Last Updated Mar 20, 2022, 12:01 PM

Houston Cougars vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Picks, Predictions, Odds

AAC regular season and tournament champion Houston will face Big Ten co-regular season champion Illinois in the Round of 32 Sunday. This game will be played at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, scheduled to start at 12:10 PM ET. 

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Score Prediction

Houston 65 Illinois 62

Best Bet

Under 133.5 (-110)

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MARCH MADNESS BETTING RESOURCES

HOUSTON COUGARS vs. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI PREDICTIONS

These teams were expected to face off in last season’s NCAA Tournament, as Illinois and Houston were placed as the #1 and #2 seeds respectively in the Midwest region last March. Houston was able to navigate the bracket to the Final Four, while Illinois was upset in the Round of 32. 

Both teams survived dangerous games in the Round of 64 on Friday night as Houston was able to outpace Conference USA champion UAB 82-68 (-8.5) and Illinois survived a potential buzzer beater to hold on 54-53 (-7.5) against Southern Conference champion Chattanooga in a game where the Illini did not take the lead until the final minute of the game.  

Houston’s statistical profile is among the best in the nation this season but high-end wins are hard to find for a Cougars team that has been an incredible story, still having great success despite losing two key players to injury early in the season. It will go down as a Big Ten championship season for Illini but a substantial upset loss by Wisconsin in the season finale gifted the Illini a share of the title and Illinois did not win a game in the Big Ten tournament. Inconsistent play and injuries have plagued Illinois, but the talent is still there for this group to make a deep run to make amends for last season’s disappointment.

HOUSTON COUGARS vs. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI BETTING ODDS

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HOUSTON COUGARS vs. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI BETTING RESOURCES

  • Date: Sunday, March 20, 2022
  • Matchup: No. 5 vs. No. 4
  • Region: South
  • Venue: PPG Paints Arena
  • Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • TV-Time: CBS - 12:10 p.m. ET

HOUSTON COUGARS BETTING ANALYSIS

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

  • SU: 30-5
  • ATS: 22-12
  • O/U: 15-19

Houston has top 15 efficiency rankings on both sides of the ball featuring a profile of a true championship contender. The lack of elite wins is a valid criticism but Houston played a decent non-conference schedule and the American is generally an underrated conference. Wins over Virginia, Butler, and Oklahoma State proved less valuable than in past seasons while the two non-conference losses for Houston to Wisconsin and Alabama came by three points combined as Houston nearly had a higher quality result in the non-conference win column. 

Free throw shooting is the weak spot on offense for the Cougars who had elite 2-point scoring and 2-point defense numbers to lead the AAC with a nearly 13 percent gap in those success rates. Losing Tramon Mark and Marcus Sasser, major contributors on last season’s Final Four team, certainly hurt those numbers with both being solid free throw shooters and Sasser the team’s best 3-point shooter. Connecticut transfer Josh Carlton gives the Cougars the interior presence they lacked last season however while Kyler Edwards and Taze Moore were also successful transfer additions to join the returnees led by Fabian White and Jamal Shead. 

Even coming off a great season last year, Houston maintained a great ATS clip at 23-12 ATS on the season including a 7-1 ATS mark in neutral site games after covering on Friday night. Houston hit only 53 percent on free throws in that game but produced edges in 3-point shooting and turnovers in a wire-to-wire result. Houston has been known to produce lopsided wins and 14 of the past 15 Houston wins have come by double-digits. The Cougars are also 10-3 ATS when favored by 12.5 or more points this season. Based on most power ratings this will easily be the most difficult game so far for Houston compared to the previous 35 games on the schedule however.

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI BETTING ANALYSIS

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

  • SU: 23-9
  • ATS: 13-19
  • O/U: 17-15

Illinois is now 13-19 ATS on the season, getting off to a slow start with some early season roster issues due to suspensions and injuries, and having an inconsistent Big Ten season despite still winding up as the #1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. The injury bug has not been resolved completely for Illinois as while Jacob Grandison did play nine minutes against Chattanooga, he did not attempt a shot and clearly must not be at 100 percent, leaving Illinois with only Alfonso Plummer as a successful 3-point shooting option. Trent Frazier will take plenty of outside shots but is hitting just 33 percent this season and Frazier did not make a field goal in a poor performance against Chattanooga on Friday. 

Kofi Cockburn had 17 points including a huge shot in the final minute off a missed free throw that gave Illinois its first lead on Friday night and at 7’0”, 285 he is an impossible player to guard, converting nearly 60 percent of his shot attempts this season. The numbers where Cockburn’s presence has had the biggest impact may be on defense where Illinois is a top 20 team nationally allowing just 45 percent shooting on 2-point attempts. Freshman Coleman Hawkins adds to the size for Illinois in the paint and he made several big plays in Friday’s win and has seen his minutes go up substantially in recent games. 

Illinois finished 11-15 ATS as a favorite this season but did go 11-11 ATS vs. winning teams. Illinois is now just 1-4 ATS in neutral site games this season. The contrasting performances Friday has left Illinois as an underdog for just the fourth time this season. Illinois won S/U as a +3.5 underdog at Iowa and lost at +2.5 hosting Arizona in December. The only other instance of getting points this season was an 84-68 loss at Purdue in February at +5.5 as this is a rare price for this team. 

Houston has won 1H in 23 of its last 25 games. (AP)

INSIDE THE STATS - HOUSTON COUGARS

  • Record: 30-5
  • PS/G: 76 (51st)
  • PA/G: 59.1 (4th)

INSIDE THE STATS - ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

  • Record: 23-9
  • PS/G: 75.1 (68th)
  • PA/G: 67.2 (119th)

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

  • UH: Kyler Edwards - G (13.9 ppg, 6 rpg)
  • UH: Fabian White - F (13.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg)
  • ILL: Kofi Cockburn - C (21 ppg, 10.7 rpg)
  • ILL: Alfonso Plummer - G (14.8 ppg)

HOUSTON COUGARS vs. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI BETTING CONCLUSION

Illinois did not get past this round of the tournament last season as this is a huge game in defining the program under Brad Underwood, who has turned in three straight 20-win seasons for Illinois with excellent Big Ten results but has not had March success yet, currently with as many NCAA Tournament wins at Illinois as he had in three years at Stephen F. Austin (though one of those wins has been vacated). In a year where Coach K is being celebrated, Kelvin Sampson remains an underrated college coach with strong performances at now five different schools, even if a trail of NCAA violations will always linger behind his resume. Given the loss of two starters, this may be one of his finest coaching seasons if he can again lead Houston further than Illinois in their shared tournament region again. 

This is a great matchup, worthy of a much later round in this tournament and it seems likely to be a second straight low-scoring grind for the Illini. The favorite spread for Houston is no surprise even as the lesser seed in this matchup but the narrow escape for Illinois has pushed this number even a bit higher than expected. Houston’s defense has allowed 68 or fewer points in eight of the past nine games as a strong defensive performance is likely from the Cougars. Illinois has been less consistent on defense but that is the side of the ball the Illini will need to lean on to advance in this pairing as the offense has been less reliable of late, particularly if Grandison’s 41 percent 3-point shooting is not part of the equation again. 

MARCH MADNESS PICK RESOURCES

HOUSTON COUGARS vs. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI BETTING TRENDS

  • Houston has won 1H in 23 of its last 25 games.
  • Illinois has scored 66 points or more in 22 of its last 25 games when playing during the daytime.
  • Houston has won 20 of its last 21 games when playing on a Sunday.
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