The Big Ten like a few other prominent conferences this season is about finding ways to win. That will be the mission tonight for No. 12 Illinois visiting upset-minded Rutgers.
Last week, Illinois was pounded by Purdue 84-68 in West Lafayette, which created a logjam at the top of the Big Ten with four teams having three losses apiece. However, as we start a new week, Illinois is back at the top of the Big Ten standings by holding off Northwestern, as Wisconsin, Michigan State and the Boilermakers all lost their last contest.
Such is life in this conference because other than facing Nebraska, Minnesota and Maryland, every outcome is up for grabs.
Rutgers ended their long drought to make the NCAA Tournament last year and has quietly put together another fine year in the conference at 9-5 and is doing in the toughest of times, at least by their schedule.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Wednesday, February 16, 2022 – 07:00 PM EST at Jersey Mike’s
The betting odds at PointsBet and other sportsbooks have Illinois as a 4-point away favorite with a total of 134. The Scarlet Knights are attempting to do the seemingly impossible and get a tweet from ESPN Stats on Twitter for a possible unthinkable accomplishment, which we’ll talk about when previewing Rutgers.
Illinois Can Win the Big Ten, Will They Do It?
Every team goes through levels of adversity and how they handle tells you about their mental toughness. Illinois certainly has gone through more than their fair share, with starters Kofi Cockburn missing five games and Andre Curbelo sitting out 14.
That’s a real disruption from the original plan, with each player sidelined two different times which further messed up coach Brad Underwood’s plans.
Yet, through it all, the Illini have matched part of their nickname and were fighting and mostly having success doing so.
The defense has conceded just 40.1 percent shooting and 66.1 points a game. The offense runs best with Cockburn touches and Underwood has an array of three-point shooters that average nine a contest and clever slashers like Curbelo and Trent Frazier among others.
This club is good enough to reach the Elite 8 and maybe more, they just have to protect the ball and take wise shots.
Rutgers Knows How To Defend The Home Floor
Though winning at Rutgers was never easy, that was mostly predicated on opposing teams taking for granted they would exit New Jersey with a victory before the game started and it was harder fought than expected.
Since the Scarlet Knights have recruited better players, the fan support has come in waves and winning at Jersey Mike’s Arena is now a task. Rutgers is 12-2 (8-5-1 ATS) at home, winning by a sizable margin of 10 PPG.
There is a belief in the program where Rutgers players now expect to win and they outwork the opposing foes. Sometimes average to below-average teams have a year where they are nearly unbeatable at home and they return to normal the following year. Not these Knights, as they have claimed wins over Purdue, Michigan, Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State at home and beat the spread in each instance.
Last week on these pages, we talked about Rutgers’ five-game gauntlet, playing five consecutive contests versus ranked opponents. So far they are 3-0 SU and ATS. Will Illinois be their next victim?
What is the Best Side to Be On?
For college basketball picks, we cannot overlook the obvious. While Illinois is 7-4 SU in away games, they are 4-7 ATS, with a winning margin of just +3.3 PPG.
Rutgers is no longer intimidated by opposing teams at home and they are 6-0 ATS in home games off an upset win as an underdog. And having won four of their last five games, the Scarlet Knights are 8-1 ATS at Piscataway in this instance and cover the spread and just might engineer another upset.
NCAAB Pick: Rutgers +4 (-110) at PointsBet