Tuesday College Hoops Best Bets: Back the Illini to Rebound

Well, Monday wasn’t the best way to kick off the college basketball betting week, as yours truly went 0-2 last evening thanks to Marquette shooting the ball like the entire team was on fire like a game of NBA Jam.

Fortunately, the college basketball gods have blessed us with another jam-packed schedule!  Here are the three games I’m eyeing the most this evening.   

#24 Clemson at Virginia Tech

Spread: VA Tech -2
Total: O/U 126.5
Time/TV: 6:30 PM ET, ACC Network

While Clemson faithful may be slightly more attentive to their football team, the basketball side of things has gone tremendously well to open up the 2020 season.  The Tigers currently sit at #24 in the AP Top 25 and have opened the season with a 5-0 record, covering in all five games of the early season.  Their most recent victory was a 64-56 defeat of Alabama, and the Tigers already have notched wins over the likes of Mississippi State, Purdue, and Maryland, giving Clemson a strong non-conference schedule before they jump feet first into ACC play.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech soared up to #15 in the AP Top 25 thanks in large part to their 81-73 overtime win over #3 Villanova back on November 28th, but last Tuesday they were devoured 75-55 by a rebuilding Penn State team in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  They’ve since fallen completely out of the rankings and have spent the last week stewing over their poor performance.

Clemson Players to Watch

Unlike their football team, the Clemson basketball team is largely devoid of any star talent.  However, the Tigers present one of the deeper units in the ACC and boast the 2nd best defensive efficiency in all of college basketball.

Clemson is led by the team’s leading scorer, senior big man Aamir Simms (11.6 ppg, 20% 3PM).  No other Clemson player averages double-digits in scoring, but coach Brad Brownell loves to rotate players as a means to keep the defense coming in waves.  The Tigers feature eleven players in total that have logged 10 minutes or more in their first five games, and the team as a whole is holding their opponents to just over 51 points per game on sub 35% shooting. 

If the Hokies had issues with Penn State’s slow tempo and defensive approach, they could be in for a frustrating evening against one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball.  

Virginia Tech Players to Watch

Unlike their opponents tonight, the Hokies have a trio of players they lean on for most of their offensive production, and while Mike Young’s team will go to their bench, they’re nowhere near as deep as Clemson as a whole. 

However, thanks to the likes of Keve Aluma (15.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 42.9% 3PM) and the backcourt tandem of Tyrece Radford (11.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) and Nahiem Alleyne (11.0 ppg), the Hokies still have plenty of firepower to give any defense trouble, including one as proficient as Clemson’s.  

Clemson-VA Tech Prediction

Following a disappointing showing a week ago, the Hokies hope to bounce back on their home floor against a Clemson team they are 7-1 against in their last eight matchups in Blacksburg.  There’s been another constant in this series and that’s the under.  In the last five games played between Clemson and VA Tech in Blacksburg, the total has gone under in all five matchups.

The Hokies enter tonight’s game with the 343rd overall tempo in the nation.  They play a slow, methodical brand of basketball and when they are not creating easy buckets from their defensive play, they can struggle mightily to put points on the scoreboard.  We got another reminder of this a week ago when the Hokies labored to a 55-point evening.

Conversely, Clemson also plays at a slow pace (312th overall) and defends like nobody else in the ACC outside of Virginia.  This has all the makings of another grind it out, defensive game and I could see either team coming out of this game with the win.  If I were to bet on a side to win, I would slightly favor Clemson, but I believe the under is a much better play tonight so I will go with that.

Prediction: Clemson 60, VA Tech 58
Best Bet:
UNDER 126.5

Minnesota at #13 Illinois

Spread: Illinois -8
Total: O/U 146.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2

Undefeated Minnesota faces its biggest test of the young season when they visit 13th ranked Illinois to kick off the Big Ten Conference schedule for both schools.

The Illini enter tonight’s game with a 4-2 record, with losses coming in the past two weeks to #2 Baylor and a surprising 81-78 upset at the hands of Missouri on Saturday.  Despite their recent setback, however, they remain as one of the bigger contenders in the supremely loaded Big Ten Conference.

Illinois’ opponent for their conference opener is none other than the 6-0 Minnesota Golden Gophers, but before you gravitate over to their sterling record know that Richard Pitino’s team has played such a cupcake schedule it should be sponsored by Betty Crocker. 

