Iowa Hawkeyes and Illinois Fighting Illini meet at 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday for the latest edition of a Big Ten rivalry. Conference tournament seeding is on the line, and the Fighting Illini could pull even with Wisconsin for a regular-season championship should they win and the Badgers lose to Nebraska. The Hawkeyes could also finish fourth with a win and Ohio State loss to Michigan.
Illinois (21-8, 14-5) won the first meeting on Dec. 6, 87-83 at Iowa. The Illini shot 44% on 3-pointers and got to the free-throw line for 11 more attempts than Iowa had. Each team had four scorers in double figures in an otherwise even game.
The line opened at Illinois -3.0 with an over/under of 153.5. Those have since moved a half-point to Illinois -3.5 and 154 as of this writing.
Illinois must hit 3s
The blueprint in the last game was to hit 3-pointers and get to the foul line, and it should be no different in the rematch. With center Kofi Cockburn a strong 7-foot, 285 pounds, he should be able to get paint touches and draw contact. Illinois shoots 36.7% on 3-pointers this season, which is 45th nationally. Its 76.3 points per game are 53rd nationally.
Jacob Grandison and Benjamin Bosmans-Verdonk are both questionable, but Illinois still has great depth. If Grandison can go, that’s a lift to the Illini offense as the fourth-leading scorer who is shooting 41% on 3-pointers.
Cockburn has been a force inside. He averages a double-double of 21.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, both team-bests. His presence allows Illinois to grab 35.4 rebounds per game, 34th nationally. That will be another key margin to limit Iowa possessions.
Iowa must play with pace
The Hawkeyes are the fifth-highest scoring team in the country, scoring 83.6 points per game. They like to get out in transition as much as they can, though Illinois limited turnovers in the first meeting.
Athletic 6-8 forward Keegan Murray has emerged onto the scene and entered into NBA Draft conversations. He’s the Hawkeyes’ leader and is averaging team-bests of 23.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
Twin brother Kris Murray is the fourth-leading scorer at 10.2 points per game. Both can shoot it on the perimeter or get to the rim.
Surrounded by veteran wings Jordan Bohanen and Patrick McCaffrey, the Hawkeyes have a number of options, like the Illini.
Iowa enters on a five-game winning streak while Illinois is 4-3 over its last seven. The Illini are 12-3 at home, while Iowa is 6-5 in true road games.
For the season, Iowa is 18-12 against the spread at 19-10-1 on over/unders. Illinois is 13-16 against the spread, including 2-5 in its last seven, and 17-11-1 on over/unders.
Grandison’s status is certainly a key to watch. Illinois is tough at home, and the place is electric with each made bucket. But Iowa has been playing down the stretch, and this could be another close game.
Iowa could win outright and should cover the +3.5 spread.
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