on the NIttany Lions. Underwood had high praise for the Dosunmu, the 6-foot-5 junior from Chicago.
“He’s the best guard in the country,” said the head coach. “He scores it in a lot of ways. When we get Ayo locked in at the defensive end, he might be as good as I’ve coached.”
With another effort like that at the State Farm Center Sunday, Illinois will be right back on track and earning its high rating.
Playing to the Competition
As for Indiana, the Hoosier have beaten who they were supposed to beat and lost to who they were supposed to lose to — until the Northwestern game. Ever the solid coach, Miller fell on the sword for his team after the frustrating defeat.
“I’m going to take full blame for our lack of improvement in the last few weeks taking care of the ball,” Miller said. “It’s getting to a level where you’re not going to win in this league if you don’t take care of the ball.”
The 16 turnovers were a glaring issue Wednesday. So was IU’s rotation. Only eight players saw action against NU — three of them playing at least 36 minutes. That kind of load is manageable in late December, but could become a problem if Miller doesn’t go deeper on his bench.
Trayce Jackson-Davis throws it DOWN 💪⬇️
but Northwestern goes into Bloomington and beats Indiana 74-67, the Wildcats are 5-1 👀 pic.twitter.com/q96Tk81lN1
— The One & Dones (@theoneanddones) December 24, 2020
Sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis has been the team’s best player so far, averaging 21 points and nearly nine rebounds a game. He’ll need a breakout performance against Illinois for Indiana to pull off the upset.
The Difference Maker
While Dosunmu has an edge over Jackson-Davis in the talent department, the 6-foot-9 Hoosier is fun to watch. But so is the 7-foot sophomore Cockburn.
“Looks like we’ve got a Baby Shaq sighting in State College.”@kxng_alpha with 22 points and plenty of time for more! pic.twitter.com/ZIUW5A5hJ7
— Illinois on BTN (@IllinoisOnBTN) December 24, 2020
When Illinois went down 19-4 to Penn State early, it was the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year that took over. Cockburn went on to score 16 first-half points on perfect 8-of-8 shooting from the field. Thanks to the Kingston, Jamaica native, the Illini erased the early 15-point deficit and went to the break tied at 43.
Simply put, the Hoosier don’t have an answer for Cockburn. The pair of Dosunmu and Cockburn are the reason why Illinois was a top-5 March Madness pick back in early October. And together, they’re the reason why the Fighting Illini will send the Hoosiers back to Bloomington still winless in conference play.
The pick: Illinois