The dream scenario didn’t come to fruition this past week as the Illinois Fighting Illini fell to Baylor 69-82. Though they managed to put up the nicest score of all time, most Illini fans were hoping for a ’04/’05 Wake Forest type upset on Wednesday night.

They fought for 30 minutes, but down the stretch, Baylor’s experience and defense were just too overwhelming for Brad Underwood’s squad. But Underwood has made clear that they aren’t going to shy away from top competition in hopes to get the program from “happy to be here again” to “business as usual,” and what better way to bounce back than in Cameron on Tuesday night?

First off, thank God the Crazies won’t be there. One good thing COVID has brought us at least. The line is consistently favoring Duke by 3.5 points, but I’m sure it would be much more inflated if Cameron Indoors was at its normal capacity. With an empty gym, this should be a Pick ‘Em. So let’s look at why Illinois MUST win and WILL win.

ILLINOIS – DUKE MATCHUP COMPARISONS

If you think I’m scared of Matt Hurt at the 4/5 spot, you’re delusional — finally a guy Giorgi can keep up with. The only matchup issue I foresee for the Illini is Jalen Johnson. The freshman from Milwaukee has an athletic edge on all of our bigs so I think you’ll see DaMonte Williams take on the assignment with a 6” height deficit.

As long as Kofi stays out of foul trouble, the Illini will maintain Johnson’s rebounding ability. I’d throw a couple of different guys at him throughout the game just to keep him honest, but beyond this point, I think the Illini have the edge matchup-wise. I truly do not think this is an elite Duke team like we’ve seen in the past. Potentially the most beatable roster we’ve seen from them in over a decade.

Here’s a list of guys on the Duke roster that aren’t even in the conversation for Player of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference:

  • Jordan Goldwire
  • Wendell Moore Jr.
  • Their entire bench

I wanted to put Matt Hurt up there because he has such a punchable face, but I can’t troll that much in my opening article. In all honesty, I don’t think there’s any way Duke can contain Ayo Dosunmu to the tone of which Baylor did. You’ll see the junior dominate this game, as he should.

Speaking of 5-star recruits, I guess I’ll talk about the underwhelming DJ Steward. The Whitney Young product, who was once a coveted target for Brad Underwood, has had a sluggish start to the year. He’s putting up 11.3 ppg on 37.5% shooting.

The only reason those numbers are as high as they are is because of the cupcakes against Coppin State and Bellarmine. Steward shined against Michigan State, boasting an 0-7 effort from the field and gathering six points all from the free-throw line. I expect him to have a spark against the Illini as he battles former high school rivals in Dosunmu and Adam Miller, but we’ll see if he can finally produce.

It’s the guard play from Illinois that gives them the edge in my eyes. Freshman guards Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo have shown that the moment is not too big for them, rather they want to be out there and make an impact. If the Illini come out sluggish on the offensive end, I think you’ll see Curbelo get a lot more minutes. He’s the best facilitator on the floor in most matchups this year for the Illini. Their backcourt is too deep and that’s coupled with the biggest man in the gym, Kofi Cockburn.

PREDICTION/PICK

Illinois is the better team (please don’t dispute this, it’ll hurt my feelings). They can throw 10 legitimate guys at you, and if the Illini want to be taken as seriously as all this preseason hype, they HAVE to beat Duke. I haven’t checked the odds on if Coach K fakes an injury, but I know Underwood will be in primetime shape for this matchup.

You’re going to see a dogfight from two storied programs, but Illinois is too deep and is finally back where they belong.

YOUR Fighting Illini – 78

Blue Devils – 71

Take Illinois +3.5 and don’t hurt my feelings if I’m wrong. Thanks.