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There really isn’t a lot to be excited about in Thursday’s college hoops slate but I did get to the betting window for a few games: Northwestern-Illinois, Memphis-Wichita State, and UCLA-Utah.
No. 21 Northwestern Wildcats (20-7) at Illinois Fighting Illini (18-9), 9 p.m. ET
The Wildcats upset the Fighting Illini 73-60 as 3.5-point underdogs in their 1st meeting this season at home on Jan. 4. Northwestern pulled off by attempting 30 more free throws and committing seven fewer turnovers.
But, the Wildcats have a below-average offensive free-throw attempt rate (FTr) and the Fighting Illini are above-average defensively. Otherwise, Illinois shot better than Northwestern from the field and behind the arc.
Also, Illinois coach Brad Underwood can tweak the game plan to minimize turnovers Thursday. The Fighting Illini force nearly six more turnovers per game at home compared to away games.
Their leading scorer — Terrence Shannon Jr. — has been sidelined with a concussion for the past two games and is “questionable” for this one. However, Illinois is loaded with top-100 recruits to pick up the slack.
Northwestern is 306th in effective field goal shooting (eFG%) and Illinois ranks 20th nationally in defensive eFG%, per KenPom.com. The Wildcats allow 10 more points per game on the road than at home.
This line is suspiciously high considering their last meeting and how well Northwestern has played recently. The Fighting Illini’s spread is pricier at the sharper sportsbooks. More money is on Illinois at DraftKings Sportbook while more bets are on Northwestern, per VSIN.
College Hoops Best Bet #1: Illinois -6 (-110) at DraftKings Sportsbook
Memphis Tigers (20-7) at Wichita State Shockers (14-12), 7 p.m. ET
Buyer beware: I might be stepping into a trap. Memphis opened as 3-point favorites and have been lowered down to -2 despite most of the betting action coming on the Tigers.
The weird line movement suggests Memphis is still without leading scorer and assist-man PG Kendric Davis. He missed the Tigers’ 72-64 road loss at the No. 1 Houston Cougars Sunday.
Memphis’s ball handling will suffer if Davis is out but Wichita State’s defense ranks just 256th nationally in turnover rate (TOV%) forced.
However, the Tigers are 10th in experience, according to Ken Pom, and average 6.0% more bench minutes than the nation average. I.e. Memphis has the depth and experience to step up if Davis cannot play.
Also, the Tigers have an above-average offensive rebounding rate (ranked 88th) and the Shockers rank 217th in defensive rebounding rate, per Ken Pom.
Wichita State is one of the worst shooting teams in the country as well. The Shockers rank 238th in eFG% and 345th in 3-point percentage.
Because the Tigers have a small frontcourt, they typically pack the paint and allow opponents to chuck 3s. Memphis is 331st in defensive 3-point-attempt rate allowed.
Memphis beat Wichita State 88-78 in their 1st meeting this season and the Shockers barely covered as 10.5-point underdogs. The Tigers have won five straight vs. the Shockers and are 4-1 ATS in those meetings.
After a quick internet search, it seems like most of the college basketball Twitter handicappers like Wichita State in this spot. But, it feels like a fake sharp play to me.
Wichita State has won back-to-back games. But, the Shockers are 4-8-1 against the spread (ATS) following a win this season and haven’t won three straight games all year.
College Hoops Best Bet #2: Memphis -2 (-110) at DraftKings
No. 4 UCLA Bruins (23-4) at Utah Utes, 11 p.m. ET
The bottom line is Utah isn’t deep enough to overcome the loss of two starters vs. a legit national champion contender in UCLA.
The Bruins beat the brakes off of the Utes 68-49 in their 1st meeting this season at home on Jan. 12. UCLA out-performed Utah in three of the “four factors” and shut down the Utes’ offense.
Utah shot just 36.7% from the field and committed a turnover on 21.7% of its possessions. Utes starting PG Rollie Worster only hurts Utah’s ball security and UCLA ranks 5th in the country in defensive TOV%.
Furthermore, the Utes rank 209th in eFG% and 229th in offensive FTr whereas the Bruins are 32nd in defensive eFG% and 49th in defensive FTr.
Ultimately, UCLA should smoke Utah in the battle of possessions and have enough looks to win by margin. Aside from a terrible shooting night from the Bruins, I don’t see how the Utes stick around Thursday.
College Hoops Best Bet #3: UCLA -7 (-110) at DraftKings
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