Illinois vs. Iowa State Prediction, Odds and Key Players for NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 (Trust Cyclones Defense)

Mar 23, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey (3) dribbles the ball during
Mar 23, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey (3) dribbles the ball during / Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The East Region semifinals pit the No. 1 offense in the country against the No. 1 defense in the country.

Following the first weekend of the 2024 NCAA Tournament, No. 2 seed Iowa State has become the best defense in the country and will look to slow down what is now the top offense in the nation in the eyes of advanced metrics website KenPom in Illinois. 

Which style will win in this battle of titans? 

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Illinois vs. Iowa State Odds, Spread and Total

Iowa State vs. Illinois Betting Trends

  • Illinois is 21-13-1 against the spread (ATS) this season
  • Illinois is 5-1 ATS as an underdog this season
  • Iowa State is 26-10 ATS this season
  • Illinois has gone OVER in 25 of 35 games this season
  • Iowa State has gone UNDER in seven of the last 10 games this season

Illinois vs. Iowa State How to Watch

  • Date: Thursday, March 28th
  • Game Time: 10:09 PM EST
  • Venue: TD Garden
  • How to Watch (TV): TBS/truTV
  • Illinois Record: 27-8
  • Iowa State Record: 27-7

Illinois vs. Iowa State Key Players to Watch


Coleman Hawkins: Hawkins could be the key to unpacking this Iowa State defense. At 6’10”, Hawkins is a playmaking center who can handle the rock, get downhill, but also step out and hit the three-point shot at nearly 38% on the year. Iowa State lets up nothing at the rim, top 10 in average shot distance this season, but Hawkins's ability to keep the ball moving and that he warrants attention on the perimeter is something not common in the Big 12 for this stifling Iowa State defense. 

Iowa State

Tamin Lipsey: Lipsey got going after Iowa State struggled on offense early in the second round against Washington State, scoring 15 points, grabbing five rebounds, and dishing out four assists. That type of effort, blended with shot making is necessary for the Cyclones to out-pace the Fighting Illini, who are outside the top 90 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom. 

Illinois vs. Iowa State Prediction and Pick

There’s a ton of clashing styles in this one.

Let’s start with when Iowa State has the ball. The team is a capable three-point shooting team but would prefer to get to the rim, outside the top 300 in three-point rate. Illinois does a great job of running teams off the perimeter, top 10 in opponent three-point rate, and using its length to contest mid-range jumpers.

However, the Fighting Illini defense has proven to be incredibly unreliable despite plenty of length and sound rebounding. The team is a poor transition defense, grading out “below average” in the open court, per Synergy Sports, allowing more than one point per possession. If Iowa State can run off misses, this can be where it thrives in this matchup, grading out as one of the best offenses in transition all season, 91st percentile while shooting over 59% in these situations. 

Further, Illinois is bottom three in the country in turnover percentage, its inability to force turnovers has led to plenty of high-scoring affairs. 

But, this is the best offense in the country. Illinois has plenty of positional size with Hawkins operating as a point center of sorts and Terrance Shannon Jr. and Marcus Domask providing plenty of relief as downhill threats that get to the basket and go to the free-throw line at a high clip. 

The Fighting Illini are 31st in effective field goal percentage and are elite at grabbing their misses, 16th in offensive rebounding rate. The unit is potent but also hasn’t seen a ball-pressure defense like Iowa State’s before. 

The Cyclones are second in the country in turnover percentage, forcing TOs on more than a quarter of its defensive possessions. It’s worth noting that the elite turnover-minded defenses have thrived against Illinois in terms of forcing turnovers. 

In five games against teams inside the top 40 nationally in turnover rate, Illinois went over its season-long average in all of them, and over 20% in four of them, going just 3-2. 

I trust Iowa State’s defense to slow down Illinois while finding enough answers to pull out a win, especially given the unique nature of its defense. 

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