Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, right, celebrates one of his shots with Illinois’ Da’Monte Williams (20) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
- Illinois will bring a five-game winning streak into the Big Ten tournament semifinals against Iowa at 3:45 pm ET on Saturday
- The game features the two best players in the nation, Iowa’s Luka Garza and Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu
- Check the odds, analysis, and betting predictions below
Illinois (21-6) has won five straight games entering the meeting with Iowa in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament at 3:45 pm ET on Saturday. The Illini built a 28-point lead against Rutgers to advance with a 90-68 quarterfinal victory.
Iowa (21-7) has won four games in a row and eight of its last nine after battling through a rough patch in which it lost four of five. The teams met once this season, with the Illini taking an 80-75 victory at home on Jan. 29 during the Hawkeyes’ slump.
Iowa vs Illinois Odds
|Iowa||+3.5 (-103)||TBA||O 158.0 (+100)|
|Illinois||-3.5 (-117)||TBA||U 158.0 (-120)|
Odds as of March 12.
The Illini have won 12 of their last 13 games, and they won three of those without all-league guard Ayo Dosunmu. Dosunmu suffered a broken nose and a concussion in their only loss during that stretch, at Michigan State on Feb. 23. A masked Dosunmu returned for a 73-68 victory over Ohio State in the regular-season finale.
The game matches two of the top-five teams in the AP Top 25, No. 3 Illinois and No. 5 Iowa. The Hawkeyes advanced by with a 62-57 quarterfinal victory over Wisconsin, their third win over the Badgers in the last three weeks.
Illinois’ Revenge Blowout
The Illini avenged a 91-88 December loss to Rutgers in the Big Ten quarterfinals, and the rematch was settled quickly.
Dosunmu had a stat-stuffing 23 points, six assists, five rebounds and three steals and 7-foot sidekick Kofi Cockburn had a double-double as the Illini raced to a 19-point halftime lead. Rutgers was never closer than 13 again.
Cockburn, a 285-pounder, had 12 points and 18 rebounds while helping the Illini to a whopping 44-19 rebounding advantage. Illinois turned 17 offensive rebounds into 14 second-chance points.
The six-day layoff did not seem to bother Illinois, which received a double-bye into the Big Ten quarterfinals and had not played since beating Ohio State 73-68 in the regular-season finale.
Faced with the possibility of two more games in two days, Illinois coach Brad Underwood used the rout to give Dosunmu and Cockburn a bit of rest. Dosumno (32 minutes) and guard Trent Frazier (30) were the only starters to play at least 30 minutes. Cockburn played 27. Dosumno averages 35 minutes per game and Frazier 34.
When Stars Collide
With respect to Trevion Williams and Eric Liddell, this game matches the two hands-down best players in the league in Garza and Dosunmu. Both were unanimous selections on the coaches’ all-Big Ten team, and Garza was the unanimous player of the year.
Six-11 Garza, a shoo-in to be named the national player of the year, is averaging 23.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while shooting 55.4% from the field (240/436). He is third in NCAA Division I in scoring.
Garza had 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting and added nine rebounds and three assists against Wisconsin.
The Hawkeyes were buoyed Friday by the return of forward Joe Wieskamp, who left the 77-73 victory over Wisconsin in regular-season finale because of an ankle injury. Wieskamp did seem constrained. He started and finished with 10 points and seven rebounds in 35 minutes.
The Last Time
Illinois and Cockburn found a way to Garza into foul trouble in the Illini’s 80-75 home victory on Jan. 29, when the IIlini were ranked No. 19 and Iowa was seventh.
Garza had 19 points and four rebounds but was limited to 28 minutes. Garza picked up his third foul with 17:30 left in the game and sat the next seven minutes as Illinois took a slight 61-58 lead. The Hawkeyes led 72-71 on a Wieskamp three-pointer with 2:42 remaining but Illinois scored the next seven points to take control.
Wieskamp had 19 points and made five three-points in that one. Dosunmu had 25 points and made three threes, Frazier added 24 points with four threes and Cockburn had nine points and 10 rebounds.
Iowa guard CJ Fredrick, who is averaging 8.0 points and has made 35-of-70 three-pointers, missed that game with an injury. Jack Nunge, Garza’s nominal backup, will miss this game after suffering a season-ending right knee injury in a loss to Michigan on Feb. 25. Nunge had four points and four blocked shots against Illinois.
By the Numbers
Iowa and Illinois are ranked four-five in KenPom’s effective efficiency margin, with Iowa a whole four-thousandths of a point ahead of the Illini.
Illinois is the more balanced of the two– it is one of two teams ranked in the KenPom top eight in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency. Michigan is the other.
Iowa is ranked second to Gonzaga in adjusted offense but is ranked 63rd in adjusted defense, although that is an improvement from its rank in the 100s earlier in the season. The Hawkeyes limited Wisconsin to 38.6% shooting and benefitted from turnovers Friday.
Illinois is peaking against the number. The Illini have won five in a row, six of seven, and 10 of their last 13 ATS. Iowa is 5-3-1 ATS in its last nine.
The Illini may not be the best team in Division I, but they are doing a good impression, both on the floor and against the line. It would be foolish to go against the Illini now.
The pick: Illinois -3.5 (-117)
Jack has covered college and professional sports for various Arizona media outlets and has written for the AP, USA Today and Baseball America, among others. He staffed the 2015-17 World Series and has staffed four Super Bowls.