NCAA Tournament Picks: Illinois vs. UNLV Odds and Predictions
by Darin Zank - 3/17/2011
The No. 8 vs. No. 9 game in the Southwest Region of this NCAA Tournament gives us one of those matchups involving a mediocre team from a big conference vs. one of the better teams from a (supposedly) weaker conference. Throw in the fact that one team is going against one of its former coaches and you've got my interest. That's the scene as the Fighting Illini of Illinois get ready to take on Lon Kruger and his UNLV Rebels in Tulsa Friday night (9:20 p.m. EST, TBS).
UNLV returned four starters this season from a team that won 25 games before losing in the first round of the Big Dance last year. The Rebels were picked by most “experts” to finish third in the MWC this season, and that's just where they ended up. UNLV started 9-0, with wins over Wisconsin and Virginia Tech. The Rebs then lost a couple of games, one at Louisville by eight points, beat Kansas State just before Christmas, but then started 2-3 in the MWC. Las Vegas then won nine of its last 11 in the regular season to finish 11-5 in the conference. They then lost by a bucket to San Diego State in the semifinals of the conference tournament to end up at 24-8 overall, 13-18 vs. the pointspread.
On the season the Rebels shot 46 percent from the field, which ranks in the top sixth among all D-1 teams. But they also shot just 33 percent from the three-point line, which ranks in the bottom third. And UNLV shot 69 percent from the FT line, which ranks just below average.
The Rebs also held opponents to just 40 percent shooting, which ranks in the top 10th in D-1, and they outrebounded foes by 4.2 per game.
Illinois returned all five starters this season from a team that won 21 games last year but missed the NCAA Tournament. Most experts had the Illini finishing right around fourth in the Big Ten this season, and they finished in a tie for fourth by virtue of a 9-9 result in conference play. Illinois started 10-1 this season, with a loss to Texas and four consecutive wins over eventual tournament qualifiers North Carolina, Gonzaga, Oakland and Northern Colorado. The Illini then lost consecutive games to Illinois-Chicago and Missouri, but then they won their first three Big Ten games. However, Illinois has lost 10 of its last 16 games since then, including a first-rounder in the conference tournament to Michigan (after leading by a dozen points) to end up at 19-13 straight-up, 16-15 vs. the numbers.
On the season the Illini shot 47 percent from the floor and 39 percent from long range, both numbers ranking in the top 10th in the nation. They also shot 73 percent from the line. At the other end of the court Illinois also held opponents to just 40 percent FG shooting, and they outrebounded foes by 4.7 per game.
These two teams played one common opponent this season. As mentioned above, UNLV beat Wisconsin in Vegas back in November, 68-65. The Illini, meanwhile, split their two games with their border rivals, beating the Badgers at home, 69-61, and then losing in Madison, 76-66.
The Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at USAToday.com rates Illinois at 87.1, UNLV at 86.4. So the Illini are very slight favorites over the Rebs on Sagarin's PREDICTOR line.
In the nostalgia department Coach Kruger guided Illinois to three NCAA Tournament appearances in four years back a decade ago, before spending some time in the pros. He then came back to the college ranks when he took over at Las Vegas seven years ago.
Illinois vs. UNLV Betting Odds and Trends
Most online sportsbooks, including Sports Interaction, the Rebels are favored by 2.5 points, with the ‘over/under’ at either 132 or 133. UNLV is also listed at -145 on most moneylines, with the Illini getting +125 to win the game outright, although BetUS is offering the Rebs at -140. On the futures boards UNLV is getting +4,000 at Sportsbook.com to win the Southwest Regional, while Illinois can be gotten at +3,000 at Sports Interaction.
Illinois is 16-15 on the totals this season, as Illini games have averaged 136 total points.
UNLV is 13-17 on the O/Us this season, as Rebel games have averaged 134 points.
Illinois is 1-7 SU, 3-4-1 ATS as an underdog this season.
Illinois is 8-10 SU, 6-11-1 ATS vs. NCAA tournament qualifiers this season.
UNLV is 2-7 SU, 1-8 ATS vs. NCAA tournament qualifiers this season.
NCAA Tournament Picks: UNLV vs. Illinois Predictions
This is a pretty even matchup both on the stats sheets and on the betting line, but the oddsmakers look to have it about right. Both teams have had their moments this season, and both have struggled at times. But we like the way the Rebs finished the regular season better than the way Illinois finished up. And the mid-major schools seem to play with a bit more fire in these kind of tournament matchups than the teams from the big bad majors. So we'll go with UNLV here and lay the points.
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