Chattanooga vs. Illinois Odds, Picks, Predictions: Can Mocs Keep Up In NCAA Tournament First Round?
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images
- Can Chattanooga keep up with Illinois and Kofi Cockburn in the first round of the NCAA Tournament?
- Our college basketball analysts preview Friday's matchup between the 13-seeded Chattanooga and 4-seeded Illinois.
- Find out why they're betting on the Mocs to at least keep it close enough to cover the spread below.
Chattanooga vs. Illinois Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
Illinois is looking to rebound from losing as the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament when it takes on the SoCon champions Chattanooga.
The Fighting Illini are also trying to erase the disappointment of getting bounced in the second round last year by Loyola Chicago. So, they will be very wary of a really good and athletic Chattanooga squad.
Chattanooga won the SoCon Tournament in the most dramatic of fashions.
THIS IS MARCH!!!!
🚨 CHATTANOOGA IS GOING DANCING AND WINS IT AT THE BUZZERpic.twitter.com/Zf1KXnGO76
— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) March 8, 2022
The Mocs haven’t faced a Power 6 conference team yet this season and defending Kofi Cockburn is its own challenge. So, we’ll see if the Mocs can hang with the Illini.
It’s rare to find a mid-major with three high-end starters, but the Mocs have exactly that. Malachi Smith is a pro future. The star wing can kill you from the outside (41.5% 3PT), take opponents off the dribble and is active on the offensive glass.
Silvio De Sousa, the Kansas transfer, is the second puzzle piece for UTC. He gives the Mocs a significant edge on the low block, at least against other mid-majors.
De Sousa will be the Mocs’ only true line of defense against Kofi Cockburn. Without him defending the post, Cockburn would be a shoo-in for a 20-10 performance, at least.
The final element of UTC’s trio is David Jean-Baptiste. The senior point is the kind of veteran presence every team needs in March Madness. He rarely turns the ball over (1.5 giveaways per game), can knock down open looks from 3 (37.4%) and is nails from the line (86.2%).
When you put these three together, it’s easy to see why the Mocs are a trendy Cinderella pick. The Mocs are top-100 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and have a potential superstar to hitch their wagon to this weekend.
Smith has popped off for 25+ 10 times this season, and according to ShotQuality, UTC is 24th in transition points per possession, while Illinois checks in at 308th defending those fast-break opportunities.
If the Mocs can speed things up, an upset may materialize.
By D.J. James
Illinois is an interesting case coming into the tournament. The Illini have a brutal draw without any cake walks to even get to the Sweet 16. They will have to overcome the demons from last year’s Round of 32 loss to Loyola Chicago.
This offense flows through Cockburn, who is possibly the most dominant offensive big in the nation. He averages 21.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. They will need a solid game out of him to get to the next round.
Although I think the Illini will win, they may struggle to cover a relatively wide number.
De Sousa is a major reason why. He will be able to at least match Cockburn on the glass. Essentially every time Cockburn played a big who might be able to match him, Illinois has had some trouble (Purdue twice, Ohio State and Arizona). This could be the case with De Sousa.
However, Illinois is one of the teams in the bracket who can hit 3s from multiple spots. Alfonso Plummer had a weak showing against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, but he is a sharp-shooter. Trent Frazier is, too. Jacob Grandison, who is hopefully healthy for the Illini, can hit 3s when needed.
They have the artillery from deep, and since Chattanooga struggles to defend the arc, Illinois could exploit this issue, providing the chance of an Illini cover.
In fact, the Mocs rank 308th in Open 3 Rate and 340th in Rim & 3 Rate, per ShotQuality. This says that they will allow the Illini to have some efficient shots.
Cockburn might struggle getting adapted to a new big in the post, and if his impact is negated, at least partially, the Mocs could cover. Otherwise, Illinois will pile up the 3s from outside.
Chattanooga vs. Illinois Betting Pick
The Mocs have two bonafide studs in Smith and De Sousa who can match up with Cockburn down low. The Mocs won the SoCon on a desperation 3-pointer and, really, that has been the story of their season. They’ve been a bit lucky, but the talent is definitely there to compete with Illinois.
From a matchup perspective, to beat Illinois, you have to defend in the post well, you have to defend the pick-and-roll well and you have to defend the 3-point line well — all at the same time.
The Illini have a number of fantastic 3-point shooters and guys who run the P&R with Cockburn very efficiently. Well, the Mocs are pretty bad defensively in all of those categories, but definitely have the size and athleticism to match up to Illinois.
On the flip side, Chattanooga is going to have to push the pace to compete in this game. The Mocs don’t spend a ton of time in transition, but they are efficient, ranking 24th in the nation in PPP. Defensively, Illinois is 307th in defending in transition, per ShotQuality.
Chattanooga is also a very good offensive rebounding team and hardly ever turns the ball over.
I think the Mocs definitely have a shot here and Illinois is a tad overvalued, so I like Chattanooga at +7.5.