Illinois Fighting Illini at Arizona Wildcats NCAAM Pick – November 11th

We picked up another nice win last night when we backed the Texas Longhorns as +8-point underdogs against the Purdue Boilermakers. I have a feeling that this is the year that Shaka Smart finally breaks through with some sustained success at Texas and felt that even though Purdue is very talented as well, getting +8-points to back a team as good as Texas, was just too much value to pass up on. So, I backed the Longhorns and expected a competitive game and an easy cover.

And not only did Texas easily cover the eight-point spread, they won the game outright 70-66. It was a huge non-conference win for Texas, and they should find themselves ranked in the top twenty-five when the new rankings come out tomorrow. Four Longhorns scored double digits, led by Matt Coleman III, who dropped twenty-two points in the win.

This team has talent all over the floor, and the win will be a nice feather in their cap come Selection Sunday, but this team still has more work to do before they are going to have me all-in on them. Remember, last year, the Longhorns knocked off a top ten ranked North Carolina team early in the year before struggling down the stretch and missing the NCAA tournament. The hot seat got just a little bit cooler for Shaka Smart after this win.

For Purdue, they would have liked to pick up the win on their home court, but his team has a lot of rebuilding to do after losing almost 60% of their scoring from last year’s team. They dominated the glass last night 36-24, including dragging down seventeen offense rebounds, but in the end, they just didn’t have the scoring ability to keep up with Texas.

After scoring twenty-six points in his debut with the team last week, JUCO transfer Jahaad Proctor came back to earthlast night, scoring just twelve points on 5-11 shooting from the field. For today’s pick, we will head to Arizona, where the Wildcats host the Fighting Illini of Illinois.

The Fighting Illini of Illinois are in Tucson Sunday, looking to pick up their third win of the young season, something they didn’t do last season until December, against the Wildcats of Arizona. Illinois had a strong finish to last season, and they are hoping to ride that momentum to legitimacy in the BIG 10 this season, as they return nearly their entire rotation from last year.

For Arizona, they have had a tumultuous offseason as they had several key recruits de-commit amid the sprawling FBI probe. But now that the season has kicked off, they look to be as talented as ever, with a shot to compete for the PAC 12 title, assuming Sean Miller can continue to dodge bullets and keep his best guys eligible and on the floor. They just might have their hands full tonight with a sneaky good Illinois team.

The Arizona Wildcats are -7-point home court favorites. The game total over-under is set at 143.5 points. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 PM PST from the McKale Center in Tucson.

We talked about Shaka Smart being on the hot seat at Texas. Another guy who will be coaching for his job this year will be Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. Underwood has always enjoyed success everywhere he has been, and the fans in Champagne were hoping he would bring instant success to this program as well, but that just hasn’t happened yet for Underwood.

After a brutally bad start last year that saw them start 4-14, they actually looked pretty good in the second half of conference play. They knocked off Nebraska, Michigan State, Maryland, and Ohio State. While that wasn’t nearly enough to get them into consideration for postseason play, it gave them a lot of confidence going into this season.  They bring back essentially all of the production from last year’s team, including impact players like Ayo Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Andres Feliz, Kipper Nichols, Alan Griffin, Da’Monte Williams, and Tevian Jones.

The big-name here is Ayo Dosunmu. Dosunmu flirted with the NBA and decided to come back this season, and he makes up a third of what is going to be one of the best backcourts in the country. Trent Frazier and Andres Feliz are the other two pieces, and they should give Illinois a lot of talent and experience bringing the ball up the court. The other guy that will be the X factor for Illinois this season is seven-foot freshman Kofi Cockburn

Cockburn is a mountain of a man at over seven feet tall and nearly three-hundred pounds. He was a rare top fifty guy for Illinois and has made an impact right away, grabbing a double-double in each of his first two games. His dominance on the boards has allowed Illinois to bring down over fifty rebounds a game, good for top ten in the country.

We all know about the well-documented off-season drama in Arizona. The fact that Sean Miller still has a job is somewhat shocking at this point. The guy is the basketball version of John Gotti, the Teflon Don, and has managed to survive all investigations, even the ones that appear to show he clearly cheated. The Wildcats will try and put all of that drama behind them this season, as they have NBA level talent everywhere and could end up being an elite team this season if they can ignore the distractions.

The Cats bring back Chase Jeter for his senior year and pair him with two big JUCO transfers in Max Hazzard and Stone Gettings. But the flashy name on the marquee in this one is freshman Nico Mannion. Mannion is a top ten recruit and visited places like Duke and Villanova before deciding on Arizona. Mannion played twenty-five minutes in his debut and scored nine points and had four assists. If Manion can be the guy many people think he can be this year, this could be a dark horse Final Four team at Arizona.

So, I just said that Arizona could be a dark horse Final Four caliber team, and now just one sentence later, I am going to bet against them on their home floor? I know right? Sports betting can be weird sometimes. So, why I am backing the Illini with the seven points? Public perception. The public “knows” just how good Arizona is this season. They don’t “know” anything about this Illinois team.

And that creates value for the sharps. This Illinois team is much better than the general public thinks. They remember the awful team from last season. But I really think that Underwood has things figured out in this, his third year at the helm, and I think this is a tournament level team. If this game were to happen in say, February, it would be getting a lot more hype.

This bet is a lot like last night’s bet, in that it is just too much value to pass up on to not back as team as talented as Illinois is right now, getting so many points. No disrespect to Arizona, I like them as well, but this game is going to be competitive, and I want those seven points. I think that in the end, the Wildcats find a way to survive and win the game, but it is going to be a lot closer than everyone thinks. Give me the Fighting Illini +7-points tonight from the McKale Center!

The Bet: Illinois Fighting Illini +7 Points

My Pick
ILLINOIS ILLINI +7
Jason Gray / author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL