Big Ten Clash: Play Indiana -7 Our NCAA Basketball Pick vs. Illinois

Willie Bee

Thursday, February 25, 2016 1:52 PM GMT

Could Indiana be caught in a look-ahead spot Thursday night at Illinois? Join us for a preview and free NCAA basketball pick for the Big Ten clash in Champaign.

Among the teams sitting on top of a Power 5 Conference, the Indiana Hoosiers definitely take the Rodney Dangerfield prize for lack of respect. The Hoosiers are the lowest ranked squad among those league leaders, checking in this week at No. 18 in the AP and No. 15 according to the coaches, with three teams they preside over in the Big Ten -- Michigan State, Iowa and Maryland -- each drawing top 10 slots in the polls.

After so often falling short of expectations, seeing his Indiana team hanging offstage and out of the limelight is probably just fine with Tom Crean. The Hoosiers have three games remaining on their regular season slate, and Crean's biggest task this week is keeping his squad focused Friday night on the Illinois Fighting Illini.

The longtime rivals are scheduled to tip things in Champaign a little after 9 PM (ET). Indiana went out at -8½ before that number dropped to -7 across the board. 5Dimes has Thursday's scoreboard target set at 151.

 

Illini Consistently Beaten On The Glass Without Thorne
With no game scheduled this weekend, Crean doesn't have to worry about throttling back a bit when Indiana (22-6 straight up, 14-14 against the spread) takes the floor tonight. He will have to try and stop his players from thinking too much about their final two games next week, at Iowa on Tuesday and home against Maryland on Sunday. The Hawkeyes and Terrapins each sit just a game behind Indiana.

All six losses by the Hoosiers came away from Bloomington, two of them neutral site affairs during the Maui Invitational, and they failed to beat the NCAA basketball odds in any of the losses which saw Indiana favored by as many as 13½ to being 10 point underdogs. The Hoosiers did manage to bounce back from the most recent loss nearly two weeks ago at Michigan State by beating Nebraska ad Purdue at home last week.

Crean & Co. have been slowly learning to get by without guard James Blackmon Jr., lost for the season with a knee injury after just 13 games, and might be without backup guard Robert Johnson on Thursday. The sophomore sprained an ankle in the win over the Boilermakers and is officially a game-time decision.

Illinois (12-15 SU, 13-11-1 ATS) came out of the gate slow by losing three if its first four, and after a brief 5-game win spurt just before Christmas, started the Big Ten schedule slow once again by dropping three to begin things. It really hasn't gotten better for John Groce and his team, the only real highlights being an upset of Purdue and a season sweep of Rutgers.

It certainly didn't help matters when Mike Thorne Jr. injured his knee Thanksgiving weekend.  It was hoped the senior forward could come back, which he did in mid-January for the first meeting with Indiana, but his balky joint wouldn't cooperate after the game and he was shut down for the season. Thorne's absence in the paint has been a key reason for Illinois' woes.

 

Hoosiers Aiming For 2nd-Straight Win In Champaign
It was over pretty early in Bloomington when the schools met on January 19, Indiana eventually routing Illinois by a 103-69 count. The Hoosiers rained treys on the Fighting Illini  from the beginning, ending with a school record 19 on 36 attempts. Yogi Ferrell converted 5-of-7 from beyond the arc to score 16 points while Troy Williams led all comers with 21 for the evening.

The laugher marked the 2nd straight win in the series for Indiana to give the Hoosiers a modest 88-86 advantage over Illinois. Their only meeting a year ago was on this floor, Indiana leaving town with an 80-74 decision that just covered a 5½ point spread.

Indiana's road woes give me concern when making a decision on my free NCAA basketball pick, but I'm going to bite the bullet and cross my fingers with a play on the Hoosiers.

 

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NCAA Basketball Pick: Indiana -7 
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes