NCAA Tournament Picks-- It's strength vs. strength as Iowa State meets Illinois

  • In Charles Jay
  • Thu, Mar 28th, 2024 8:41:55 am
  • By Charles Jay - Exclusive to OSGA

The Iowa State Cyclones will meet up with the Fighting Illini of Illinois in Sweet Sixteen NCAA Tournament action at the TD Garden in Boston.

If it's true that defense wins championships, then you'd have to give a heck of a chance to the Iowa State Cyclones to go far in the NCAA Tournament. If you believe that explosive offense can overcome everything else, then you would have to put a lot of stock in the Illinois Fighting Illini.

This one should be very intriguing for BetOnline customers. We say that because it is a matchup between the #1 rated offense of Illinois against the #1 rated defense of Iowa State. It takes place at the TD Garden in Boston at 10:09 PM ET on TBS.

So who would win a matchup like that?

We can't say that Illinois is an underachiever, because they have gotten this far. And they won the Big ten's postseason tournament. But they have failed when encountered with the very best teams in the nation - losing to Purdue twice, losing to Tennessee, losing to Marquette. That's the kind of thing that has to come into consideration.

But they have the best player on the floor in this particular game. His name, if you are not familiar, is Terrence Shannon, a Chicago native who played three years at Texas Tech before coming to Champaign. Shannon can score in a number of different ways, and he has been on a tear of late, averaging 28.8 points over his last six games. That included 40 against Nebraska and 34 against Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, and 30 in an 89-63 win over Duqesne in the previous round of the NCAA's.

Slowing him down is going to be serious business. Are the Cyclones up to the task?

In the odds at BetOnline from which we will make our NCAA Tournament picks, the Cyclones are slightly favored:

Iowa State Cyclones -1.5
Illinois Fighting Illini +1.5

Over 148 points -110
Under 148 points -110

Illinois is not error-prone by any stretch, but what we'd be looking for is how they can deal with the pressure they're going to encounter from ISU, which is second best in the country in creating extra possessions through turnovers. they allow 47.2% inside of the arc and 31.5% outside it, so no one is going to feast against them by shooting the ball.

Iowa State does not have to have a feast against Illinois to give themselves a chance in this game. But they have to put together some kind of offense. And this is the kind of thing head coach TJ Otzelberger has been thinking about the last couple of seasons. Efficiency, rather than explosiveness, is what he's been looking for, and he went into the transfer portal and got a little help.

One of his transfers has been with him before. Keshon Gilbert played under Otzelberger at UNLV, and came over just this year. Curtis Jones had 14 points in a 67-56 win over Washington State; he's a transfer from Buffalo. Tre King, who is more than serviceable as a rebounder; he's from Eastern Kentucky.

Another incoming player of impact has been Milan Momcilovic. The outside-shooting 6-8 forward was a coveted recruit, and he can score in big spurts as well, showing out with 18 points in the Big 12 title game against Houston and 19 against South Dakota State in the opening round of the NCAA's.

There's a case to be made for Illinois. It will be difficult for ISU's pressure to rattle Illinois' Marcus Domask, who's had 17assists with only three turnovers in the last two games. And Iowa State bricked two-pointers against Washington State last time out (16 tor 43).

But Otzelberger's team is a disciplined, intense group, and they have consistently done better than expected, as their 25-10-1 pointspread record suggests. So we'll side with the Cyclones.

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