Preview, prediction, Q&A with an Illini insider: Michigan at Illinois

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Preview, prediction, Q&A with an Illini insider: Michigan at Illinois

Article written by:Clayton SayfieClayton Sayfie

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Kofi Cockburn vs. Michigan basketball
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Michigan Wolverines basketball will play its first game in 10 days when it takes on Illinois Friday night in Champaign.

The Wolverines are 7-6 and on a two-game losing skid, searching for a marquee victory. Meanwhile, head coach Brad Underwood, who’s 3-0 against Michigan head man Juwan Howard, has his club atop the Big Ten at 5-0 and on a five-game winning streak.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of tip-off, including a breakdown of key players, analysis on the matchup, our final score prediction, a Q&A with Brad Sturdy of IlliniGuys.com and more.

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Game Information: Michigan At Illinois

Date: Friday, Jan. 14, 2022

Time: 9:01 p.m. ET

Venue: State Farm Center (Champaign, Ill.)

Channel: Fox Sports 1

On The Call: Joe Davis (play-by-play) and Jim Jackson (color)

Radio: Detroit: WWJ-Radio (950 AM) | Ann Arbor: WWWW (102.9 FM)| Grand Rapids: WOOD (106.9 FM) | Stream: MGoBlue.com

On The Call: Brian Boesch (play-by-play) and Terry Mills (color)

Betting Line: Illinois -9.5, over/under 145.5

Kenpom Prediction: Illinois 76, Michigan 69 (26-percent chance of victory)

Clayton Sayfie Prediction (9-4 ATS): Illinois 81, Michigan 66

Michigan Projected Starters

• #12 – Fifth-year senior guard DeVante’ Jones (6-1, 200) — The Coastal Carolina transfer and reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year is averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from long range.

• #55 – Fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks (6-1, 185) — The team captain generates 12.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists per outing, while shooting 43.2 percent overall and 36.9 percent from three.

• #22 – Freshman guard/forward Caleb Houstan (6-8, 205) — The former five-star recruit is registering 9.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per clash, while shooting 36.4 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from long range.

• #14 – Freshman forward Moussa Diabate (6-11, 210) — Averaging 8.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per tilt … Made 35-of-60 shot attempts (59.4 percent) and is 19-of-34 from the free throw line.

• #1 – Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson (7-1, 260) — The 2021 second-team All-American is leading the team with 16.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, with 25 assists … Shooting 59.1 percent from the field and has made five of his 17 three-point attempts.

Key Bench Contributors

• #23 – Junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. (6-8, 240) — Notching 5.2 points and 2.3 boards per outing, while shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 5-of-17 from three-point range.

• #5 – Sophomore forward Terrance Williams II (6-7, 230) — Playing 15.6 minutes per contest at the ‘3’ and ‘4’ positions, while averaging 5.7 points and 3.2 rebounds, and shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from long range.

• #10 – Freshman guard Frankie Collins (6-1, 185) — Seen action in 10 games, averaging 12.5 minutes per appearance … Averaging 3.3 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per contest, while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 2-of-6 from three.

Illinois Projected Starters

• #1 – Fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier (6-2, 175) — Registers 12.8 points, 3.1 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from long range.

• #11 – Fifth-year senior guard Alfonso Plummer (6-1, 180) — The Utah transfer averages 15.9 points (second on team), 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists per outing, while connecting on 47.4 percent of his overall looks and 41.9 percent of his three-point attempts … He’s made just 10 of his 32 three-pointers during conference play … His 97.7 free throw percentage leads the nation.

• #20 – Fifth-year senior guard Da’Monte Williams (6-3, 215) — Posts 4.3 points and 5.4 boards per contest, while making 30 percent of his shot attempts, including 36.4 percent of his looks from beyond the arc … Primarily serves as a spot-up shooter … Hit 54.7 percent of his threes last year but has taken a step back; however, he’s 7-of-14 from range in league play.

• #3 – Fifth-year senior wing Jacob Grandison (6-6, 210) — Records 12.1 points and four rebounds per game, while hitting 50.8 percent of his shots from the field and 48.4 percent of his three-point attempts (34th in the country) … One of the top spot-up shooters in America, per Synergy, at 1.296 points per possession.

