Wednesday Night College Hoops: Back ‘Nova in Big East Opener

The college basketball week rolls on with another jam-packed slate as several teams from across the country begin their conference schedule.  Last evening was a nice bounce-back night for yours truly as well, as I went 2-1 on my Best Bets last night with the lone blemish being that I believed Iowa State wasn’t as terrible at basketball as Kansas State.

Spoiler alert:  They are.

Doesn’t matter though, we’re going to take a winning night and move forward!  Here are two of the games that will likely get a lot of attention from bettors tonight, and the bets I like in each.

Butler at #7 Villanova

Spread: Villanova -13.5
Total: O/U 132.5
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, FS1

The Butler Bulldogs head to Philadelphia to begin Big East Conference play when they meet 7th ranked Villanova.

For the Bulldogs, it will be just their second game of the new season, as the team has not played since the day before Thanksgiving due to a COVID-19 pause within their program.  Their lone game of the season was a 66-62 victory over Western Michigan, but considering Butler was set to be in a rebuilding season regardless of any pandemic schedule shuffling, it’s difficult to read a whole lot into their lone performance of the year.

Since their opening loss to Butler, Western Michigan has gone on to lose three of their last four including a 79-61 blowout at the hands of #8 Michigan State and a pair of home losses to Detroit Mercy and Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who are ranked 201st and 254th respectively in the latest batch of rankings from Ken Pomeroy. 

In other words, Butler’s only win of the season was a four-point home win over a 1-4 team from the MAC that figures to finish towards the bottom of the conference.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Villanova, on the other hand, has a bigger sample of games to work off of, and outside of their early overtime loss to Virginia Tech, they’ve been every bit as advertised heading into the new season.

Jay Wright’s team is the most balanced team in the Big East Conference, and their offensive efficiency is a sight to behold when everything is clicking.

Considering Butler hasn’t stepped on the floor in 21 days, LaVall Jordan’s squad is in for one difficult opponent to face fresh off a long layoff.  

Butler Players to Watch

Butler enters tonight’s game looking like an entirely different group than we saw take the floor last season when the Bulldogs found themselves ranked in the Top 10 of the country.  The Bulldogs lost nearly 63 percent of their scoring from a season ago, including three of their top four scorers headlined by seniors Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott.  Replacing that production will be an ongoing challenge for LaVall Jordan all season.

Fortunately for Butler, the cupboard wasn’t left entirely bare.   Jordan returns three seniors to the team with guard Aaron Thompson expected to make the biggest leap in comparison to his play from a season ago.  Thompson passed his first test by contributing 21 points and four assists in their win over Western Michigan, but he will face much stiffer competition this evening when he meets a stingy Villanova defense.

Bryce Nze (9.0 ppg) and Jair Bolden (15.0 ppg) are the other seniors on this team and the other players to pay close attention to this evening, though Nze may miss tonight’s game with an ankle injury.  Freshmen Myles Tate and Chuck Harris also figure to be key contributors for Jordan’s team but had quiet debuts in the game against Western Michigan.

The Bulldogs are not an especially deep team, as they used only nine players in their season-opening victory, so this could also be of some importance in the event foul trouble occurs or Butler is flat out rusty in their first action in three weeks.

Villanova Players to Watch

While there are still a lot of questions swirling around the Butler side of things, Villanova’s roster is much easier to answer questions about. 

The catalyst for the Villanova attack is that of the team’s leading scorer, senior point guard Collin Gillespie (15.2 ppg, 44.1% 3PM) along with budding star sophomore Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (15.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg).  The inside-outside tandem was named to the Top 50 Wooden Award watch list at the start of the season and each player could find themselves lacing up their sneakers in the NBA before too long.

As is typically the case with a Jay Wright coached Villanova team, the ‘Cats have a bevy of dangerous shooters from the outside.  Gillespie shoots the three-ball at a blistering 44 percent clip, but guard Caleb Daniels (12.7 ppg) shoots it even better at nearly a 47 percent rate from distance, with Cole Swider (37.9% 3PM) and Justin Moore (34.6% 3PM) giving Wright four shooters hitting the perimeter shot at about 35 percent or better.

To make matters more difficult for their opponent tonight, Villanova plays a very clean style of basketball.  They have the 4th most efficient offense in all of college basketball and only turn the ball over on less than 13 percent of their possessions (9th best in NCAA).

