Friday college hoops slates don’t normally include many intriguing games. But this time, No. 8 Kansas faces St. John’s in the first matchup of the 2021 Big East-Big 12 Battle, while Illinois battles Rutgers. Let’s dissect my college basketball best bets for each one.
Click on the odds below to place a bet now. You can continue the discussion in our betting community, as we break down all of the games throughout the week.
Kansas Jayhawks vs. St. John’s Red Storm
Although the Jayhawks have dropped a bit in my power rankings, they’ll present significant mismatches in this contest.
For one, Bill Self’s pressure defense should generate plenty of turnovers from the Red Storm. Kansas is forcing miscues at a 20.8% rate while St. John’s is accruing a bottom-120 turnover percentage.
Posh Alexander represents one of the most explosive playmakers in college basketball, but he’s still prone to mistakes. Vermont transfer Stef Smith has scuffled in that department too. The Jayhawks’ ballhawks, guided by Christian Braun, will be in position to take advantage.
Transition offense will be the key in this game. If Kansas is speeding up the tempo off of turnovers, it’ll tally clean looks at the rim. The Johnnies are surrendering their fair share of Haslametrics’ near-proximity shots (lay-ups, dunks and tip-ins) because of the issue. Otherwise, their half-court defense is sound overall.
Mike Anderson’s bunch adheres itself to an even quicker pace, yet it relies on forcing turnovers as well. The Jayhawks protect the ball at a top-20 rate with Arizona State transfer Remy Martin as their lead guard.
Ochai Agbaji is also particularly impressive in this category, and he’s a three-level scorer. Look for Agbaji to spot up behind the arc on the break, especially with St. John’s struggling to defend the perimeter (36.0%).
There won’t be much pregame betting value, but all signs point to the Jayhawks if you spot an intriguing live number.
College Basketball Best Bets: Pass
Best Available Line: Kansas
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Brad Underwood’s unit has underachieved considerably thus far. Although Wooden Award contender Kofi Cockburn (+4000) is back in the middle after a three-game suspension to tip off the season, the Illini are in for a test in their Big Ten opener.
Rutgers’ Geo Baker (hamstring) appears to be questionable after missing Tuesday’s win over Clemson. Nevertheless, Steve Pikiell’s motion offense seems more in sync with the 6-foot-6 Paul Mulcahy handling the point guard duties. In fact, the Scarlet Knights have produced two of their top-three most efficient offensive showings in Baker’s absence.
When Rutgers’ offense is running fluidly, it’s attacking the paint. Mulcahy & Co. are accumulating the 17th-highest near-proximity percentage in the country. On the flip side, Illinois lets up the third-highest scoring rate in that metric — mostly from the opposition exploiting it in transition.
Mental lapses can doom the Illini, similar to the aforementioned game, as they rank bottom-40 in turnover percentage across Division I. Pikiell’s 2-2-1 zone press should prolong that concern while amassing opportunities at the other end. The Illini will also be without point guard Andre Curbelo (undisclosed), who’s arguably their most explosive playmaker.
Moreover, the Scarlet Knights boast a size advantage, led by the 6-foot-11 Cliff Omoruyi. Given their ability to clean up the defensive glass, they’re set up to own the tempo even more so.
With Illinois still overvalued in the betting market, we’re back on the train.
Eli’s Bet: Rutgers +8.5 (placed Thursday afternoon at PointsBet Sportsbook)
College Basketball Best Bets: Rutgers +7 or better
Best Available Line: Rutgers