Last Updated Mar 18, 2022, 7:08 PM

Chattanooga Mocs vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Picks, Predictions, Odds

Southern Conference Tournament Champion Chattanooga will face Big Ten regular season co-champion Illinois Friday evening in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament. This game will be played at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, scheduled to start at 6:50 PM ET. 

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Score Prediction

Illinois 66, Chattanooga 60

Best Bet

Under 135 (-110)

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Looking to shake off a Round of 32 exit last season as a #1 seed, Illinois slipped to a #4 seed losing early in the Big Ten tournament to Indiana. With four losses in the past nine games Illinois does not enter the tournament with the same type of momentum as last season when they were one of the favorites to win it all. Brad Underwood has the Illinois program back in the forefront of the Big Ten but making a great tournament run will be a challenge with a tough placement in a loaded South region. 

Not only does Illinois have a Final Four team from last season in Houston as the opposing #5 seed in this region, but they are also grouped with Arizona, the #2 overall seed in the field. Illinois would be wise not to overlook Chattanooga however as the Mocs will be a threat for an upset in the first appearance for the program under Lamont Paris. 

Chattanooga is 27-7 after winning the Southern Conference Tournament in dramatic fashion with an overtime buzzer beater in the final against Furman. The Southern Conference was a quality league, ranked 12th in the nation this season, ahead of more well-known leagues like Conference USA, the WAC, and the CAA and Chattanooga won the regular season title as well at 14-4. Last year’s Big South representative UNC Greensboro gave Florida State a close game in the tournament while in the 2019 tournament Southern Conference champion Wofford beat Seton Hall and gave Kentucky a scare in the Round of 32.


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  • Date: Friday, March 18, 2022
  • Matchup: No. 13 vs. No. 4
  • Region: South
  • Venue: PPG Paints Arena
  • Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • TV-Time: TNT - 6:50 p.m. ET


Straight Up - SU, Against the Spread - ATS, Over-Under (O/U)

  • SU: 27-7
  • ATS: 18-15
  • O/U: 18-15

Chattanooga finished just 17-15 ATS this season but the Mocs were 4-2 ATS as an underdog this season. Chattanooga beat NCAA Tournament bubble team VCU as a 3.5-point underdog in November but narrowly missed covering as an underdog in road games vs. the top two OVC teams Murray State and Belmont in back-to-back defeats in December for the toughest three non-conference tests. Chattanooga went 3-0 S/U against the #2 team in the Southern Conference Furman, but they were 1-2 ATS in those games. 

Chattanooga plays at a deliberate pace and is a strong shooting team. The defense allowed only 65 points per game this season and as an underdog vs. a Big Ten power one can expect Lamont Paris to try to slow the pace of play in this game. Only 10 times this season has Chattanooga allowed 70 or more points and the Mocs went 1-9 ATS when surrendering 70 or more this season. Chattanooga has a veteran team led by 41 percent 3-point shooter Malachi Smith and Kansas transfer Silvio De Sousa patrolling the paint. David Jean-Baptiste is the long-time leader in the backcourt and he hit the game-winner in the Southern Tournament final. Jean-Baptiste did not play in the team’s only loss outside the top 200 against Western Carolina in January. 

A strength for Chattanooga on defense has come beyond the arc, holding its foes to below 31 percent 3-point shooting this season and leading the Southern Conference in 3-point defense. That should be an important factor against an Illinois team that gets nearly 37 percent of its points from 3-point range and shoots nearly 37 percent beyond the arc. If this game stays close late Chattanooga could have an edge at the line hitting nearly 77 percent this season with Smith and Jean-Baptiste both over 83 percent on foul shots. 


Straight Up - SU, Against the Spread - ATS, Over-Under (O/U)

  • SU: 22-9
  • ATS: 13-18
  • O/U: 17-14

As a team that disappointed relative to last season’s standard and the preseason expectations it is no surprise that Illinois was just 13-18 ATS this season. Illinois struggled out of the gate with roster issues due to several injuries and an early season suspension for first team All-Big Ten center Kofi Cockburn. He wound up not playing in the losses to Marquette and Maryland and the Illinois loss to Cincinnati was his first game of the season as the Illini had to juggle its roster significantly early in the season. Trent Frazier missed two early season games while Andre Curbelo missed about half the season. Recently Illinois has dealt with the absence of Jacob Grandison with a shoulder injury and his status is unclear for the NCAA Tournament at this point. 

Illinois finished 11-14 ATS as a favorite this season but did go 11-10 ATS vs. winning teams. Illinois was 7-9 ATS at home and 1-3 ATS in neutral site games this season. Nine ATS losses for Illinois came as a favorite of eight or more points however and this line is in the same range as Illinois Big Ten home games vs. Wisconsin and Ohio State, company Chattanooga can not quite claim to be in. Illinois takes a 4-11 ATS record over the past 15 games into the NCAA Tournament as this will be a team many are looking to play against. 

Illinois has lesser numbers than last season’s team but this is still a top 30 offense and defense in the efficiency rankings as one of the more balanced teams in the field. Illinois shot nearly 37 percent from 3-point range overall this season and had the Big Ten’s third best 3-point defense as well. Illinois led the Big Ten in effective field goal rate on defense at just over 47 percent. The overall record included five losses by four or fewer points or in overtime as the Illini weren’t far from producing a similar record to last season. Illinois went 3-0 vs. Iowa and Wisconsin but lost both meetings with Purdue for mixed results vs. the other top teams in the conference. Chattanooga carries a national ranking most similar to Rutgers among Big Ten teams with Illinois splitting against the Scarlet Knights in very different outcomes. Illinois won an early December home meeting with Rutgers 86-51 as a 9.5-point favorite but lost the road meeting 70-59 as a 4-point favorite.

Illinois has seen 136 or more total points in 10 of its last 11 games when playing on a neutral court at night. (AP)


  • Record: 27-7
  • PS/G: 74.8 (80th)
  • PA/G: 64.7 (42nd)


  • Record: 22-9
  • PS/G: 75.8 (55th)
  • PA/G: 67.6 (136th)


  • UTC: Malachi Smith - G (20.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg)
  • UTC: David Jean-Baptiste - G (14.7 ppg)
  • ILL: Kofi Cockburn - C (21.1 ppg, 10.6 rpg)
  • ILL: Alfonso Plummer - G (14.8 ppg)


The strength of both teams lies on defense as this is likely to be a lower scoring game that could favor the underdog having an opportunity to stay within a possession or two most of the way. With the strength of the Southern Conference, the strength of schedule gap for Illinois is not as severe as one might guess, and these teams have remarkably similar statistical profiles overall with similar strengths. 

Illinois also did not fare well in higher scoring games this season as neither team is likely to push the pace significantly in this contest and this is a much more difficult matchup than Illinois faced last season in the Round of 64, a 78-49 win over Drexel. In a better draw Illinois might be on the list of Final Four sleepers but the bracket ahead looks difficult for Illinois with this opening game no exception facing an experienced Chattanooga team that will make Illinois work for its points. De Sousa is 6’9”, 250, as the Mocs have the size to prevent Cockburn from taking over this game and if Grandison is not able to play, Illinois only has one quality outside shooter in Alfonso Plummer.



  • Illinois has lost six of its last nine NCAA Tournament games.
  • Chattanooga has lost four straight NCAA Tournament games. 
  • Chattanooga has lost nine of its last 11 NCAA Tournament opening round games. 
  • Chattanooga has covered the spread in four of its last six game when playing as the underdog.
  • Chattanooga has gone UNDER the point total in three of its last four games.
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