A trip to the regional semifinal in the South region will be on the line this afternoon as the No. 4 Illinois Fighting Illini will battle the No. 5 Houston Cougars at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
The game will tip off at 12:10 p.m. ET on CBS. Houston enters as an 4.5-point favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook.
No. 4 Illinois: 23-9 (15-5 Big Ten):
First round result: Defeated No. 13 Chattanooga 54-53
KenPom rating: 17 Overall, 28 Offense, 25 Defense
NET ranking: 15, (6-6 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Kofi Cockburn (21.0 ppg)
Key stat: Illinois’ last three victories have come within two scores.
Illinois had its hands full on Friday and narrowly avoided a major upset in its win over Chattanooga. The Illini went down by 14 early in the contest and had to play from behind for most of the game. They literally didn’t gain their first lead until the final minute of the game when a Kofi Cockburn jumper put them on top with 46 second left. He led with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Illinois held the Mocs to just 32.3% shooting on Friday and will hope to produce a similar defensive effort to contain Houston’s offense.
No. 5 Houston: 30-5 (15-3 AAC):
First round result: Defeated No. 12 UAB 82-68
KenPom rating: 3 Overall, 10 Offense, 11 Defense
NET ranking: 3, (1-4 VS Quad 1)
Leading scorer: Kyler Edwards (13.9 ppg)
Key stat: Houston has put up 70+ points in 11 of its last 12 victories.
Houston hit the ground running in Friday’s first round victory over the Blazers, putting up 29 points in the first 10 minutes of action. The Cougars never trailed in the contest and continued to pour it on for the win. Team leading scorer Kyler Edwards led with 25 points and seven rebounds on Friday.
Houston is ranked fourth in the country in offensive rebounding but will have to figure out a way to crash the boards with Cockburn filling up the paint.
Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook
Point spread: Houston -4.5
Point total: 133.5
Moneyline: Houston -200, Illinois +170
Against The Spread Pick: Illinois +4.5
Point total pick: Over 133.5
Pick to Win: Houston
This should be one of the better matchups of the weekend as both teams possess Top 30 units on both the offensive and defensive ends. The Illini will try to serve as a proverbial sand trap to the Cougar offense and while both teams will be challenged offensively, they should combine for enough points to trigger the over.
Ultimately, Houston has both the talent and experience to withstand whatever Illinois throws at them, so expect the Coogs to survive a close contest.
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