Houston vs. Illinois Odds, Picks: Betting Value Lies With Fighting Illini (March 20)

Houston vs. Illinois Odds, Picks: Betting Value Lies With Fighting Illini (March 20) article feature image

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images. Pictured: Kyler Edwards (Houston)

Houston vs. Illinois Odds

Sunday, March 20
12:10 p.m. ET
Houston Odds
-110o / -110u
Illinois Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute college basketball odds here.

For the second straight year, Houston and Illinois are in the same region of the NCAA Tournament bracket.

But unlike last season (when the Elite Eight collision course was avoided due to the Illini losing early), Illinois survived a last-second contest with Chattanooga and will face Houston in Pittsburgh to begin the eight-game Sunday slate.

Illinois and Chattanooga may not have played the most high-quality game of the first round, but the Fighting Illini battled from down double digits in the second half to avoid defeat. Chattanooga had two looks to win the game in the final seconds and led for 38 minutes, but the Illini survived, 54-53.

Houston used its red-hot shooting at the beginning of its first-round game against UAB, and held off multiple comeback attempts from the Blazers.

The plurality of brackets had Illinois making the Sweet 16, and the Illini are the higher seed, but the market sees the Cougars as a considerably better team. The Cougars won 82-68 vs. UAB and led by at least eight the entire second half.

Despite the majority of brackets picking Illinois to beat Houston in this round, it's the Cougars favored to win this game by multiple possessions.

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Houston Cougars

From a national media perspective, there's no more underrated team in the entire country than Kelvin Sampson's Cougars.

Houston flew under the radar in the American because the league was down this year, the Cougars failed to pick up any quality wins and  injuries set the team back considerably.

But they're now third in KenPom after Kentucky's loss and second in the BartTorvik rankings. ShotQuality ranks the Cougars as the seventh best team. They're not deserving of a top-two seed because their resume was pretty weak, but they are of that quality.

Houston has the guard play that's willing to apply a ton of ball pressure and turn over the Illinois guards. The Cougars are top-30 in the country in defensive turnover rate and play an aggressive style that takes away open jumpers and can force opponents out of their rhythm.

The Cougars don't have Tramon Mark or Marcus Sasser anymore, but the defense is the calling card of Sampson's squad, and they're more than capable of locking down on that end of the court.

The Cougars have one of the best perimeter defenses in the entire country, and that's been the case in each of the last few seasons under Sampson.

Teams have to fight to get open looks against them, and that's a major key in matching up with Illinois, which has multiple sharpshooters on the floor at all times.

ShotQuality rates Houston as the best defense in the entire country against post-ups — also a strong way to shut down this Illinois offense. The Illini will play through Kofi Cockburn, but the Cougars don't need to double him and leave shooters to be successful.

Because of their aggression, one area that this defense could struggle is with defensive rebounding, and Illinois should be able to get some second-chance looks off of its misses.

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Illinois Fighting Illini

Illinois has been incredibly inconsistent down the stretch run of the regular season and was very fortunate to survive in Round 1 against the Mocs. The Illini were flat, lacked energy and were out-hustled to loose balls for the majority of the game.

It wasn't until Alfonso Plummer hit consecutive 3s to spark the comeback in the second half that Illinois finally found offense consistently.

Even then, Illinois only managed 54 points, and that's mostly because of the guard play of Andre Curbelo and Trent Frazier. The two of them are going to be under a lot of pressure on Sunday to not turn the ball over.

The Illini go as those two guards go, but both haven't had their best games lately. Also, Houston has a way of forcing teams into mistakes.

Illinois' defense really struggles when Cockburn is pulled out from the paint and is forced to guard the perimeter — like Chattanooga did for large stretches of that game. Josh Carlton is a lot more mobile and able to run the pick-and-roll  effectively to take advantage of Cockburn's lack of foot speed.

You really never know what you're going to get from Illinois on a game-to-game basis, but if Curbelo and Frazier don't have great outings, it will doom the Illini in this matchup.

Houston vs. Illinois Betting Pick

I circled this as a potential Houston spot when the bracket came out and while we're not getting the best number with Houston laying multiple possessions, the Cougars are clearly the better team.

More importantly, the Cougars are the more consistent team. Curbelo and Frazier are apt to crumble at any point, and the defense of the Cougars always travels, even if this game is ugly.

When teams neutralize Cockburn and prevent easy open looks for the Illinois shooters, it's not hard to shut down the Illini's offense.

Houston takes away post-ups and 3-pointers better than any defense in the entire country. For that reason, I'm expecting Houston to have no issues dispatching Illinois.

Only a great games from Curbelo and Frazier will make this close.

Because we're not getting the best number, I wouldn't lay more than four points, though.

Pick: Houston -4 or better

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