Free Pick for Michigan vs Illinois March 1st

Michigan Wolverines @ Illinois Fighting Illini -1.5

Is this Bruce Webber’s final game as the head coach of the Illini?  It very well could be if they are not able to pull the upset victory over the Wolverines.  Notice I said ‘upset’.  Illinois is favored by a point (which we will dig into the validity of very shortly), but is clinging desperately to fading NCAA Tourney hopes, while the Wolverines are ranked #16 in the nation and still in contention to earn a share of the Big Ten regular season title after Indiana did them a solid running their nemesis from Lansing out of the gymnasium Tuesday night.  I assure you, if Illinois is able to clip Michigan tonight, it will certainly be viewed by most college hoops fans as an upset.

Michigan has been playing fantastic basketball lately and is one of the least heralded fringe Final Four contenders in the country.  Perhaps it is because they have been down for a while, and perhaps it is because they haven’t had the attention-grabbing marquee win of an Indiana over Kentucky or Ohio State’s early season blasting of the Dukies.  Either way, this Michigan team is long, athletic and explosive offensively.  Michigan has won six of their last nine conference games and has covered in each of their six wins.  Each of their losses have been to good basketball teams; Michigan State, Ohio State and a Purdue team that played their best game of the season on a night when they really, really needed it.  During their nine-game run they also own wins over Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue on the road (weird twist, they split the season series, each winning on the other’s floor), and an impressive nine-point win over these same Illini.

Illinois on the other hand has been struggling mightily.  That’s probably an understatement.  More accurate? They have gone into a coach-killing free fall as they plummeted from Top 25 to likely NIT and shopping for a coach in the off-season.  Yes, they got a much-needed win this weekend over Iowa, but have otherwise lost all of their last TEN games, with the exception of an overtime victory over a beat-up Minnesota squad.  They have failed to cover in all eight of their losses as well.  There are some chemistry issues, as well as the coaching uncertainty in Champaign, and it has clearly had an impact on the product they have been putting on the court.  But most of all, this team just can’t stop anybody.  They have given up nearly 77 ppg in their last six losses.  In the slug-it-out defensive-minded Big Ten, that’s nearly unheard of.

So why are they favored over Michigan tonight??  Your guess is as good as mine.  In the meantime, I’ll take Michigan and chuckle that I’m getting points as well…

Free Pick:  Michigan Wolverines +1.5

Chris Scheeren / Author