If the three-ball is dropping, few teams in the country can hang with Villanova.  If they’re cold from the outside, however, that opens the door for opponents to control the glass and get quick run-outs on long misses to convert into easier buckets.  This is the recipe Virginia Tech used (along with red hot shooting from the outside) to score their earlier upset of Villanova, and it’s the one Butler will try its best at replicating tonight.

Butler – Villanova Prediction

The Butler Bulldogs have quietly been one of the steadier college basketball programs of the past decade, even since Brad Stevens departed the program several years ago to leap into the NBA.  This season marks their first true rebuilding test in quite some time, but as stated previously, their cupboard is not entirely bare and as the season goes on you will likely see a much improved Bulldogs team.

Unfortunately for Butler backers, this is about the worst conference opponent you could have drawn when returning to play basketball for the first time in three weeks with a roster full of new faces.  I like Butler to keep the game close for a half, maybe even taking the lead into the break, before ‘Nova will find its outside shot and put the game far out of reach.

Look for the ‘Cats to win their conference opener and cover the spread in the process.

Prediction: Villanova 80, Butler 64
Best Bet: Villanova -13.5

#20 Ohio State at Purdue

Spread: Purdue -5.5
Total: O/U 133
Time/TV: 7:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network

The 20th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes put their perfect 5-0 record on the line when they open up conference play tonight against the Purdue Boilermakers, but they will need to do so tonight without their leading scorer E.J. Liddell, who will miss the game with mono.

While Ohio State enters tonight’s game with a perfect record, they’ve skated by with the 254th overall non-conference schedule.  In their most recent action, the Buckeyes narrowly escaped an upset bid by Cleveland State with a 67-61 victory in a game they were favored by 23 in. 

Ohio State did defeat Notre Dame 90-85 last Tuesday, by far their most impressive win of the young season, but they’ve yet to truly face a test this year.  

Meanwhile, the Boilers are in a similar situation as their opponent tonight.  While Purdue has performed well in games against better competition, they did fail each test with losses to Clemson and Miami, FL sandwiched in between wins over lesser competition.  Purdue sits at 4-2 on the season with their most impressive win being a 77-64 victory at the hands of Liberty in the season opener.

Ohio State Players to Watch

Barring a last-minute change, the Buckeyes leading scorer E.J. Liddell will miss tonight’s action leaving Chris Holtmann to rely on his trio of formidable secondary players – Duane Washington (14.8 ppg, 38.2% 3PM), Justice Sueing (14.0 ppg, 40% 3PM), and CJ Walker (13.2 ppg).

Should Liddell miss tonight’s game, 6-8 frosh Zed Key is most likely to receive his minutes in the lineup, as the young forward chipped in a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes in their win over Cleveland State.  When you take a look at the Purdue roster, you’ll quickly see why Key is (no pun intended) a major key to the Buckeyes scoring a big road win to kick off the conference slate.

As far as tempo goes, Ohio State plays at a very methodical pace.  They won’t be confused for the Ohio State football team, they like to take their time running through their offense.  They will attack the offensive glass (average one offensive rebound on 36% of their possessions) and are great at limiting mistakes (10th best NCAA).  If there is an Achilles’ heel to be found that Purdue (and almost every other Buckeyes opponent) will try to exploit it’s their abysmal defense from three-point range, as teams are shooting at an eye-popping 40 percent clip from downtown (279th overall in NCAA), with a lot of those looks being uncontested. 

Purdue Players to Watch

Remember when we mentioned that Ohio State’s Zed Key would be very important to tonight’s game? 

Well, that’s because Matt Painter’s Boilermakers once again feature two imposing bigs on their frontcourt, and everything Purdue hopes to accomplish runs right through them. 

Junior Trevion Williams is Purdue’s leading scorer (13.3 ppg) and rebounder (10.3) and is coming off of a dominant 30-point, 11 rebound night in the Boilers 80-68 win over Indiana State. 

He’s joined in the frontcourt by one of the biggest Canadians you’ll ever see – 7-foot-4 freshman Zach Edey.  The long-armed Edey is also averaging 13.3 points per contest while shooting a ridiculous 75 percent from the floor.  It’s not that Edey is especially skilled, it’s just that he’s usually the tallest man on the floor by several inches.

If there’s a bugaboo in Edey’s game, however, it’s that he’s still figuring out how to play defense at the collegiate level.  While Edey does average roughly one block per contest thus far, he’s had an especially difficult time staying out of foul trouble.  As a result, Edey sees the floor for about 15 minutes per game.  If he gets into foul trouble once again, that puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of their star forward Trevion Williams.

