Line: UCLA -2
UCLA vs Illinois Breakdown and Betting Odds
The undefeated No. 8 UCLA Bruins (3-0) and undefeated No. 19 Illinois Fighting Illini play a neutral-site game in Las Vegas on Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET. The Bruins are 2-point favorites. The over/under is set at 146.5 points.
The schools have not played since the 1997-1998 season with UCLA knocking off Illinois. The teams have never played in the NCAA tournament. In their nine matchups since 1949, UCLA is 6-3. The last time both teams were ranked in a matchup was a 1951 home win for the Fighting Illini.
UCLA has gotten off to a strong start in non-conference play, beating Sacramento State, Long Beach State, and Norfolk State by 24 points or more each. A veteran team with back-to-back Sweet 16 or deeper runs, UCLA is among the favorites to win the Pac-12 and the NCAA tournament. Of the top seven men in their rotation, there are four seniors and a junior.
UCLA has scored 85 points per game so far, scoring as many as 93. They have been one of the most efficient teams in college basketball, hitting 51.8% of their field goals (37th best) and 43.3% of their threes (25th best). Junior guard Jaylen Clark has poured in 17.3 points per game with a .667/.538/1.000 shooting split. Five Bruins are averaging 11.7 or more points per game. David Singleton has already knocked down nine threes, shooting at a 60% clip.
In addition to being a top offensive option, Clark has posted stellar defensive metrics. He has a defensive rating of 64.8, the second-best on the team. He leads the team in offensive win shares, defensive win shares, offensive box plus/minus, and defensive box plus/minus. In a traditional sense, Clark leads the team with 13 steals. Mac Etienne leads the team with five blocks despite playing only 21 minutes.
Dating back to last season, UCLA is 4-1 ATS in their last five games. All of their wins have come in games they covered the spread. Their only loss came as 2.5-point favorites over North Carolina during the NCAA tournament. The under is 3-2 in the last five games, hitting in two of UCLA’s three regular-season games this season.
The Fighting Illini have gotten off to an expected 3-0, earning home non-conference wins over Eastern Illinois, UMKC, and Monmouth. They have scored at least 86 points in all three games, and no team has managed to score more than 65 points against Illinois. Illinois is a less experienced team than UCLA, but they still retained 37.9% of their 2021-2022 minutes in this roster. Illinois has made the last two NCAA tournaments, but they lost in the second round both times.
Illinois is scoring 92 points per game, good for 18th in NCAA. They have had a strong presence on the offensive glass, nabbing 15 offensive rebounds a game (30th best). They have been spotty from three-point land, but they have hit 63.5% of their two-point shots (21st in NCAA). Senior guard Terrence Shannon has led the way with 22.7 points per game. Dain Dainja and Jayden Epps have combined to score 29.3 points per game off the bench. Shannon leads the team with 3.7 assists per game while Dainja leads the team with 9.7 rebounds per game.
Defensively, Illinois ranks 42nd in points allowed per game and 18th in defensive rating. Coleman Hawkins and RJ Melendez lead the team with six steals. Dainja has swatted nine shots. Dainja has been particularly influential, posting a defensive rating of 60.5. He leads the team in box plus/minus, edging out Shannon’s superior offensive production. A sophomore, Dainja should continue to play more as the season goes on.
In their last five games, Illinois is 2-3 ATS. This includes a pair of failed covers during the tournament and a 30-point win over EIU as 30.5-point favorites. They have covered massive spreads against UMKC and Monmouth. The last time Illinois was an underdog, Houston blasted them to end Illinois’ tournament run. The under is 3-2 in the last five games but 1-2 this regular season.
TakingVegas.com Pick: UCLA -2
While the game is at a neutral site, Las Vegas will have a pro-UCLA bias. Not only is Las Vegas geographically closer to Los Angeles, but UCLA has experience playing in Las Vegas from their conference tournament. In a de facto home game, take UCLA -2 as they protect their home court away from home.