Illini Basketball Preview - Illini vs Wisconsin

Connor Cagley, IlliniGuys Basketball Writer

February 2, 2022

Essentials

#18 ILLINOIS (15-5, 8-2) vs. #11 Wisconsin (17-3, 8-2)
Date | Time Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022 | 8 p.m. CT
Location Champaign, Ill. | State Farm Center | Illinois Athletics Vaccination Policy
Tickets FightingIllini.com
Television BTN (Brandon Gaudin, Robbie Hummel & Andy Katz)
Live Stream foxsports.com/live | FOX Sports App
Radio  Busey Bank Illini Sports Network | Listen | Varsity Network App | Sirius 134, XM 195, SXM App 957

The B1G co-leaders meet tonight at State Farm Center as the 8-2 Illini hosts 8-2 Wisconsin at 8pm on BTN. The Illini lead the series 113-89 and bring a three-game winning streak against the Badgers into tonight's game. In Champaign, the Illini have a 69-28 advantage over the Badgers.

Kofi Cockburn

The Illini have been a hot team despite having rotation players missing 40 games this season and having 9 starting lineups, the most among high-major conference teams. The Illini have reached 8-2 at the midway point of the B1G season for the 2nd time in 3 years. They have won 9 of their last 10 home games and are 22-3 in their last 25 games versus B1G opponents.

This is the second straight ranked opponent in row that the Illini have faced at home. The Illini defeated #10 Michigan State in their last appearance at the State Farm Center. The Spartans were the 9th top 10 team that the Illini have defeated in the last three years. Only Baylor has beat more top 10 teams over that same time span. The Bears have defeated 10 top 10 teams.

Illinois is back in Champaign for a potential matchup in a blizzard against the Badgers following a close win over Northwestern this past Saturday. The winner of this game will become the leader in the Big 10 standings. With both the Illini and Badgers currently sitting at eight and two and no return game, this game could end up being pivotal as it could be a tiebreaker between the two should they end the season with the same conference record.

Since Illinois has had Kofi Cockburn on the roster, they’ve yet to lose a game to the Badgers. Hopefully that trend will continue on Wednesday night. With so much on the line, it’s safe to say both coaches will be looking for any advantage they can get.

Two Questions

Can Illinois get good performances from their two preseason all Americans?

Andre Curbelo courtesy Illinois Athletics

With the return of Cockburn following a two-game absence due to his concussion, he got right back to his former self. He posted 22 points and had 9 rebounds, to carry the Illini to a road victory. We can expect him to be at or near that level of performance against Wisconsin.

There is uncertainty, however, surrounding the return of Andre Curbelo. He had a fantastic game against Purdue but followed it with an underwhelming game at Maryland – though he may have been feeling under the weather at the time. Now that he’s back after having COVID, there will be a question mark once again as to where his conditioning level will be. By now, most understand that a COVID infection can affect individuals very differently, so how well he bounces back remains to be seen. Illini fans will be hoping for the Curbelo we saw last year against Wisconsin in the absence of Ayo Dosunmu – it was one of the defining games of Curbelo’s freshman season. It showcased his ability to pass, to get out in transition, and to rebound for a guy his size.

For Illinois to up their chances in this game, they will be looking for both Cockburn and Curbelo to play like the All Americans they were projected to be coming into the season.

How can Illinois slow down Jonathan Davis?

Da'Monte Williams courtesy Illinois Athletics

Thus far into the season Illinois has only seen one guard as dynamic as Jonathan Davis and that was Purdue’s Jaden Ivey. During the Illinois/Purdue matchup, Ivey didn’t have his best shooting night, but he still ended the night with 19 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists with the majority of the points coming at the free throw line. Ultimately, Illinois will need to do a better job against Davis if they want to win over the Badgers. Davis doesn’t have as quick of a first step as Ivey, but he’s more polished as a scorer and is significantly stronger.

Keeping Davis off of the offensive glass will be a hard task for both Trent Frazier and Da’Monte Williams who will likely get a majority of the minutes guarding him. If Illinois can force Davis to an inefficient night, someone else will have to step up for the Badgers. While Wisconsin has some good pieces for the future, outside of Brad Davison no one else on this current roster seems to be a high-volume shooter.

Prediction: Illinois 70 – Wisconsin 64

This Wisconsin team is having a respectable season in the Big 10, but they’re overperforming given their talent level. While Illinois has a few aspects of their game that they could shore up, Kofi has been Wisconsin’s Kryptonite over the past couple of years. Betting against him would be unwise. This game not only has short term implications in the conference standings but is also important for tournament seeding come March.

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