College Basketball Bets: Illinois vs. Penn St. Big Ten Tournament

Written By Derek Wagner on March 9, 2023
college basketball best bets

The Big Ten Tournament continues Thursday with four games on the college basketball odds board, including Penn State vs. Illinois. Let’s break down my college basketball best bets angle for this matchup, as the Illini are eyeing revenge. Click on the odds below to place a bet.


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Why Illinois Can Cover

Although Brad Underwood‘s squad finished the regular season with 20 wins, they’ve been one of the country’s most Jekyll and Hyde teams. They’ve struggled against better shooting teams in conference play, frequently finding themselves trailing big and having to make in-game adjustments. The Illini have a chance to get revenge on Penn State on Thursday, and I’d expect Terrence Shannon to be the focal point in doing so for numerous reasons.

Shannon (17.1 ppg) is the straw that stirs the drink for Illinois’ offense. It is at its best when he’s attacking the rim and getting to the free-throw line. In their previous meeting, he was instrumental in helping Illinois erase a 15-point deficit to trim the Penn State lead to eight in the second half. Keep in mind that Shannon has been forced to play more point duties of late, with Jayden Epps sidelined with a concussion. Epps will reportedly travel with the team to Chicago for the Tournament, but there is still no timetable for his return.

Attacking the rim is also where Penn State opponents have had the most success. According to ShotQuality, Penn State’s defense ranks first in allowing shots at the rim. This is mainly due to their small ball lineup, with the 6-foot-6 Seth Lundy primarily playing the four. If Illinois can exploit this lineup and get Shannon going, it could be a long day for the Nittany Lions on the defensive end. Additionally, getting to the line would help Underwood’s squad dictate the pace and prevent easy transition threes, something they struggled with in their February meeting. Illinois committed 12 turnovers in February that resulted in 14 points.

Illinois was limited to seven offensive rebounds in their previous meetings. Expect a stronger rebounding effort this time against the undersized Nittany Lions, especially when Illinois is attacking the rim. The Fighting Illini are producing a top-70 offensive rebounding rate, as the 6-foot-9 Dain Dainja & Co. have a knack for crashing the boards.

Why Penn State Can Cover

Illinois seemingly needs an answer when it comes to defending Jalen Pickett. The fourth-year guard from Rochester, New York, is a matchup nightmare due to his ability to score virtually anywhere on the court. When Underwood’s squad has switched on ball screens, Pickett has made them pay from the perimeter. In situations where Illinois has fought over screens, Pickett has managed to drive and score in the mid-range. He was able to post-up the taller Coleman Hawkins and score on a step-back jumper in their last meeting. If Penn State can free him up for clean looks and force Illinois into switches on the defensive end, Pickett can have a huge day again on Thursday.

Penn State is the better offensive team of the two. It ranks fifth in offensive turnover percentage, which is one area where Illinois usually prospers defensively, ranking 133rd at 18.8%. This should limit Illinois’ ability to get out in transition.

On the season, the Nittany Lions rank 3rd in offensive points per possession (PPP) on midrange shots, per ShotQuality. Although Illinois is a stout defensive team overall, they struggle in this regard, ranking 91st in PPP.

College Basketball Best Bets Final Thoughts

Although Illinois has revenge on their mind, the thought of backing them pre-game against Jaylen Pickett is mildly terrifying. In two games against the Nittany Lions, the Illini have trailed by as many as 19 and 17 points. Their volatility, coupled with Underwood’s in-game adjustments, have made for some fantastic live betting opportunities for bettors. Keep an eye on Illinois’ defense and how they defend the screens. More importantly, pay close attention to Underwood’s in game adjustments when it comes to defending Pickett. KenPom makes Illinois a 1-point favorite for the game.

Best Available Line : Illinois
College Basketball Best Bets: Illinois +4 or better (aiming for a live, in-game bet).


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