Where Ohio State could feel extra pressure comes from Purdue’s sharpshooting duo of Sasha Stefanovic (12.0 ppg) and Brandon Newman (9.2 ppg), as Stefanovic shoots a ridiculous 53 percent from three-point range while Newman chips in 41 percent three-point shooting.  Considering the Buckeyes treat the perimeter like it’s coated in lava, this could be a major obstacle to the Bucks’ chances of success this evening.

Ohio State – Purdue Prediction

As of this writing, all indications are that Ohio State will once again be without leading scorer E.J. Liddell, but the Buckeyes still have plenty of firepower to light up the scoreboard.

On paper, this matchup looks to favor a Purdue side that’s played much better at home than away from East Lafayette, though that too will be put to the test in a fanless Mackey Arena.

I think the Boilermakers have the mismatches in their favor and ultimately eke out a close cover, but I believe the much safer play tonight is the over. 

Prediction: Purdue 79, Ohio State 72
Best Bet:
OVER 133

Purdue Boilermakers at No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers Betting Preview

Saturday, December 12, 2020, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana, 3:30 p.m. ET

Boilermakers at Hoosiers Betting Preview: Boilermakers  (+10.5), Nickname (-Hoosiers +10.5)

Boilermakers

Purdue (2-4, 2-4 Big Ten) has lost four straight games and is coming off a 37-27 home loss to Nebraska after falling into an early 14-point hole.

Question marks concerning various players’ availability entered the equation early in the week. Purdue canceled Tuesday’s scheduled practice “to evaluate the results of recent COVID-19 testing,” according to a university press release.

The Boilermakers already were missing starting defensive lineman George Karlaftis, who tested positive for COVID-19 in late November, as well as linebacker Jalen Graham.

“As you know, there’s things going on in the world with sickness, so I can’t reveal what’s going on, but he’s going to be out with some issues because of that,” coach Jeff Brohm said of Graham.

The Boilermakers were penalized 11 times for 126 yards against Nebraska.

“It’s playing hard,” Boilermakers linebacker Derrick Barnes said. “It’s football. It happens sometimes. It’s just competing. We can eliminate some of the dumb penalties. But we’re going to compete and play hard to the whistle.”

Receiver David Bell enters play ranked sixth in the nation and first in the Big Ten with an average of 8.8 receptions a game. His eight receiving touchdowns and 104.2 receiving yard average ranked first and third in the Big Ten, respectively.

Hoosiers

Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle proved a quick study in his first career start last week, throwing for two touchdowns to lead the No. 12 Hoosiers (6-1, 6-1 Big Ten) to a 14-6 win at Wisconsin.

As Indiana prepares to host unranked Purdue, Tuttle figures to draw upon information he gleaned long before this season as well.

“My dad is not a big fan of Purdue, and neither am I,” Tuttle said. “It is a great rivalry game, and we are looking forward to this week.”

To be sure, Tuttle’s father, Jay, a former Indiana placekicker, taught his son about the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry between the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.

While series bragging rights certainly factor on the Hoosiers’ radar, a win against Purdue also would give Indiana its most Big Ten victories in program history as the schools close the conference-only regular season.

Starting for Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award semifinalist Michael Penix Jr., who suffered a season-ending torn ACL in a Nov. 28 win against Maryland, Tuttle went 13-of-22 passing for 130 yards while connecting for touchdowns with Peyton Hendershot and Whop Philyor.

Indiana ended a 10-game skid in the series against Wisconsin.

“I think most people wrote us off because we lost Michael Penix, who is a special player,” Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said. “But we are a football team.”

The Hoosiers’ defense forced two turnovers, running its season total to 20, and Indiana overcame the Badgers’ 342-217 edge in total offense.

Boilermakers at Hoosiers Betting Pick for December 12, 2020

The Boilermakers lead the overall series 74-42-6 and are 60-32-3 since the start of the Old Oaken Bucket portion of the rivalry. Indiana won last year’s meeting 44-41 in double-overtime in West Lafayette as receiver Whop Philyor had eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. 

Boilermakers at Hoosiers Betting Pick:

Hoosiers 28, Boilermakers 14

Boilermakers at Hoosiers Best Bet for December 12, 2020

The Hoosiers scored a season-low in last week’s 14-6 win at Wisconsin, only the third time this season they have failed to go over the 30-point mark. The Boilermakers have struggled since opening the season withs over Iowa and Illinois and have failed to get to 30 points twice in their four-game losing streak.

Boilermakers at Hoosiers Best Bet: UNDER 52.5