The Illinois Fighting Illini escaped the Round of 64 with a one-point win against the Chattanooga Mocs. Illinois had been trailing throughout the entire game but grabbed the lead in the final seconds, winning 54-53 after a missed shot by Chattanooga as time expired.
The Fighting Illini came out flat in the first half and ultimately didn’t look great offensively throughout the game on Friday against Chattanooga.
Now, on Sunday, Illinois will take on a Houston Cougars team that dominated UAB in the First Round, winning 82-68. Houston didn’t leave any questions unanswered in its first win as Illinois did.
The reality is Houston has been one of the more consistent teams in the nation and if Illinois comes out flat again it will be hard for the Big Ten regular-season co-champion to recover.
Here are our picks and predictions for the Round of 32 matchup between the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Houston Cougars.
Illinois vs Houston Odds
Illinois vs Houston odds are provided by Caesars and current as of 9:15 am ET, March 19.
- Moneyline: Illinois (+170) vs Houston (-200)
- Spread: Illinois +4.5 (-110) vs Houston -4.5 (-110)
- Over/Under: Over 133.5 (-110) / Under 133.5 (-110)
- Implied Score: Houston 69, Illinois 65
Illinois vs Houston Prediction
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. The Houston Cougars have been consistently good this year. The Cougars have dominated on the offensive and defensive end all year long and ended up winning the AAC this season.
Even without superstars Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser, the Cougars found a way to be in the top 20 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency for both offense and defense.
Friday’s game against UAB proved that Houston really is a championship contender after all. On the defensive end, the Cougars are holding opponents to a 43.7% effective field goal percentage and allowing just 29% from three this season. Teams have also knocked in just 44% from inside the arc against the Cougars.
Illinois will shoot a heavy dosage from downtown and have knocked in 36.3% of three-point shots this team. However, if the three-point shot isn’t falling, the Fighting Illini will struggle.
Illinois is only shooting 51.6% inside the arc and against Houston’s interior defense, things are going to be hard.
On the year, defensively, Houston is still earning 21.6% turnovers while also blocking 17% of shots. Blocked shots aren’t turnovers but at the end of the day, they act like turnovers. Big blocks lead to transition buckets!
Illinois is earning 33.2% of offensive rebounds this season and could have success against Houston on the offensive glass. Houston is giving up 27.4% offensive rebounds so there’s some wiggle room for Illinois to earn second chances at a consistent rate.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Houston is much more consistent on the offensive glass, bringing down 37.6% of offensive rebounds. From the floor, the Cougars are shooting 55.1% from inside the arc and 34.4% from downtown.
On top of that, Houston only turns the ball over 16.9% of the time.
You won’t see Illinois force many turnovers with the Fighting Illini only earning 15.6% of turnovers this season.
That’s why I’ll roll with Houston to win this game and cover the spread. Houston will win the rebounding battle, dominate inside, defend at a higher rate and minimize turnovers.
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Illinois vs Houston Score Pick
Houston 60, Illinois 54
Houston proved how great the offense could be against UAB, scoring 82 points against the Blazers.
However, as Houston gets deeper into the tournament, the defense will have to do more of the talking. The offense will be a bit harder to come by against teams like Illinois and other highly regarded teams.
Illinois is holding teams to 32.1% from deep and 45% from inside the arc while Houston is holding teams to 29% from deep and 44% from inside the arc. Houston’s offense is slow, and the Cougars like to play in the half-court.
Illinois isn’t used to that in the Big Ten, playing against teams like Purdue and Iowa, who love to run the court.
Illinois will become impatient and fatigued down the stretch.
Illinois vs Houston Best Bets
Houston -4.5 (-110) at Caesars
Wager: 1 unit
Illinois will usually take advantage of teams by getting open looks from long range. On Sunday, Illinois won’t be able to get those looks with Houston allowing teams to shoot just 29% on the season. The Cougars are holding teams to a 32.7% effective field goal percentage while also earning 21.6% turnovers on the season.
With poor point guard play from Andre Curbelo in Illinois’ game against the Chattanooga Mocs, it’s likely that Houston will be able to force Illinois into making some bad mistakes in this game.
Houston is elite on the offensive glass and should be able to keep turnovers down, leading to more shot attempts in this game.
Illinois won’t be able to contain Josh Carlton and Fabian White on the offensive glass. Carlton is earning a 17.3% offensive rebound rate this season, which is fifth-best in the nation.
Under 133.5 (-110) at Caesars
Wager: 1 unit
As Houston starts having to play tougher competition, the defense will be more of an emphasis. The Cougars scored 82 points against UAB but don’t let that fool you. Houston’s a very slow and efficient offense and normally won’t need 82 points to win another game in the NCAA Tournament.
Illinois is holding teams to a 46% effective field goal percentage and has also held teams to a 26.1% offensive rebounding percentage. Even with Illinois struggling from the field against Chattanooga, the Fighting Illini ended up winning that game due to their defense that held Chattanooga to 53 points in regulation.
The under makes the most sense in this game.