Entering Wednesday, the Big Ten had eight different teams with a record of 11-7, 11-8, or 10-8 within conference play and two of those teams hook up on Thursday looking to separate from the pack 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 team has been far more dominant at home as the team is 16th in the nation overall in points allowed on a per possession basis, but surrendering 17.1 points per 100 possessions fewer at home than away from home.
Both teams have had to deal with injuries throughout the season, but Illinois got top scorer Terrence Shannon back from a concussion last week while Michigan has been without their 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 offense drop off with an average of 65.3 points per game in regulation without him, which 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 prior to the game against Wisconsin on Sunday before ultimately not playing in the game, suggesting the team might have him back at less than 100 percent for this game. Overall for the season, Howard is averaging 14.4 points per game on 36.9% 3-point shooting as a 6-foot-8 wing.
The injury is crucial with the way Illinois has played inside the arc both on offense and defense, as Illinois is 16th in the country in 2-point shooting percentage on offense and 10th in 2-point shooting percentage defense.
With Howard at best playing at less than 100%, it allows Illinois to not worry about perimeter weapons and both force action inside and make top Michigan scorer and rebounder Hunter Dickinson to take more outside shots. Overall this season, Dickinson has attempted 1.4 3-pointers per game with Howard on the floor compared to four per e without Howard.
Illinois has the advantage on the glass to start with, ranking 26th in the country in rebound rate compared to Michigan who is 163rd, and Dickinson, who averages 17.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game, being pulled away from the basket more will allow Illinois to win from within.
The Play: Illinois -3.5
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