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Illinois

vs.

Michigan

College Basketball Pick

2/24/12

Michigan knows they have some work to do before the tourneys start and it begins with a home game against Illinois, a team they previously beat by 14 points this year on the road. The play of the Wolverines has somewhat gone day in the past couple weeks. Even though their losses were in tough situations, they haven't looked like a team that deserves a No. 1 seed.

In their most recent game, Michigan had trouble beating the Big 10 winless Nittany Lions at home. Nebraska had an easier time with Penn State if that's saying anything. While the Wolverines are struggling to find consistency, the Illini have possibly regained their early season form.

After starting the year 12-0 with wins over Butler and Gonzaga, Illinois was projected to be a top team in the conference. After a 2-7 start, that perception quickly changed. Now, after a slew of impressive wins, it looks like Illinois is that team from earlier in the year that everyone was afraid of. They beat Indiana on a last-second shot, Minnesota on the road, killed Purdue by 20 points and won by 21 at Northwestern, a team they previously lost at home to by 14 points. That's how quickly the tides can turn.

The Fighting Illini have had a strong offense all season led by Brandon Paul, but it's their defense lately that has them winning games. That's going to be the most important thing in this game as Michigan has one of the most efficient offenses in the country.

Trey Burke is up for national player of the year and his numbers back it up averaging over 18 points, seven assists and 1.5 steals per game. No matter what you throw at him, Burke will get his buckets whether it's beyond the arc or driving to the hoop. The rest of the offense is where the Wolverines can be exploited. Tim Hardaway Jr. has now struggled in two straight games shooting 4-of-22 from the field. Those are similar numbers to last year when he was having trouble scoring. Outside of Hardaway Jr. is freshman Nik Stauskas who has been really solid and always a threat to hit the three-ball. Their next best scorer is Glenn Robinson III who is the definition of inconsistent. He had a total of eight points against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Indiana, but put in 21 against Penn State. With Jordan Morgan still battling ankle problems, the big man duties will be shared between Jon Horford and Mitch McGary. McGary is the better of the two, yet has done nothing in the last two games.

With the Wolverines struggling to find consistency, this may be the time for another big road win for Illinois. The positive thing about this latest run is that they haven't needed the huge games from Brandon Paul. He only has 11 points on 12 shots attempts in the past two games. When defenses can't focus solely on Paul, the more dangerous this team is. D.J. Richardson is one of those players that have come on lately averaging 18 points in his last four games. He's always been able to hit the three, but he's widened his game to more than just a long-range shooter. It's also important that Tracy Abrams plays a smart game in this hostile environment. The guard is right behind Paul with 2.7 turnovers per game. Tyler Griffey wasn't much of a factor the last time these teams played, but that will probably change in this game. Griffey has become a threat averaging over 10 points in the last four games, largely due to his ability to stretch the defense with his three-point shot. Without Morgan, Michigan has had trouble marking up athletic big men.

This is the Wolverines game to lose here, but with the way Illinois has been playing lately, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them take this down to the wire, much like their game with Indiana.

Predicted Score - Michigan 74 Illinois 59

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