NCAA Basketball Picks: Michigan vs. Illinois

Darin Zank

Sunday, January 27, 2013 5:48 PM GMT

With top-ten teams falling like flies recently the Michigan Wolverines find themselves likely candidates to become the next No. 1 team in the land.

College Basketball Betting: Big Ten Brawl in Champaign

But, before the crowning, Michigan will have to survive a Big Ten road battle with the Fighting Illini of Illinois in Champaign Sunday night (6 pm ET, Big Ten Network).

Can the Wolverines take that next step, and grab the top spot in the rankings for the first time since the days of the Fab Five? Or can the Illini shake off some recent struggles and pull an upset.

And where might the money be made on this game?

This Week's Hoops Picks Record: 4-1

Wolverines-Illini Betting Lines

Most sportsbooks we sampled Sunday morning opened Michigan as a seven-point favorite on the basketball odds boards for this game, with an OVER/UNDER of 139. But a little early Illinois action has pushed the spread down to -6 at many shops. 

Also, those bettors out there who think the home-dog Illini might win this game outright can get Illinois at +255 on the money line at 5Dimes.

Wolverines-Illini Game Set-Up

Here's how we assess these two teams.

Michigan returned three starters this season from a team that went 24-10 last year and finished in a first-place tie in the Big Ten. Most “experts” figured the Wolverines would make another run at the Big Ten title this year, and maybe even go deep into the NCAA tournament. And so far Big Blue has lived up to those lofty expectations.

Michigan started 16-0 this season, beating teams like Pitt, Kansas State and NC State along the way. The Wolverines also started 3-0 in Big Ten play, before getting beat at Ohio State two weeks ago 56-53.

Michigan then won at Minnesota and, last time out Thursday night, knocked off Purdue 68-53.

On the home side of this match-up Illinois returned four starters from a team that went 17-15 and missed the NCAA tournament last year, for its first season under new head coach John Groce. Most “experts” figured the Illini might have to go through a learning phase with the new coach and systems, and would finish somewhere in the second division in the Big Ten.

But the Illini started this season by winning their first 12 games, beating the likes of Butler and Gonzaga along the way. However, Illinois has lost five of its last eight games, as the shooting has gone a little cold. The Illini first fell to a ranked Missouri team, then lost their Big Ten opener at Purdue. Illinois then pulled off a nice upset, beating Ohio State, but then lost three games in a row, and looked bad doing it, falling by 17 points to Minnesota, 23 points to Wisconsin and 14 points at home to Northwestern.

Illinois then snapped that losing streak Tuesday night with a 71-51 victory at Nebraska.

So Michigan is tied for second place in the Big Ten at 5-1 in conference play,  while Illinois sits in ninth place at 2-4.

As an aside, Coach Groce got the job at Illinois in part thanks to taking Ohio to the NCAA tournament last year, where he led the Bobcats to a 65-60 second-round upset of – guess who? - [gameodds]14/218867/43/us[/gameodds]

Wolverines-Illini, Statistically Speaking

On the season Michigan is shooting a sparkling 50 percent from the floor as a team, 40 percent from 3-point range and 72 percent from the FT line.

On the defensive end the Wolverines are holding opponents to 41 percent FG shooting, and out-rebounding foes by about seven boards per game.

Illinois, meanwhile, is shooting 43 percent from the floor, 33 percent from long range and 71 percent from the line. The Illini are also holding opponents to 42 percent shooting while keeping the battles on the boards just about even.

Wolverines-Illini Recent History

Michigan has beaten Illinois three times in a row. Last year the Wolverines swept the two games with the Illini, winning 70-61 in Ann Arbor and 72-61 at Assembly Hall.

Wolverines-Illini Free Pick

This should be a good test for Michigan, playing a quality opponent on the road, but we think the Wolverines will pull through. And playing on the road keeps the point spread manageable. Take Michigan at the -6.5 points offered at 5Dimes for your basketball picks.

NCAAB Picks: Wolverines