• #21 – Junior center Kofi Cockburn (7-0, 285) — The Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year is second in the conference with 22 points per game, while adding a league-best 12.5 rebounds per outing and 13 assists for the season … He’s shooting 60.1 percent from the field and attempts 31.3 percent of Illinois’ shots while he’s on the floor, the 58th-highest mark in the country … He draws 7.8 fouls per 40 minutes (fourth nationally), and has a 15.2 offensive rebounding percentage (26th) and 30.1 defensive rebounding rate (11th).

Key Bench Contributors

• #33 – Sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins (6-10, 215) — The sixth man plays 21.2 minutes per game, and contributes 7.7 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from three-point land … Nearly a quarter of his points have come on offensive rebounds.

• Junior forward Omar Payne (6-10, 240) — The Florida transfer spells Cockburn for 8.1 minutes per contest … Averages 1.5 points and 1.7 boards per night, and is 8-for-15 shooting from the field.

Matchup Breakdown

• Michigan had less than seven players available for what would’ve been Tuesday’s game against Purdue. Just three days later, the Wolverines are above the seven-player, one-coach threshold — but still may not be at full strength. There isn’t an indication on exactly who is available.

Similarly, Illinois sophomore guard Andre Curbelo — who’s played in just four games this season and hasn’t seen game action since November — is nearing a return to the court after missing time with a concussion. He had a “minor setback” that didn’t allow him to return to practice early in the week, however, and his status is questionable, though Howard said Michigan is preparing as if he will play.

• Illinois is everything Michigan isn’t on the offensive end of the floor. The Illini have an identity — playing through Kofi Cockburn on the interior — and have tremendous spacing with shooters surrounding the big man. Illinois has three starters — Trent Frazier, Jacob Grandison and Alfonso Plummer — who shoot better than 38 percent from three-point range, and it shoots 37.7 percent from deep as a team. The team had a six-game stretch where it made double-digit threes.

The Illinois also cleans up the offensive glass better than any team in the country, grabbing 41.3 percent of their missed shots, and are second in the nation with a plus-14 rebounding margin.

• Illinois is strong on the interior defensively, allowing opponents to shoot just 42.7 percent on two-point attempts. The Illini are a bit more susceptible to allowing good looks from the outside, with opponents knocking down 32.7 percent of their triple tries.

The Illini exclusively play man-to-man defense, and hardly ever press. Due to sending so many guys at the offensive glass, they struggle defending in transition at 1.043 points per possession. It’s set to be tough sledding for Michigan center Hunter Dickinson on the inside, considering Illinois allows just 0.56 points per post-up play, which ranks fourth in the country per Synergy.

Q&A With Brad Sturdy Of IlliniGuys.com

How would you assess the strengths and weaknesses of Illinois’ offense?

The two big keys for Illinois are of course Kofi Cockburn and their three-point shooting. When Grandison, Plummer and Frazier are making shots and Cockburn is rolling inside, they are difficult to stop and that’s why they are a top 10 offense nationally.

They have had some stretches where they have struggled when Cockburn is not on the floor, but they finished the Nebraska game without he or Plummer, so that might bode well for the future.

They have a number of weapons, but they don’t have that great creator and facilitator without Curbelo, so when they struggle that is usually the issue. One area where they have been great is offensive rebounding. When Hawkins is at the PF spot this team becomes dangerous on the offensive glass, and it’s why they are top in the Big Ten in offensive rebounding. 

What about the defense?

There have been some rough patches on the defensive end, but they have gotten better. They starting unti is fairly small outside of Cockburn, and Kofi isn’t great in space. Trent Frazier will lock up someone on the other side and DaMonte Williams does a nice job against bigger wings, but overall this is a team that is good on defense, but not great. 

Finish this sentence: Illinois beats Michigan if _____________.

They control the glass and make 10 3’s.

What is your final score prediction and how do you see the game playing out?

I like Illinois at home and with Michigan coming off of their pause. We have seen some team come out firing after a break, like Illinois did, but it isn’t as easy as that. I think it’s close early but Illinois pulls away late.

Prediction: Illinois 77, Michigan 69