As the calendar segues from November to December, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge serves as the marquee sports betting event, and capping the first night of action is Monday’s clash between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Illinois Fighting Illini.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Illinois Fighting Illini
Monday, November 29, 2021 – 09:00 PM EST at State Farm Center
Preseason polls had Notre Dame outside of the top 25, and Mike Brey’s bunch didn’t do anything last week at the Maui Invitational to suggest the polls had them undervalued. Coming off a week 11-15 campaign a season ago, Brey has four of his five starters back which is usually a good sign. In this case, however, it’s only enough for the Fighting Irish to be a mid-level pick in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Illinois entered the season trailing Michigan and Purdue on the NCAA basketball futures in the Big Ten, and the Fighting Illini have so far looked a little overrated as they’ve slid back in the rankings. Brad Underwood is still trying to get his rotation down after missing a couple of key players the first week or so, and he’ll need the team firing on all cylinders during a tough upcoming 4-game stretch on the schedule.
Irish Couldn’t Find Bucket at Maui Invitational
Betting on either side has generally been a losing proposition, and a quick check for this matchup finds online betting sites laying 6½-point chalk on Illinois. Playing the scoreboard means a decision on a 141½-point total.
Notre Dame only managed to beat D-II Chaminade at last week’s Maui Invitational, this year’s even played in Las Vegas due to travel restrictions in Hawaii caused by the ongoing virus. The Fighting Irish opened that tournament with a 62-59 loss to Saint Mary’s in a contest that was tight the whole way. Shooting woes plagued Notre Dame as the Fighting Irish shot under 39% overall while the Gaels shot close to 50% from the field, and canned more than half of their 3-point tries.
After beating Chaminade, Notre Dame was a small favorite in a consolation contest against Texas A&M, and the chalk look warranted when the Fighting Irish held a 10-point advantage at halftime. The Aggies then turned to their bench and came roaring back in the second half for a 73-67 victory. Poor shooting once again was behind the loss as the Fighting Irish netted just 6-of-26 from beyond the arc, and the 18 turnovers didn’t help either.
Illini Yet to Really Put it All Together
Illinois certainly hasn’t been making friends with college basketball bettors. The Fighting Illini have covered the spread in just one of their six games so far, and have been favorites from 8-25½ points in those contests. They’ve shot well at times, and poorly at others. About the only thing working according to plan is a rebounding edge, Illinois grabbing about 14 more per game than its opponents.
After blowing a big first-half lead and falling by 20 to Cincinnati last Monday at the Legends Classic in Kansas City, the Fighting Illini grabbed a 72-64 triumph the following night over Kansas State in the consolation game. It wasn’t quite enough to cover the 9½ at Heritage, but they shot and passed well, and had a big game on the boards. The only negative was 18 turnovers to Kansas State’s four.
Underwood’s cagers then followed that up with a season-high 94 points against UT Rio Grande Valley, Kofi Cockburn scoring 38 of those for a new personal best. Trouble is, the Fighting Illini forgot all about defense as the Vaqueros scored 85 and were ahead by as many as 12 in the first half against an Illinois team that was favored by 25½.
Notre Dame Has Won Last 3 Matchups
There is a lot of history between the two programs; trouble is, most of the previous 42 meetings took place 50+ years ago. Illinois has a strong 27-15 advantage over Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish have won the last three get-togethers. The last two matchups took place in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, most recently a 76-74 Notre Dame win at home in 2018 as 6-point chalk on the betting odds.
The interconference showdown was canceled a year ago, and Notre Dame brings a 4-4 record into this year’s challenge. Illinois is 9-13 against the ACC over the years. The Big Ten has won the last two challenges.
It’s difficult to have much confidence in either side, given the inconsistency we’ve seen so far from the Irish and Illini. I’m going to play a hunch with my free college basketball pick and go with the final going past the mark.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.