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NCAAB Tournament (3) Illinois vs UConn (1) Betting Preview

Huskies Have Dominated All Tournament

A repeat looks like a foregone conclusion heading into the Illinois vs UConn matchup on Saturday night in the Elite 8. The Huskies (34-3) look poised to add to their trophy case from last season’s championship with all three wins this tournament coming by at least 17 points.

Illinois (29-8) eyes the upset and a ticket to their first Final Four since their 2005 runner-up. The Fighting Illini have won seven straight and 10 of their last 11, but beating UConn is a whole different animal. Oddsmakers have the Huskies as -8.5 point favorites for this meeting – the first time they’ve had to cover less than a double digit spread this tournament.

Why Illinois Has Value at +8.5

The Fighting Illini, NC State, and UConn might be the three hottest teams left in the tournament. Each won their conference tournaments and have big winning streaks going into the Elite 8. Obviously for Illinois the fact that they have to play another hot team in Connecticut isn’t great, but two #1 seeds (North Carolina, Houston) have already fallen this weekend so just because you’re #1 doesn’t guarantee an advance.

UConn is the #1 team in the country in the KenPom rankings, but believe it or not Saturday’s matchup is a bit of a breather – at least one end of the court – for Illinois. The Fighting Illini beat Iowa State 72-69 and the Cyclones have the #1 defensive efficiency in the country and ranked 5th nationally allowing just 62.1 ppg.

What can lead Illinois to at least a cover of the +8.5 on Saturday night is the fact that they have one of the nation’s best scorers in Terrence Shannon, Jr. His 23.5 ppg rank 3rd in the country and he’s been even better in the postseason (31.2) including a Big Ten Tournament record 40 against Nebraska. Marcus Domask also had just the 10th triple double in NCAA tournament history in round one.

Why UConn Has Value at -8.5

Connecticut isn’t just beating teams lately, they are humiliating them. So far this NCAA tournament the Huskies have topped Stetson 91-52, beaten Northwestern (who has a win over Illinois this season) 75-58, and eliminated San Diego State 82-52 in a rematch of last year’s National Championship game.

The Huskies have one loss since December 20th, so they are on a roll which includes a 73-57 victory over eventual #2 seed Marquette in the Big East Championship Game. UConn may be “only” #6 in KenPom defensive efficiency compared to Illinois’ last opponent Iowa State, but the Huskies are also #1 in offensive efficiency. The Fighting Illini are currently #2 in offensive efficiency – but the big gap is rating 69th on the defensive end.

UConn was 30th this season in points per game (81.1) but that combined with the #13 scoring defense (64.0) in the nation is what makes the Huskies so dangerous.  Maybe the biggest advantage the Huskies have is that they’ve been here before en route to last year’s National Championship win, while Illinois may be fighting some nerves on Saturday night.

Free Illinois vs UConn Betting Pick

Shannon can keep Illinois in this one, and the Fighting Illini have some nice role players like Coleman Hawkins, Dain Dainja, and Luke Goode. UConn is a different type of team, but it might be them that’s feeling the pressure on Saturday as this is all bonus bucks for the Illini.

Free Pick: Illinois +8.5

Carl Taylor

Every loss is a chance to learn a lesson. That being said, wins are so much more enjoyable. Follow along to tap into the wisdom I've learned from 20 years as a sports bettor. Follow along on Twitter for more picks and DFS news @dailydogsports.

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