Northwestern Wildcats vs. Illinois Fighting Illini: NCAA Basketball Free Pick

Northwestern Wildcats
(9-3, 4-3 ATS)

Illinois Fighting Illini
(12-3, 8-7 ATS)

Arch rivals from the Big Ten meet up in Champaign on Thursday night in a nationally televised NCAA basketball betting duel, as the Illinois Fighting Illini put their Top 25 ranking on the line at home against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Give the Cats some credit for hanging in there with the Michigan State Spartans last time out at home, but ultimately, they were knocked off by three points, marking their third straight defeat both SU and ATS against teams from power conferences, including an 0-2 mark already here in Big Ten play. When the trio of John Shurna, Michael Thompson, and Drew Crawford are on, this is a team that can be lethal offensively. Shurna really is the heart and soul of this team, as he is shooting 56.6 percent from the field and a stunning 58.3 percent from beyond the arc, totaling 21.2 points per game, and to make matters even better, he is only turning the ball over a shade under two times per game. Thompson and Crawford have virtually the same numbers at 14.8 and 14.6 points per game respectively. The problem is that the rest of the offense tends to check out at times, as there isn’t another player on the team averaging even eight points per game. What we have to remember with Northwestern though, is that this is a relatively young team that is still probably a year away from the NCAA Tournament, as all three stars are still underclassmen.

This was really the problem that Illinois had last year when it didn’t make the dance, but this time around, now that all five starters are in at least their second year in the regular rotation, Head Coach Bruce Weber thinks he has a Big Ten championship in him. So far, so good at this point, as the two losses to the Illinois Chicago Flames and the Missouri Tigers have been avenged with a 2-0 start both SU and ATS in Big Ten play. This is the last home game for 12 nights, making it a very important one for Demetri McCarney and company. McCarney is pacing a team that has been absolutely lethal from three point land this year, as the Illini rank No. 4 in the country in three point shooting percentage at over 44% as a team. McCarney is at 52.2 percent, which is why he is averaging 16.3 points per game. However, unlike Northwestern, this Illinois team legitimately going seven deep every single night, and Weber has no fear of deploying any combination of the seven at any point to help him win a game.

The bottom line here is that this game is going to be a lot more interesting in Evanston than it will be here tonight in Champaign. The Illini are clearly the superior team, and asking them to lay less than double digits on the NCAA basketball odds is palatable in this one. Don’t be surprised to see McCarney and company on the bench celebrating an easy win late in this game.

College Basketball Free Pick: Illinois Fighting Illini -9

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