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2/24 Big Ten Preview: Illinois Hosts Nebraska

Illinois looks to avoid a bad loss as conference tourney nears

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

There’s only one Big Ten matchup on Monday night as Nebraska travels to Champaign-Urbana trying to snap their eleven-game losing streak.

Game of the Day:

- Nebraska Cornhuskers @ Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 8:00 PM ET (BTN)
  • Spread: Illinois (-13.5)

Illinois boosted its resume last Tuesday night when it knocked off No. 9 Penn State in a six-point victory at home. This bucked the trend of a four-game losing streak they had going in, as well as marked the return of Ayo Dosunmu. Fans around the Big Ten feared the worst when Dosunmu went down in the final moments of the Illini’s loss to Michigan State two weeks ago. Those worries were left in the past when the star guard exploded for 24 points in his return against the Nittany Lions. He gets another opportunity to prove his worth on Monday night.

Brad Underwood and his team finally gets a little bit of a break as they take on a Nebraska team that is just 2-13 in conference. The Cornhuskers haven’t won a game since January 7th but have shown they can keep games competitive despite a talent shortage. It was less than two weeks ago that Nebraska pushed No. 7 Maryland to the brink before falling just three points short.

The Illini seem to be finding their stride at just the right time, despite losing four of their previous five games. Besides the Rutgers game that Dosunmu missed to injury, their stars have really showed out. Kofi Cockburn has been a steadying presence down low and has been shooting relatively well against some quality opponents.

It seems as though Underwood has also figured out the guard rotation, too. They struggled to incorporate Dosunmu, Andres Feliz, and Trent Frazier at the beginning of the season. However, they’ve gelled as Big Ten season has progressed, figuring out when to pick their spots. Feliz has been under-appreciated from non-Illini fans, considering he’s shooting 53 percent from the floor.

Illinois and Nebraska have completely contrasting styles on the court. Illinois is 1st in the conference in opponents’ points per game while Nebraska is dead last. Meanwhile, Nebraska is 5th in scoring while the Illini are 13th. As with most games, this matchup will come down to shot-making. Nebraska leads the Big Ten in three-point attempts per game in conference, taking 27.2 3PA per game. Yet, they only make about 31 percent of those three-pointers. If the Cornhuskers can somehow make 40 to 45 percent of their threes on Monday night, this one could turn bad for Illinois. Weirder things have happened in this year’s Big Ten.

All things considered, unless Nebraska gets hot beyond the arc, Illinois should win this one comfortably. If Brad Underwood and company do come out on top, it would vault them into a five-way tie for second place in the Big Ten with four games each remaining before the Big Ten Tournament gets under way.