The Gophers have played the 258th strongest schedule to date this season and two of their six victories came at the expense of Loyola Marymount.  Minnesota’s best win to date was an 85-80 victory over ACC basement dweller Boston College, and their other victories came against Green Bay, North Dakota, and UMKC.  They’re not exactly entering tonight’s game with the most decorated resume.

Tonight will answer a lot of questions as to what team Pitino has at his disposal in what could be his make or break season with the Gophers.

Minnesota Players to Watch

The unquestioned leader of the Golden Gophers is that of junior guard Marcus Carr, and through the first six games of the season, Carr has looked terrific.  Carr is averaging just under 24 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from three-point range.  If the Gophers are to pull the upset tonight, Carr will be a big reason why.

Joining Carr in the backcourt is fellow junior sharpshooter Both Gach (15.3 ppg, 40% 3PM), and 7-footer Liam Robbins gives the Gophers an imposing rim protector down low.   Jamal Mashburn Jr. is the most notable freshman on the roster, but mainly because of his namesake and not for his play thus far.  

While the Gophers aren’t the most talented team in the conference, they certainly have enough to give the elite teams in the conference a run for their money. 

Illinois Players to Watch

The Illini feature one of the best inside-outside duos in the entire country thanks in large part to future NBA’er and Wooden Award candidate Ayo Dosunmu (24.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 41% 3PM) and big man Kofi Cockburn (14.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg).  They will be the focal point for Brad Underwood’s attack every night the Illini take the floor, and tonight’s matchup between Dosunmu and Marcus Carr is worth the price of admission on its own (though, thanks to COVID-19 the price of admission is a moot point).

Freshman guard Andre Curbelo is the Illini’s best option off the bench, while freshman Adam Miller is Brad Underwood’s second-best threat from outside as he’s connected on 38% of his three-point shots to start the new season.

Minnesota-Illinois Prediction

While the Gophers are indeed a perfect 6-0 on the season and have covered in all six games, they have feasted on the minnows of the college basketball pond.  Illinois is infinitely better than any of the teams Minnesota has faced to date, and they’re coming off of a frustrating loss to an inferior Missouri opponent just three days ago.

In recent history, Minnesota has struggled against NCAA Tournament caliber competition.  In their last nine games against teams with a winning percentage of .600 or higher, Minnesota is a paltry 1-6-2 ATS.

Marcus Carr will put some points on the scoreboard, but not enough to overcome one of the best duos in all of college basketball.  I like Illinois to bounce back with a double-digit victory and notch their first Big Ten win of the season.

Prediction: Illinois 80, Minnesota 67
Best Bet: Illinois -8

Kansas State at Iowa State

Spread: Iowa State -7.5
Total: O/U 136.5
Time/TV: 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU

It wasn’t that long ago that Kansas State and Iowa State were among the consistent contenders for the Big 12 throne. 

Those days are very clearly in the past this season, however, as Kansas State looks to be one of the worst Power 5 basketball teams in the country, and Iowa State is not incredibly far behind them either.

Kansas State enters tonight’s Big 12 opener with a 2-4 record after they narrowly defeated UW-Milwaukee 76-75 on Friday, but they are 0-5 against the spread and managed to lose by 13 points at home to NAIA member Fort Hays State.

Meanwhile, Iowa State has only played three games to date this season, their most recent showing was a 105-77 thumping at the hands of #3 Iowa on Friday.  Their lone victory of the early season was an 80-63 defeat of Arkansas Pine Bluff (Ranked 350th overall by Ken Pomeroy), with their other loss coming at the hands of South Dakota State on their home floor.

Kansas State Players to Watch

Honestly, Kansas State is so bad we suggest probably just … not watching them.  But if you want a guy to look out for, Wildcats’ leading scorer Mike McGuirl (14.5 ppg, 42.9 3PM) is probably your best bet. 

Iowa State Players to Watch

Steve Prohm is very much on the hot season this season after posting sub 15-win campaigns in two of the last three Iowa State seasons.  The Cyclones were faced with the daunting task of replacing NBA lottery pick Tyrese Haliburton in the lineup and Prohm elected to hit the transfer portal particularly heavily to retool the roster.

With just three games under their belt, one of which coming against a legitimate National Championship contender, the talent has yet to truly gel.  Prohm has also already shown he will not be dipping too deep into his bench, as only two reserves average more than 10 minutes a game (George Conditt IV and Darlinstone Dunbar).

