Game: #2 Michigan (18-1, 5-1) at Illinois (15-5, 2-4) BTN, 6:00 PM ET
Vegas: Michigan (-5.5)
Opponent Analysis: Illinois is led by super senior guard Brandon Paul. He leads the team in points (18.0) and rebounds (4.8). Illinois started out hot, looking like they could be a contender in the Big Ten, recording wins over Gonzaga and OSU at home. After beating OSU, the wheels kind of fell off, and Illinois lost to Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northwestern (of all teams), all by double digits. After those 3 losses in a row, Illinois managed to beat Nebraska in their most recent game. Illinois has been a Jekyll and Hyde team this season, and how well Michigan does on the road in this game, will depend somewhat on which Illinois team shows up.
Here are my three keys to the game:1) Limit Brandon Paul - Last year Michigan beat Illinois twice, and the game at Crisler was actually closer. In that game, Paul scored 21. At the game in Champaign, Paul scored 15 points on an inefficient 4-11 night. If Michigan can force Paul into inefficiency, disaster is sure to follow for Illinois.
2) Avoid Fouls and Turnovers - This is crucial in a hostile road environment. When you're the top dog, everyone wants to knock you down, and the Illinois students with the inferiority complex will be decked out in their orange "Muck Fichigan" shirts. So there's that. Michigan must respond by playing smart, being patient on both ends of the court, and executing what they practice and typically do well at home.
3) Execute on Offense - As of Friday, Michigan was averaging 0.24 more points per possession than any other team in the Big Ten. This is really an incredible statistic, and if it continues, Michigan has the chance to take an early lead, and keep the crowd as a non-factor. There will be opportunities for open 3s. Michigan has to find these opportunities, and make a good percentage of their shots.
Prediction: Illinois will give Michigan all they have, but it will not be enough. Too much GRIII, too much Burke, too much Hardaway (who has been red hot lately), and too much firepower will give Michigan the edge in this game. I think it will be close though, as winning on the road is never a sure thing.
Michigan 71 Illinois 64