The Illinois Fighting Illini will seek their ninth win of the season on Thursday evening when they host the Wildcats of Bethune Cookman. Brad Underwood’s team has alternated wins and losses over their last six games with their last outing ending with a 23-point defeat at the hands of the Missouri Tigers. The game is scheduled for an 8:30 PM EST tip-off from State Farm Arena in Champaign, IL, and will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1. The Illini enter the game as a (-30) home favorite, with the total currency set at 143.5 points.
Bethune Cookman enters the game with an unimpressive record of 4-8 on the season and losers of four consecutive games. In their most recent outing, the Wildcats fell to the Ospreys of North Florida by two points on their own floor. Reggie Theus’ team is considered to be one of the worst teams in all of division one this season, having already lost to three teams ranked outside of Kem Pomeroy’s top 300.
Illinois has become one of the more trivial clubs in college basketball this season. Despite nice victories over UCLA and Texas, the Illini have lost to Missouri, Penn State, and Maryland. While none of those teams are considered a bad loss by any means, Coach Underwood’s team has simply proven that they cannot sustain a high level of play from game to game. There have also been whispers throughout the Twitterverse that this team is not exactly melding from a locker room standpoint, and that may be leading to some of the lackluster play on the court.
This meeting will mark just the second time the two programs have ever met, with the first coming during the 1999-00 season. The Illini also hosted that meeting and walloped the Wildcats by a final tally of 97-47. That Illini team was led by legendary players Cory Bradford, Frank WIlliams and Brian Cook.
Bethune Cookman Wildcats Overview
It has been a rough road for Reggie Theus since leading the New Mexico State Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in 2007. Theus has coached six complete seasons between Cal State Northridge (5) and Bethune Cookman (1) since that appearance and has yet to finish with a winning record since that tournament berth.
The 4-8 Wildcats are led by a quartet of guards this season that accounts for 46 of their 67 points per game. Marcus Garrett leads the way at 14.0 points per game, with Zion Harmon right behind him at 13.0. K.J. Davis and Joe French each score roughly 9.5 points per ball game. All four shoot at least 34.5% from behind the three-point line, with Garrett leading the way at nearly 41% from deep.
Senior Dylan Robertson leads the team in the front court though his numbers are not exactly impressive. The 6’10 senior forward is averaging just 4.9 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game which leads the team in both categories.
Despite their twelve games played, the Wildcats have played just ten qualifying games towards their wagering profile. Bethune Cookman is second to last in the Southwestern Athletic Conference against the spread at 4-6 on the season. They are underperforming the number by a league-worst -7.2 points per game which is nearly triple the next-worst team in the league. They have gone over the projected total in eight of their ten games this season.
Illinois Fighting Illini Overview
There is zero doubt that this Illini team is talented as well as deep. They have star power in Texas Tech transfer Terrence Shannon who leads the team in scoring at 18.2 points per ball game. The issue with Shannon this season has been his inconsistency from behind the arc. In Illinois’s four losses this season, the 6’6 wing has combined to go 1-18 from behind the arc. He has had some other poor performances from deep but they were against far less talented rosters, and Coach Underwoods team was able to overcome.
One player whose growth will likely determine the ceiling of this team is of highly touted freshman point guard Skyy Clark. The blue-chip prospect is averaging just 7.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game but has shown moments of brilliance on the offensive end this season. Clark simply needs to value the ball better on offense and move the ball on the perimeter. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 1:1 this season simply needs to improve if this club is going to make a run in both the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois is just 5-6-1 against the spread on the season, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten thus far. They are underperforming the spread by -1.8 points per game and have failed to cover the spread in four of their last five contests.
Bethune Cookman at Illinois Prediction
If this game were against nearly any other team, you would have to take the dog to cover the number on the road. The problem here is that Bethune Cookman simply is not good enough at anything for Coach Theus to potentially utilize and gain an advantage. The Wildcats are one of the worst defensive programs in the entire nation, with a bad offense to boot. Illinois should be able to “talent” their way to a cover in this matchup.