Illinois vs. Chattanooga Prediction: Can the Mocs Keep It Close?

Can the Mocs keep the score close against the Illini? Ben Rajavuori breaks it down and shares his pick.
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Illinois vs. Chattanooga Prediction: Can the Mocs Keep It Close?

Illinois had an impressive campaign in one of college basketball's most challenging conferences, going 15-5 in conference play. They fell in the first round of the conference tournament to a solid Indiana team, but many still have high hopes for them in the big dance. Chattanooga enters the tournament with a Southern Conference championship and a 14-4 conference record. These teams met once before back in 2015, and Chattanooga actually won that game on the road 81-77. Of course, none of the players are the same, but at least the Mocs can say they have a head-to-head win over the program under their belt. The Mocs are getting eight points in this one. Can the Mocs keep it close, or will Illinois move on to the second round with ease?

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Illinois has been struggling a little bit down the stretch against the spread-wise. They are 4-11 ATS in their last 15 games, and most of their wins late in the year were close. This team is still stacked, though. Kofi Cockburn is one of the best centers in college basketball right now, and Illinois is loaded with shooters. Illinois has four players averaging over ten points per game, including Cockburn, who averaged a double-double this season. Senior guard Alfonso Plummer and senior forward Jacob Grandison are both averaging over 40% from behind the arc. Offensively, it's safe to say Illinois shouldn't have much trouble in this game as they have a versatile offense and don't rely on just one guy to score.

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The Mocs were the best team in the Southern Conference this year, and it all starts with guard Malachi Smith. Smith averaged 20.1 points, 3.1 steals, and 1.7 steals per game, which all led the team. Not to be forgotten, however, is the senior Silvio De Sousa. The center transferred from Kansas in the offseason and is an integral part of the defense, locking up the paint and pulling down seven rebounds per game. Chattanooga may be a thirteen seed, but they have a well-balanced team that could give Illinois fits. Their offensive style also lines up well with Illinois. The Mocs are 10th in mid-range field goal percentage, the area Illinois struggles with the most. If the Mocs can stay away from Cockburn to score, they should find success putting up points.

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Even though Illinois should move on to the second round, I think Chattanooga can give them a good fight on the way. The Mocs match up well against the Illini and have the right big man to try and slow down Cockburn. Unless Illinois goes unconscious from behind the arc (which is always a possibility), eight points feels like too many. It also doesn't instill much confidence in me that Illinois lost their first game in the Big 10 tournament and struggled down the stretch against the spread. Take the Mocs here to keep it close and end this one within eight points.

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Illinois Fighting Illini vs Chattanooga Mocs Pick

Pick: Chattanooga +8 (-110) (Bet $110 to Win $100)

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Ben Rajavuori is a handicapper out of Minneapolis, MN. He has been creating sports content for almost four years now and is an expert in all things NFL, MLB, NBA, UFC, and NCAAB. Ben thrives on diving deep into statistics to find the best angle on every bet. You can follow him on Twitter @WeBeatTheSpread.

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