The Cyclones are paced by former Illinois and DePaul product Jalen Coleman-Lands (15.3 ppg, 41.7% 3PM) and former Troy product Javan Johnson (13.7 ppg), while 2019 Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton logs 35 minutes a game while averaging 14.7 points per contest.

Iowa State simply just needs more game action for their talent to come together.  A game against Kansas State could be just the tune-up the Cyclones need to get their season on track for the rest of the conference slate that’s forthcoming.

Kansas State-Iowa State Prediction

Kansas State is one of the worst teams in the country and while Iowa State will likely be at the bottom of the standings with them when the season draws to a close, the talent gaps between even the Cyclones and Wildcats are immense.

Bruce Weber is in for one long season, as Kansas State is only projected to win six games this season by Ken Pomeroy.  One of those six wins is not coming tonight.  Look for the Cyclones to cruise for most of the game before clinging on to the cover late.

Prediction: Iowa State 81, Kansas State 71
Best Bet: Iowa State -7.5

Illinois Fighting Illini at No. 14 Northwestern Wildcats Betting Preview

Saturday, December 12, 2020, Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois, noon ET

Fighting Illini at Wildcats Betting Preview: Fighting Illini  (+14.5), Wildcats (-14.5)

Fighting Illini

Illinois is hoping to win back the Land of Lincoln Trophy for the first time since 2014 after losing a fifth consecutive game to Northwestern 29-10 last year in Champaign.

“It’s been up north for too long,” Illini coach Lovie Smith said. “Our guys will be pumped up and ready to go. We plan on playing our best game we’ve played all year.”

The Illini (2-4, 2-4 Big 10) are coming off a 35-21 loss to Iowa. Illinois jumped to a 14-point lead behind two touchdown passes from Brandon Peters, but Iowa responded by scoring 35 straight points.

At the end of the game, backup quarterback Isaiah Williams led the Illini to their final touchdown.

Smith said “there’s a place” for Williams in the offense, although he also expressed his belief in Peters. Peters has completed 58.1 percent of his passes but for an average of only 136 yards a game in three outings.

Williams has played four games and completed only 14 of 37 passes or 187 yards 

The loss to Iowa ended the Illini’s winning streak at two games.

“If you look at our play, we have a legitimate chance to win each week,” said Smith, who is in his fifth season with the Illini. “That hasn’t always been the case.”

Wildcats

One year ago, Northwestern entered the Illinois game winless in Big Ten play and at the bottom of the West Division standings. Now, the No. 14 Wildcats (5-1, 5-1 Big 10) already have clinched the West Division and a spot in the Big Ten title game against an opponent to be determined.

The Wildcats clinched last week despite having their game against Minnesota being canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Golden Gophers’ program.

The division title is the second in three years for Northwestern. The Wildcats will become one of four teams in the conference to make the championship game multiple times since its creation in 2011.

“Sometimes Northwestern is portrayed this way or that way, having these type of athletes or those type of athletes,” wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman said. “But at the end of the day we’re coming to play, we’re coming to win the West, we’re coming to win a Big Ten championship.”

The hallmark of the Wildcats this season has been their defense. They are sixth in the country in points allowed per game at an average of 15.3. They also have held opponents to 322.5 total yards per game, 15th-best in the country.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he believes turnover margin also has been a huge determiner of his team’s success. The Wildcats have forced 18 turnovers this season.

“I’ll go back to a lot of our games,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with turnovers and then points off of turnovers. I think that has been key in most, if not all, of these games.”

The Wildcats have averaged only 327.8 yards a game in total offense with Peyton Ramsey, a graduate transfer from Indiana, passing for 189.3 of that.

Fighting Illini at Wildcats Betting Pick for December 12, 2020

The Illini lead the series 55-53-5 but the Wildcats have won the last five meetings and seven of the last eight. The last meeting in Evanston, however, was a one-score game with the Wildcats escaping with a 24-16 win after the Illini scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.

Fighting Illini at Wildcats Betting Pick:

Wildcats 21, Fighting Illini 10

Fighting Illini at Wildcats Best Bet for December 12, 2020

Neither team has lit up the scoreboard. The Wildcats haven’t scored more than 21 points in a game since opening with a 43-3 rout of Maryland on Oct. 24 and the Illini have scored more than three touchdown only once, a 41-23 win at Nebraska.

Fighting Illini at Wildcats Best Bet: UNDER 43.5