In a marquee early season matchup, the No. 5 Illinois Fighting Illini will take on the No. 2 Baylor Bears in Indianapolis. Both teams are undefeated on the young season, with Illinois escaping three games in three days while Baylor came away from Feast Week with a 2-0 record.
The spread opened with the Bears (-5.5) and has held steady thus far. The total is set at 144.5 points. Baylor is (-240) on the moneyline while Illinois is (+200).
Baylor coach Scott Drew has cleared his COVID-19 quarantine period and will join the Bears in Indianapolis for the game. Coach Drew was forced to stay home while Baylor played their first two games in Las Vegas last week.
Fighting for Respect?
Illinois coach Brad Underwood has completely turned this Illinois program around behind star guard Ayo Dosunmu (25.7 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game, 6.8 assists) and sophomore big man Kofi Cockburn, who is averaging a double-double through the Illini’s first three games. Freshman wing Adam Miller gives the Illini another legit scoring threat on the wing, while Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili are fantastic role players capable of big plays at any moment.
The Illini didn’t play any of the top teams in the nation in the opening week but playing three games in three days is a strain on any athlete. Illinois will be coming off of four days rest when they lace ’em up on Wednesday night.
The last time Underwood and Drew coached against each other was in 2016-17 when Underwood was coaching at Oklahoma State. Baylor came away victorious in both of those contests.
Expect the Bears to Roar Again
Scott Drew’s Baylor squad is sporting a tremendous amount of continuity within the program, returning four starters from last year, including All-American candidate Jared Butler, who is averaging 18.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 2.5 steals through the first two games.
Drew has deployed a group with tremendous depth. Nine players have scored in double digits through their first couple of games. The amount of quality depth should be enough to keep a hard-working team defensively fresh for the season. The scoring has also been well balanced early on, as Baylor boasts seven players averaging at least seven points per game.
In the last four seasons, Scott Drew has logged 17 wins against Top-25 teams, with eight of those wins coming against top-10 teams.
The Pick Is In
You can justify picking this game either way, but the moneyline should be your biggest focus. Baylor is (-240) while Illinois is a juicy (+200). Given Illinois’ front-court size compared to the Bears, expect the Illini to continue to be a dominant force on the offensive glass. Illinois is currently first in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. Baylor is no rebounding slouch, but Cockburn is an absolute monster on the glass.
The Illini can cover the 5.5-point spread, but you should consider taking them outright to win. If the game were played at Baylor, it might be a different story, but the neutral site takes away a key advantage.
FREE PICK: Illinois Fighting Illini (+5.5).
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