Usually, when I write an Illinois vs (insert opponent here) preview, I have some sort of animosity towards the opposing team, because they’re either a rival or a program that I definitely hate and am totally not jealous of at all. Here’s my Illinois vs Rutgers preview, this time it’s a little different. It’s SO HARD to hate Rutgers.
A program that was basically the laughing stock of the Power 5 when they came into the Big Ten, right there with Nerdwestern, has now started to see some success in their revenue programs. And they are FOR REAL on the hardwood.
Illinois vs Rutgers Preview – The Personel
This Rutgers team is one of the scariest teams in the Big Ten. Led by Ron Harper Jr and Geo Baker (who seems to be completely healthy by the way), the Scarlet Knights have as fun of a backcourt as you’ll see in the conference. Besides, well, Illinois. But Harper Jr. has really taken off with the absence of Geo Baker in the early start of the season. Dude is putting up 27 points, seven boards, and three assists/game so far.
You love to see a stud basketball player that isn’t afraid to knock back a couple of cheeseburgers. A true guys guy. Though his production will likely level out as Baker gets more involved, you’re still going to see those two combine for 40+ points on most nights. And then you sprinkle in the Texas transfer Jacob Young who is just another nice piece to that already-strong backcourt.
They split time at the center position between Myles Johnson and Cliff Omoruyi (former Top 50 recruit), both very athletic bigs. But both are very inferior in size to my main man Kofi Cockburn. I realize it’s not fair to compare anyone to Kofi when it comes to size because he’s truly an anomaly. BUT IT’S MY JOB(kind of)!
Rutgers are kind of like the Red Sox before 2004 and the Cubs before 2016; you find yourself rooting for the lovable loser. It’s just good for the game.
Illinois vs Rutgers Preview – Keys to the Game
If Rutgers wants a chance, they’re going to have to contain Ayo Dosunmu and keep him out of the paint and ATTACK Kofi. Cockburn will dominate inside with his size advantage if he’s able to get position and stay in the game for his scheduled minutes. The frontcourt is the weakest aspect of the Scarlet Knights team, and I think Giorgi and Cockburn will be able to take full advantage.
If Kofi finishes at the rim at a clip anywhere NEAR what he did against Minnesota, I empathize deeply for every single team in the Big Ten. My God Liam Robbins, I hope you can confidently step on a basketball court again. That’s an “I wish I stayed at Drake” type of beating.
As for the backcourt matchups, I think we’re going to see a battle between Baker and Dosunmu all game, as we’ve seen in the past. It seems like Geo Baker just likes to put up 40 on Illinois. Don’t fact check me there, it’s just a feeling I get in my nether region when I think of Geo Baker as an Illini die hard. But the X-Factor, who may be on my future ‘Top 5 Illini of All Time’ list, is Andre Curbelo.
This kid is going to penetrate (get your head out of the gutter), do a little dance, and feed Kofi all night long. He’s a difference-maker and the type of player every team wants. Though his assist to turnover ratio isn’t great, he usually makes you forget about all the mistakes. If the freshman for the orange and blue come to play, you’re going to see another Illini win.
Illinois vs Rutgers Preview – The Prediction
Offshore sites have Rutgers at -4 to open the weekend, and I assume the other books will follow. Those four points have a heavyweight on the home-court advantage. I’m an eye test guy, and I don’t think home-court advantage is truly having much of an effect this year. Someone, please tell Ken Pomeroy not to fact check me, because he likes to do it in such a nice way that it hurts my feelings even more.
If you’re lucky enough to get Illinois at +4, take it. I think they’re the better team, and I’m hoping for another big-time Q1 win to the resume. A quick-paced game, a lot of possessions, two high-powered offenses. It’s going to be a nice escape from the NFL on Sunday night.