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1/14 Big Ten Preview: Michigan at Illinois

Preview all of Friday’s Big Ten action.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Big Ten has a nice slate on Friday night, highlighted by a marquee matchup in Champaign between the league’s two best teams from last year, with Michigan winning the regular season title and Illinois winning the Big Ten Tournament. Most are expecting a little bit of rivalry flare between the Illini and wolverines. Meanwhile, Nebraska also travels to face Purdue in the early game.

Let’s take a look at the schedule.

Game of the Day:

-Michigan Wolverines at No. 25 Illinois Fighting Illini

  • Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET (FS1)
  • KenPom Spread: Illinois by 7

If you’re looking for zest and spice, look no further. These are two teams with ill feelings toward one another that will be looking to score a marquee win on Friday night. For context on why these teams despite each other so deeply, we have to return to last season.

While Michigan won last year’s Big Ten regular season title, it came controversially. Michigan was unable to play a full slate due to COVID-19 cancellations and was awarded the title based on conference win percentage. Illinois and its fan base have been angry ever since. The anger included some hot comments between the two teams this offseason.

Whether that fire carries over to the floor on Friday remains to be seen, but Illinois certainly enters this one with the momentum. Illinois has won five straight, including three straight convincing wins over conference opponents. Kofi Cockburn has led things inside and is emerging (once again) as an All-American candidate. Trent Frazier is also playing well, including a 29-point performance in the team’s last outing against Nebraska.

Meanwhile, Michigan will be entering Friday’s game off a COVID-19 pause after the team was unable to field enough players in its last two games. It’s been a rough go for the Wolverines, especially considering Michigan’s last outing before the pause was a rough road loss to Rutgers earlier this month. Michigan has talent, it just can’t seem to find the chemistry and defensive intensity when it needs it most. We also don’t know who will be available against Illinois.

Frankly, it’s hard to look at Friday night’s game and think Michigan pulls off the victory. The Wolverines would have been underdogs here, regardless of its roster availability. Illinois is a better team and has only been trending up in recent weeks. And considering Michigan could very well be without five or more scholarship players, that really makes things look even more one sided. Michigan has a chance, but it’s going to come down to role players stepping up on defense and stopping Illinois’ penetration. Otherwise, this could get ugly.

  • Pick: Illinois

The Rest:

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at No. 7 Purdue Boilermakers

  • Time/TV: 6:30 PM ET (FS1)
  • KenPom Spread: Purdue by 21

Unlike the late game, this one doesn’t look particularly intriguing heading into tip. Nebraska enters this one having lost four straight, nine of its last 10 games, and three in a row by significant margins. Alonzo Verge and Bryce McGowens are players to watch, but it’s hard to see the Huskers hanging with Purdue through more than a half. For Purdue, this is a chance to get right after a few lackluster outings. Expect big performances from Zach Edey and Trevion Williams.

  • Pick: Purdue