Arkansas or Illinois? How to pick 8 vs. 9 matchup in 2023 March Madness bracket

When it comes time to make your March Madness picks, it comes down to the 8-9 matchup. This year’s Arkansas-Illinois meeting is no exception.

In one of the most competitive games of Round 1, the Razorbacks and Fighting Illini are evenly matched teams.

Arkansas started the year at number 10, while Illinois ended up at number 23. Neither team finished the season in the top 25, but both schools have plenty of talent to make a splash at the NCAA tournament.

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The Razorbacks are led by two NBA prospects, Anthony Black and Nick Smith Jr. The Fighting Illini are joined by two transfers, Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer.

Which team will prevail and advance into a likely matchup against No. 1 seed Kansas? The Sporting News takes a deeper look at the matchup.

Odds between Arkansas and Illinois

Arkansas vs. Illinois will be picked on Day 1 of the Round of 64, Thursday, March 16th. The Razorbacks started as slight favorites according to BetMGM odds. Below are odds and details for the first round matchup including time, date and TV channel.

  • Opportunities: Arkansas-2.5
  • Date: Thursday March 16th
  • Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: TBS
  • Arena: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa

MORE: Watch March Madness games with Sling TV

Arkansas (20-13, 8-9 SEC)

The Razorbacks have been predicted to be one of the best teams in the country, with a loaded freshman recruiting class. Then the injury virus struck.

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NBA prospect Nick Smith Jr. missed the start of the season – and several games throughout the year – with a nagging knee injury. Sophomore star Trevon Brazile fell to the ground at the end of the season with a cruciate ligament tear. As a result, Arkansas was forced to adapt.

That could create another NBA prospect, with freshman guard Anthony Black looking like a likely top-10 pick in 2023. The Razorbacks had their moments when they looked like the team they were meant to be, but continuity was not on their side.

With Smith shaking off the rust so late in the season, Arkansas could be a dangerous team in the tournament.

  • NET Ranking: 21
  • KenPom Ranking: 20
  • Quad 1 record: 4-10
  • Quad 2 record: 4-2
  • Quad 3 record: 10-1
  • Quad 4 record: 2-0
  • Offensive efficiency ranking: 51
  • Defensive efficiency ranking: 16

key figures

Anthony Black, G, Fr. (6-7, 198): 12.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.0 ppg

Nick Smith Jr., G, Fr. (6-5, 185): 14.0 ppg, 2.0 apg, 1.8 rpg, 0.9 ppg

Ricky Council IV, G, Jr. (6-6, 205): 15.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.2 spg

Makhi Mitchell, F, Sr. (6-9, 230): 7.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 1.2 apg

Jordan Walsh, F, Fr. (6-7, 205): 7.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 psg

Illinois (20-12, 11-9 Big Ten)

It would never be easy for Illinois to replace Kofi Cockburn, one of the greatest players in school history. With other key players graduating or transferring, this year’s Fighting Illini team is drastically different from the one that lost in the second round of last year’s tournament.

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Led by transfer portal takeovers Terrence Shannon Jr. and Matthew Mayer, Illinois will look to launch an unexpected March Madness Run.

Shannon, a transfer from Texas Tech, has excelled at averaging 17.1 points per game under head coach Brad Underwood. Mayer, a Baylor transfer and 2022 national champion, picked up right where he left off, averaging 12.8 points per game.

Can Illinois exit the first round of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year?

  • NET Ranking: 34
  • KenPom Ranking: 33
  • Quad 1 record: 2-11
  • Quad 2 record: 7-1
  • Quad 3 record: 4-0
  • Quad 4 record: 7-0
  • Offensive efficiency ranking: 58
  • Defensive efficiency ranking: 32

key figures

Terrence Shannon Jr., G, Sr. (6-6, 210): 17.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.3 ppg

Coleman Hawkins, F, Jr. (6-10, 200): 9.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.2 bpg, 1.0 spg

Matthew Mayer, G, Sr. (6-9, 225): 12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 1.2 apg

Jayden Epps, G, Fr. (6-2, 190): 9.7 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.5 apg

Dain Dainja, F, Soph. (6-9, 270): 9.7ppg, 5.5rpg, 1.2bpg

Arkansas vs. Illinois Prediction

Arkansas is the choice here. The Razorbacks are as good on defense as the Fighting Illinois, and it’s debatable whether Illinois can match Arkansas on offense.

Though their offensive efficiency rankings are very close — Arkansas at 51 and Illinois at 58 — the Razorbacks are a different team with a (relatively) healthy Smith.

Smith was once predicted as the top-five pick in the NBA draft before a knee injury forced him to miss all but 12 games this season. He finally looked like himself in the final weeks of conference play, scoring 24 or more points in four of his last five games.

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Shannon – an All-Big Ten first-team pick – is likely to draw this match and he’ll need to be at his best to put the brakes on the future pro. Will he be able to maintain that intensity on defense while also leading Illinois’ offense?

The answer to this question will probably be one of the keys to the game.

History of 8 vs. 9 matches in NCAA tournament

The 8-9 matchup is historically one of the biggest coin flip selections in the NCAA tournament. Eight seeds have a slight advantage over 9 seeds with an all-time 76-72 record. However, last year only an 8-seed won their first-round matchup against the 9-seed.

Below is the recent history of 9 seeds upsetting 8 seeds in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Year Result
2022 Memphis 64, Boise State 53
TCU 69, Seton Hall 42
Creighton 72, San Diego State 69
2021 Wisconsin 85, UNC 62
2020 No tournament
2019 UCF 73, VCU 58
Baylor 78, Syracuse 69
Oklahoma 95, Ole Miss 72
Washington 78, Utah 61
2018 Alabama 86, Virginia Tech 83
State of Kansas 69, Creighton 59
State of Florida 67, Missouri 54
2017 State of Michigan 78, Miami 58
2016 Butler 71, Texas Tech 61
Providence 70, USC 69
Uconn 74, Colorado 67
2014 Pittsburgh 77, Colorado 48
2013 Temple 76, NC State 72
State of Wichita 73, Pittsburgh 55
2012 Saint Louis 61, Memphis 54
2011 Illinois 73, UNLV 62
2010 Wachwald 81, Texas 80
North Iowa 69, UNLV 66
2009 Siena 74, Ohio State 72
Texas A&M 79, BYU 66

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