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Houston vs Illinois South Region Picks: Cockburn's the X-Factor

Illinois was nearly upset in Round 1, but we like them to play a better brand of ball against Houston. Look for the Fighting Illini's big man to play a big factor and for the game to be low-scoring. Read more in our Houston vs. Illinois betting picks.

Last Updated: Mar 20, 2022 9:04 AM ET Read Time: 4 min

The Illinois Fighting Illini were fortunate to escape their first NCAA Tournament game, as they were barely able to beat the Chattanooga Mocs.

Now, Brad Underwood’s squad takes on the Houston Cougars for a spot in the Sweet 16. After blowing out the UAB Blazers, will the Cougars similarly take care of business against the Illini?

Here are our free March Madness picks and predictions for Houston vs. Illinois on March 20. 

Houston vs Illinois odds

This odds widget represents the best odds available for each betting market from regulated sportsbooks.

The Cougars were laying 4 when this line first became available, and they’re now 4.5-point favorites across all sportsbooks. As for the total, the number is up from 133 to 133.5 nearly everywhere.

Use the live odds widget above to track any future line movements right up until tip-off and be sure to check out the full college basketball odds before placing your bets.

Houston vs Illinois predictions

Predictions made on 3/19/2022 at 7:00 p.m. ET.
Click on each prediction to jump to the full analysis.

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Houston vs Illinois game info

Location: PPG Paints Arena, Pittsburgh, PA
Date: Sunday, March 20, 2022
Tip-off: 12:10 p.m. ET

Houston vs Illinois betting preview


Houston: Ramon Walker Jr. G (Questionable), Marcus Sasser G (Out), Tramon Mark G (Out). 
Illinois: Austin Hutcherson G (Out). 
Find our latest NCAA basketball injury reports.

Betting trend to know

Illinois is 5-2 against the spread in its last seven games as an underdog. Find more NCAA betting trends for Houston vs. Illinois.

Houston vs Illinois picks and predictions

Our side and total predictions are based upon our analysis of the line and total in this game. Our best bet is our favorite pick across all markets.

Spread analysis

The statistical profiles of these teams aren’t all that different, as both programs have a nice blend of offense and defense. Houston is definitely a notch above Illinois in terms of metrics, as the Cougars are 10th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency (all efficiency stats from KenPom) and 11th in defensive efficiency.

Meanwhile, the Fighting Illini are 28th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 25th in defensive efficiency. That might make you more inclined to back Houston, but it wouldn’t be too surprising if this is where the Cougars really start to miss some of their injured players.

Sasser was one of the better two-way guards in college basketball before going down for the season, and his services would have been of the utmost importance against an Illinois team that is deep at the guard position.

Not having Mark only means that the Cougars have players playing heavy rotation minutes that probably wouldn’t be under normal circumstances. Of course, that hasn’t exactly mattered to this point, with Houston being one of the best teams in basketball all year. 

However, the NCAA Tournament is where talent mismatches come back to haunt you, and it’s hard to envision Kyler Edwards, Taze Moore, Jamal Shead, and Walker Jr. outplaying guys like Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier, Jacob Grandison, and Andre Curbelo.

Illinois also should be able to hold its own against forward Fabian White Jr. in this game, as Coleman Hawkins has taken his game to new heights in recent weeks.

Hawkins had 10 points and eight boards against Chattanooga last game, and he was averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his previous two contests. The sophomore has great size at 6-foot-10, but he’s also very skilled for somebody that big.

Hawkins could end up being the star of this Illinois team next year, but he’s ready to contribute right now. Don’t be shocked if he’s the X-factor in this one. It’s also only a matter of time before Curbelo comes up big for the Illini.

After being of their best players a year ago, Curbelo has been disappointing this season. But he still has the ability to change a game, and he should have at least one big performance in this tournament.

Prediction: Ilinois +4.5 (-110)

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Over/Under analysis

Only 25 teams in all of college basketball have a slower adjusted tempo than Houston, which means that the Cougars really take their time on offense.

Illinois is only 178th in the nation in adjusted tempo, so the Illini like to play a little faster but still nothing that blows you away. With that in mind, you should expect this game to be played at a snail’s pace, with both teams working hard to find good shots. These defenses aren’t going to give up much in a big game like this one.

The Under is actually 8-3 in the last 11 neutral-court games in which Houston has played as a favorite. It’s also 30-12-1 in the last 43 games that Houston has played against teams with winning percentages of 60.0% or higher.

When the Cougars play great competition, the games tend to turn into defensive battles. It should also be noted that the Under is 6-0-1 in the last seven NCAA Tournament games that Illinois has played as an underdog.

Prediction: Under 133.5 (-110)

Best bet

As previously mentioned, Illinois is 5-2 against the spread in its last seven games as an underdog. It’s not often that a team this talented will be getting points, and you should expect the Illini to take that rather personally coming into this one. Illinois might be disappointing at times, but the team still has the most dominant big man in the game in Kofi Cockburn.

That means the Illini are always going to have a chance to win games, and it also has a number of guards that are capable of rising to the occasion in a game like this.

Over the last three seasons, Illinois also happens to be 18-8 ATS when facing teams that average 12.0 or fewer turnovers per game. With that in mind, Houston’s pace and methodical style of play isn’t going to bother this Illini team.

On top of that, while the Chattanooga performance was obviously disappointing for Illinois, it did give the team a taste of tense March Madness basketball. Houston hasn’t experienced anything like that this season.

Pick: Illinois +4.5 (-110)

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