March Madness Best Bets: Illinois vs. Iowa State Sweet 16 College Basketball Odds

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Written By Derek Wagner | Last Updated
March Madness best bets

College basketball betting returns with four Sweet 16 games Thursday, and the East Region provides plenty of intrigue. San Diego State vs. UConn is a rematch of last year’s championship game, but Illinois vs. Iowa State is fantastic, too. The third-seeded Illini have returned to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, while the No. 2 seed Cyclones are one win away from their first Elite 8 appearance since 2000. Let’s dissect my March Madness best bets for this Sweet 16 matchup.

Illinois vs. Iowa State odds

Can Iowa State’s Offense Keep Pace?

The Cyclones’ offense ranked 87th in adjusted efficiency in conference play and is a big reason why bettors are skeptical of the team in the tournament. They’re known for long scoring draughts and poor shot selection in the halfcourt, ranking 57th in mid-range frequency (via ShotQuality).

In their last 10 games, a mere 26% of their shots (14th percentile per CBB analytics) have come at the rim. Thus, they don’t fit the mold of an offense that can exploit an Illinois team that is allowing opponents to connect on more than 60% of their shots at the rim.

Neutral Site Favoring Illinois?

Iowa State’s first two tournament games were in Omaha, Nebraska, only a 2.5-hour drive from its campus in Ames. Its fans showed out in the first two games of the tournament, so in a sense, they got the home crowd bump against South Dakota State and Washington State.

They don’t get that edge against Illinois this time around with the game being played in Boston, and Iowa State hasn’t been great on the road this season.

According to Haslametrics, the Cyclones rank No. 336 in the Haslametrics away-from-home metric. This could play a major role against an Illinois team that ranks 23rd in the country in that same metric.

Can Illinois Offense Handle Iowa State Pressure?

The strength of this Iowa State team lies in their ability to force turnovers as they accrue the most points off breakaway steals across D-1 (per Haslametrics). Illinois doesn’t allow those, however, as they rank 65th in potential quick points allowed on breakaway steals.

Brad Underwood met with former Villanova head coach Jay Wright after Illinois’ 86-79 loss to Tennessee on December 9th. Wright encouraged Underwood to make a commitment to the post-up game with Marcus Domask. Wright coached one of the best post-up guards in the country, Jalen Brunson, during his time with the Wildcats. After that meeting, the Illinois coach committed to Domask’s post-up ability.

From the start of the season to the loss to the Volunteers on December 9th, Illinois ranked 167th in the nation in turnover percentage on offense. Since that meeting with Wright, the Illini rank 29th in the country in turnover percentage.

This commitment to what Underwood has coined as “booty ball” is just what Illinois needs to neutralize the on-ball defense of Iowa State point guard Tamin Lipsey. Domask has a size advantage over Lipsey that will force T.J. Otzelberger to bring doubles, which should leave Illinois’ shooters open to burn the Clones from the perimeter.

Limiting opponents from the outside is a struggle for Iowa State, as they allow opponents to collect a top-32 perimeter scoring rate. Thus, Illinois’ five-out offense with Coleman Hawkins is well-positioned to make the Clones pay for their aggressive double teams.

Illinois Has Edge Inside, Too

On the season, the Illini own the Big Ten’s second-rated offensive rebounding unit (39.2%). Keeping teams off the offensive glass has been a problem for Otzelberger’s squad. Since March 1, Iowa State has allowed a 33% offensive rebounding rate to their opponents, which ranks in the eighth percentile (per CBB analytics). If Robert Jones is unable to keep the lengthy Illini off the offensive glass, Underwood’s squad could be in for a big day in that department.

Illinois’ ability to get to the line gifts them another edge, ranking 72nd in free-throw attempt rate (37%). The Cyclones conversely rank No. 229 in this metric (34.3%), meaning that Iowa State fouls quite often. It may represent an issue once again if Illinois controls the tempo and gets out in transition with third-team All-American Terrence Shannon leading the way.


Iowa State’s offensive woes are concerning, and Illinois should be able to neutralize its defensive ball pressure with Domask posting up Lipsey and TSJ in isolation situations. Iowa St. lacks a defender with size that can lock up Shannon and Otzlerberger won’t be able to hide Lipsey against Illinois’ tall wings.

Although Iowa State’s defense is the dominant unit in this matchup, Illinois is no stranger to throttling down against stout defenses. In their December meeting against Rutgers, who ranks No. 4 in adjusted defensive efficiency, the Illini used a 17-2 run midway through the second half to dart out to a 67-44 lead. Like the Scarlet Knights, the Cyclones go on large scoring droughts, and therefore, I struggle to believe they can keep pace with an Illinois squad churning on all cylinders.

Illinois was 4-5 straight up against top-20 defenses in college basketball this season, averaging 77 points in those contests. If they can reach that mark, it should be enough to win against a wildly ineffective Cyclones offense.

The best available line is currently Illinois .

Instead of taking them on the spread, I’ve decided to play them on the moneyline for my March Madness best bets on Thursday evening. The best available moneyline price is currently Illinois .

Good luck on your own March Madness best bets this week.

Illinois vs. Iowa State Player Props

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