Busting Brackets

Illinois vs Iowa State: 2023-24 NCAA Tournament game preview, TV schedule

Mar 23, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) looks on
Mar 23, 2024; Omaha, NE, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini guard Terrence Shannon Jr. (0) looks on / Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll get a great battle between Illinois and Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen; will it be the Fighting Illini or Cyclones moving on after a fierce matchup?

TV schedule: Thursday, March 28, 10:09 pm ET. TBS/TruTV

Arena: TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts

While there has been tumult this season, Illinois (28-8) is playing their best basketball at the right time of year and find themselves in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in nineteen seasons. The Fighting Illini dealt with offseason changes and Terrence Shannon’s suspension, but are now Big Ten Tournament champions and on one of the hottest rolls in the country, including wins over Morehead State and Duquesne in the Big Dance.

Back on the court, we can’t deny the impact that Terrence Shannon Jr. (23.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is having with the Illini, who’s averaging closer to 30 points a game since March began. Former Southern Illinois forward Marcus Domask (16.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg) has been a fantastic addition for the Illini and is an impressive secondary scorer. Fellow senior Coleman Hawkins (12.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) has really developed into a versatile weapon for Illinois while Quincy Guerrier (9.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is another transfer who gets important minutes at the back end of the offense.

This recent hot streak for the Fighting Illini have them sitting 10th in KenPom, though they now boast the #1 offense in the nation in the efficiency ratings. Shannon’s explosion has been a big part of the success, but he’s not the only player on this roster who can score buckets in a hurry. The one issue for the Illini is avoiding defensive lapses; they certainly could use some improvement on that side of the ball, especially at causing turnovers.

These intriguing matchup welcomes Iowa State (29-7) to their second Sweet Sixteen in three years, with T. J. Otzelberger’s squad looking simply elite at times this season. The Cyclones have a pair of wins over an elite Houston squad and plenty of other success in their conference. In fact, Iowa State won the Big 12 Tournament and are also one of the hottest teams in the nation right now.

We’re starting any look into the Cyclones with Keshon Gilbert (13.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.3 apg), a junior guard who fills the stat sheet for this team and plays hard defense. Tamin Lipsey (12.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.9 apg) has taken an outstanding step forward in his sophomore season in this backcourt. The newest piece of the puzzle has been Milan Momcilovic (11.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg), a freshman from the state of Wisconsin who has become Iowa State’s most efficient big. Another name to watch out for is Curtis Jones (10.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg), a sneaky scorer at times.

Iowa State sits 7th in KenPom but their defense sits atop the efficiency ratings. These Cyclones do pretty much everything well on the defensive side, severely limiting their opponents and finding ways to win these kinds of tight games. They’ve actually been pretty good on offense during their current winning streak and have yet to allow more than 65 points in their last ten games.

There might not be a more interesting matchup in the Sweet Sixteen than seeing these clashing styles coming together. Both teams are red hot in the last two weeks, with the Cyclones leaning hard on stout defense and the Fighting Illini outscoring teams at will. Which playing style will win the battle on Thursday?

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Shannon will be the best player on the court, but it’s not on him alone to get the job done for Illinois. You can bet that Iowa State will have a great defensive game plan for this hot offense, meaning the Fighting Illini will need to play smart on both sides of the ball. When two teams like this converge it’s always interesting to see which playing style conquers the night. We’re feeling Illinois’s offense getting the better, though this matchup could certainly go either way.

Prediction: Illinois 72, Iowa State 69