The college basketball weekend gets started Friday night with a top-20 showdown in the Big Ten between the no. 7 Iowa Hawkeyes and the no. 19 Illinois Fighting Illini. At home, Illinois is a slight 1.5-point favorite with an over/under of 163 points.
The Illini have fallen on some hard times recently, losing back-to-back games before knocking off Penn State. However, after a game with Michigan State was postponed, this will be the Illini’s first game in 10 days. Illinois sits at 6-3 in Big Ten play, two games back of Michigan, and plays three ranked teams in their next four games.
The Hawkeyes have also had an extended layoff thanks to a game with Nebraska being postponed. Iowa’s most recent game was a 12-point home loss to Indiana last Thursday. That loss put the Hawkeyes at 12-3 overall and 6-2 in Big Ten play, putting them in second place behind Michigan.
Iowa’s loss to Indiana was in no way the fault of center Luka Garza. The senior has more than lived up to the preseason hype, averaging close to 27 points and nine rebounds per game. He’s recorded double-doubles in back-to-back games and has even done a nice job of staying out of foul trouble this season, maximizing his time on the floor. Garza has failed to score over 20 points just three times this season, indicating that teams have not had an answer for him.
Of course, it was Iowa’s supporting cast that was unusually poor against Indiana last week. As a team, the Hawkeyes shoot 38% from the perimeter, but only Joe Wieskamp shot the ball well against the Hoosiers. Wieskamp has been almost as consistent as Garza this season, averaging 14.5 points per game while also being the team’s second-leading rebounder. However, Garza and Wieskamp aren’t always enough in a loaded Big Ten. The Hawkeyes need to get outside shooting from Jordan Bohannon and CJ Fredrick, as well as steady frontcourt play from Jack Nunge, Keegan Murray, and Patrick McCaffrey.
The Other Big Man
Illinois provides one of Garza and Iowa’s toughest matchups, thanks to Kofi Cockburn, a seven-foot sophomore. Cockburn is averaging a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He’s not quite the offensive force that Garza is for Iowa because he doesn’t score from the perimeter, and he struggles at the free-throw line. However, Cockburn is a rim protector who can challenge Garza in the paint.
Meanwhile, the Illini are led offensively by Ayo Dosunmu, who might be the most versatile player in the Big Ten. Donsunmu is averaging 21.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game. He can chase his shot just as well as he can share the ball with his teammates. The likes of Adam Miller and Trent Frazier are also capable shooters, while Andre Curbelo gives Illinois another guard who can create for others.
(Hawk) Eye on You
While Illinois can defend Garza better than most teams and has elite scorers, they’ve struggled to beat the better teams in the Big Ten. Plus, the Hawkeyes aren’t likely to get two straight bad performances from their supporting cast. With the Illini favored in this game, bet on Iowa as the underdog.