Sunday features a Big Ten showdown of Top 25 teams as the No. 19 Illinois Fighting Illini (16-5, 8-2 in Big 10) travel to Carver-Hawkeye Arena to take on the No. 18 Iowa Hawkeyes (15-6, 6-4 in the Big 10).
Iowa currently sits in fifth in the Big Ten, as it has struggled to the tune of four losses in the conference. Illinois sits atop the Big Ten standings, as it currently has a half-game lead over Michigan State.
This is going to be a big matchup for both sides, not only in the conference but for national rankings, too. Tipoff for this one is scheduled for 1 pm ET.
The Fighting Illini have had a pretty solid season to this point, Even in their losses, they have played solid as they have really only been blown out of one game, a 76-56 loss to No. 14 Michigan State.
Still, with that loss, the Illini need every conference win they can get to fend off the Spartans and hold onto the conference lead. This also starts a really tough stretch for them, as they face five Top 25 teams in a row (No. 18 Iowa, No. 15 Maryland, No. 14 Michigan State, No. 25 Rutgers and No. 24 Penn State). A win over Iowa would be a great start to such a tough stretch.
The Hawkeyes have also had a great start to the season, although they have been inconsistent against conference foes as four of their six losses come against the conference. Still, they have played well and had won five in a row until they were beaten in their last game, an 82-72 loss at Maryland.
They will look to bounce back and start a new winning streak on Sunday against the Illini.
The Hawkeyes come into this one as five-point favorites playing at home. The over/under on total points scored is set at 146.
By The Numbers
The Hawkeyes have been one of the best offensive teams in the country this season, ranking 11th overall in averaging 79.2 points per game (81.4 at home). Illinois is 119th overall, averaging 72.5 points per game (67 on the road).
Illinois ranks 47th in the nation, allowing 63.8 points per game (69.1 on the road). Iowa comes in 192nd overall, allowing 70.4 points per game (66.5 at home).
Trying To Stay First
Illinois has had a fantastic season thus far and has Illini fans buzzing in a way that many haven’t seen since the 2005 team that made it to the National Championship game. Still, the Illini will be facing a true test over the next couple of weeks, and a win against a very talented Iowa team would be a great start.
Coach Brad Underwood will look to his two leading scorers, sophomore guard Ayo Dosunmu and freshman center Kofi Cockburn, to lead the way. On the season, Dosunmu is averaging 16 points, 3.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, while Cockburn is registering 14.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game.
Aside from this duo, the other major contributors include Andres Feliz (10.8 points, three assists, 4.8 rebounds), Trent Frazier (9.9 points, two assists, two rebounds) and Alan Griffin (8.4 points, 4.2 rebounds).
Iowa Looks To Stay Dominant At Home
At 10-1, the Hawkeyes have been dominant at home, and it is no wonder given how they can attack you from several angles on the offensive side. Their main weapon is big man Luka Garza, an absolute matchup nightmare for most teams.
On the season, Garza is averaging 23 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He has recorded a double-double in two of his last three games.
Sophomore guard Joe Wieskamp has also been lethal, as he has been averaging 15 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. In his last 10 games, he has scored in double-digits in all of them and has exceeded 20 four times in that span.
Aside from these two, CJ Fredrick (11.3 points, 2.9 assists, two rebounds), Jordan Bohannon (8 points, three assists, 1.5 rebounds) and Ryan Kriener (7.7 points, four rebounds) have also had solid seasons to date.
Taking Illinois And The Points
This should be a really interesting matchup, and I am excited to see how the matchup of Kofi Cockburn and Luka Garza plays out. If one of those two gets in foul trouble, the edge will easily go to the other side.
Still, the Illini are going to need big games from their starters and will need to use their solid defense to slow down Iowa. It wouldn’t shock me if Iowa ultimately wins this one, but I like the point spread for Illinois. I think they have the momentum (a seven-game winning streak) and the players to keep this one close. For my money, I am taking Illinois at +5.