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Arkansas vs Illinois Prediction, Picks & Odds | NCAA Tournament

Written by: Michael Savio
Published March 13, 2023
12 min read

March Madness is here as 68 teams compete for the final tournament to potentially raise the trophy at the end of a chaotic 2023 NCAA Tournament. Among the teams are the #8 Arkansas Razorbacks, and the #9 Illinois Fighting Illini are set to face each other in the West Bracket of the tournament. Both teams came into the season and ranked in the top 25.

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Arkansas vs Illinois Prediction for the 2023 NCAA Tournament

#8 Arkansas Preview

The Arkansas Razorbacks (20-13; 8-10 in SEC play) came into the preseason as the #10 team in the nation due to a combination of an experienced roster and a stellar freshman class ranked #1 in the recruiting rankings all led by head coach Eric Musselman. Arkansas started the season 11-1 but started to lose due to injuries. The loss of freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. to a minor knee injury was significant.

The Razorbacks would only win 3-of-9 of their games as a result of losing one of their best players. Near the end of the regular season, the Razorbacks had good but not great moments against fellow SEC teams. They also did not fare well when playing against teams of equal talent, as Arkansas was 2-7 versus top 25 teams this season.

Arkansas entered the 2023 SEC Tournament as the #10 seed as they took down #7 Auburn in the second round 76-73, thanks to a great performance from Smith and fellow freshman guard Anthony Black. They lost to #2 Texas A&M in the quarterfinal 67-61 despite having a 38-25 lead at halftime.

 Key Players & Stats

With Smith out for half of the season, the Razorbacks have relied on junior guard Ricky Council IV to help carry the team. Council leads the Razorbacks in points this season by averaging 15.9 points per game, shooting an efficient 44.5% field-goal percentage.

When Smith played, he played a high level of basketball as he averaged 14 points per game. Arguably, the saving grace for the Razorbacks has been the all-around stellar play of Anthony Black. In 33 games, Black has averaged 12.8 points per game, shooting a field-goal percentage of 46.5%. He also averaged 5.1 rebounds, a team-high 4.2 assists, and a team-high two steals per game.

As a team, Arkansas averages 74.4 points per game, which is 127th in the nation and allows an average of only 67.4 points per game, which is 100th in the nation.

 #9 Illinois Preview

The Illinois Fighting Illini (20-12; 11-9 in Big Ten play) are another team coming into the season with high expectations, as they were ranked #23 during the preseason. Illinois had high expectations in the Big Ten despite losing seven of its top 10 scorers from last season, including its top five scorers.

The Fighting Illini showed their title potential by taking down #8 UCLA 79-70 in game four of the season. They followed that win with a tough 70-61 loss to #16 Virginia. Illinois has played up and down against ranked opponents. In game eight of the season, the Fighting Illini lost at #22 Maryland 71-66 but followed that up four days later by defeating #2 Texas 85-78 in overtime.

Illinois was 5-3 against teams ranked in the top 25, with a 3-1 record against conference teams ranked in the top 25. The Fighting Illini fell victim to an inconsistent Big Ten conference as they were among the teams that couldn’t stand out with Purdue.

Illinois looked to win its first Big Ten Conference Championship Tournament for the second time in three years as they entered the tournament as the #7 seed. Despite being the favorites, Illinois fell to #10 Penn State 79-76 in the tournament's second round.

 Key Players & Stats

The Fighting Illini had a relief when they acquired former Texas Tech Red Raider and senior guard Terrance Shannon Jr. from the NCAA Transfer Portal. The first-team All-Big Ten averaged 17.1 points per game, shooting a field-goal percentage of 44%. Shannon also averaged 4.7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and a team-high 1.3 steals per game.

Other key players the Fighting Illini will rely on going into the NCAA Tournament are junior forward Coleman Hawkins and former Baylor Bear transfer junior forward Matthew Mayer. Hawkins leads the team in total rebounds per game with 6.3. Mayer has averaged 5.5 total rebounds and a team-high 1.3 blocks per game.

As a big-man favorite team, Illinois averaged 74.7 points per game and 37.9 rebounds per game, which is 54th in the nation. Defensively, the Fighting Illini allowed an average of 67 points per game and averaged 5.7 blocks per game, the second-most in the nation.

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Odds, Previews, Picks, Best Bets for NCAA Tournament 1st Round #8 Arkansas vs #9 Illinois

Arkansas and Illinois will meet on the court for the sixth time in program history. Illinois has won all five previous matchups versus Arkansas, with the last game going back to Dec. 4, 2004, when #3 Illinois defeated Arkansas 72-60.

The Razorbacks come into this game with a more swift and small-ball attack with stellar guard play. Led by Smith, Council, and Black, the star guards for the Razorbacks possess the ability to attack the basket throughout the court. That can provide trouble for a bigger lineup of the Fighting Illini if the Razorbacks find a rhythm to pass the ball around consistently.

Illinois, on the other hand, can dominate in the paint with their big-man lineup with Mayer, Hawkins, and Dian Dainja. All three players for the Fighting Illini averaged at-least 1.2 blocks per game this season. While the Razorbacks possess some bigger-sized players, they may be able to stop the Fighting Illini from finding ways to get to the rim.

The key to the game will come down to the role players and how often they can be consistent. At 6-10; Razorbacks forward Makhi Mitchell stepped up as the key center after Trevon Brazille’s torn ACL early in the season. Fighting Illini guards Jayden Epps, Skky Clark, and RJ Melendez are three players that still play aggressive defense in man-on-man defenses.

If the Fighting Illini can keep up with the speed of the Razorbacks, they have a great chance of beating Arkansas for the sixth consecutive time.

Arkansas comes into this matchup as a 2.5-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook

#8 Arkansas and #9 Illinois How to Watch

Location: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, IA
Game Time & Date: 4:30 E.T. Mar. 16
TV Network: TBS
Streaming: YouTube TV, Hulu, Sling, etc.

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Users will win the $200 prize regardless of the outcome of the game for a guaranteed win of +1000 odds in states with legal sports betting.

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AUTHOR

Michael Savio

358 Articles

Michael is an avid sports fan and a veteran bettor from Milwaukee. He learned the trade from his grandfather in Las Vegas as a kid and has turned that into a successful career. He cheers for all Wisconsin pro teams along with his Alma Mater Arizona State. He specializes in baseball betting, but has experience in football, basketball, and hockey as well. When he isn’t pouring over stats, he’s spending time with his two young children.

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