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11/19 Big Ten Preview: Can Illinois Pull A Giant Upset?

Plus games featuring the Huskers and the Scarlet Knights

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, there’s been a game or two where the Big Ten team has been the underdog, but not by much. Monday night is the conference’s first chance to play David to another league’s Goliath.

Game of the Night

-Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

  • Time/TV: 11:30 PM EST, ESPN2
  • KenPom Spread: Gonzaga (-13)

As of the time this article was written, Trent Frazier’s status is day-to-day, meaning Illinois’ best player may or may not play against the Zags in Maui. I don’t think anybody expects Illinois to knock of Mark Few’s squad, who more than a few experts picked to make the Final Four this year, unless Frazier comes back from his concussion. But if he does, is there a chance?

Looking at Gonzaga, it’s hard to see a lot of weaknesses. They don’t force a ton of turnovers, and so far this year they haven’t shot great from behind the arc. Meanwhile, there’s a ton of evidence that Gonzaga is a great team. Here’s my favorite: their starting five have offensive ratings of 124.8, 137.8, 144.8, 136.3, and 132.9. That’s a higher average rating than Duke’s starters.

For Illinois to have any hope, they’ll need to do a lot of the one thing that they’re good at: turning teams over. Illinois forces a turnover on almost a third of all possessions. Of course, Gonzaga also does a great job of taking care of the ball. It’ll be an uphill challenge for the Illini, to be sure.

  • Pick Against The Spread: If you told me Frazier was playing, I’d probably still pick Gonzaga. Since there’s the chance he isn’t, I’m definitely taking the Bulldogs.

The Rest

-Eastern Michigan Eagles at Rutgers Scarlet Knights

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, BTN
  • KenPom Spread: Rutgers (-3)

OK, so in my Friday preview I said if Rutgers got the W at St. John’s it was time to take them seriously. They didn’t. I still don’t think Rutgers is the joke of a program that so many people have gotten used to, but if they drop this one we’ll know that the Knights are probably still at least a year away.

The Emus aren’t bad. (I know it’s the Eagles, but everyone online agrees that EMU Emus makes too much sense not to be a thing.) They’re a senior-heavy team that won 22 games last season. There’s a reason that spread is only three points. The Emus have only had one game against legitimate competition—that was their game against Duke, who blasted them by 38. Not much to take away from a result like that; Duke does that to everybody.

  • Pick Against The Spread: By bizarre coincidence, both these teams have played Drexel already this season. Rutgers won 95-66, whereas EMU only won 66-62. I’ll take Rutgers.

-Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Missouri State Bears

  • Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, ESPNU
  • KenPom Spread: Nebraska (-13)

This game is being played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City as part of the Hall of Fame Classic. You'd expect the Bears to bring a lot of fans, given that Springfield is less than three hours away. And the thing is, other than where their school is located located, there’s not a lot I can say about Missouri State. They’ve beaten three awful teams by double-digits, and they have a new coach, so I can’t even look to last year’s results as a reasonable guide for what to expect.

On the Huskers side of things, I’ve long thought that their 2018-19 season would come down to one thing—does Isaiah Roby elevate his game? Roby when he’s on reminds me so much of DJ Wilson, who was drafted 17th overall. Add a first round draft pick to a team that already has James Palmer, Glynn Watson, and Isaac Copeland, and it’s going to be a good year in Lincoln.

So far results are mixed. Roby’s true shooting percentage is 78.0%, up from 65.0% last year, but that’s only on a base of ten shots taken so far this season. His minutes are actually down considerably, but that’s partly due to the excess of garbage time in Nebraska’s first two cupcake wins. His assist rate is up sharply, but so is his turnover rate. His usage rate is actually below that of sophomore Nana Akenten right now. Since this game is on at the same time as the Rutgers game, the reason to pick this one is to see if Tim Miles can figure out how to use Roby the right way.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Thirteen feels about right, but my rule of thumb is, “When in doubt, you take the Big Ten school.” This Big Ten chauvinist picks Nebraska.

Season Record Picking Against KenPom’s Spread: 6-7