Thursday’s College Basketball Best Bets

Thursday’s College Basketball Best Bets article feature image
Credit:

Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Brad Underwood (Illinois)

Thursday's college basketball slate is short on marquee matchups, but that doesn't mean there isn't betting value on the board.

Dive in below for college basketball best bets and our staff's four top picks for Thursday, January 18.


College Basketball Best Bets

The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball betting staff is targeting from today's slate of games. Click on the team logos for any of the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.

GameTime (ET)Pick
8:30 p.m.
8:30 p.m.
8:30 p.m.
9 p.m.
Specific betting recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.

Illinois vs. Michigan

Thursday, Jan. 18
8:30 p.m. ET
FS1

Illinois -2.5

By D.J. James

Brad Underwood owns a six-game win streak over Juwan Howard, and this is the perfect spot to take the Illinois Fighting Illini, even if it's on the road.

For once, Illinois holds a turnover percentage advantage on the offensive end. Neither Illinois nor Michigan turns opponents over often, but Illinois has actually been cleaner lately.

Michigan essentially can only hit from outside. Illinois’ 3-point defense is a little worse than its interior defense, but Illinois has comparable 3-point shooting, while Michigan is far worse defensively. This could be another edge for Illinois, if it can continue to limit opponents from shooting 3s, which it also does better than Michigan.

Illinois’ interior defense should shut the Wolverines down, so unless Michigan gets hot from 3, it may have issues. The Illini rank third in defensive Rim-and-3 Rate, per ShotQuality, while Michigan yields much more efficient shots to opponents.

A key ingredient in this game will be Coleman Hawkins, who's one of the best defenders in the country. If he can defend inside and out and remain out of foul trouble, Michigan has a tall task.

Speaking of tall, Illinois has the rebounding advantage. This is crucial because Illinois can rebound from every position, while Michigan essentially relies on its posts to clean up.

Look for Illinois to win a close one here on the road. It can be played to -3.

Pick: Illinois -2.5 (Play to -3)


Over 153.5

By John Feltman

It’s strange to me that Michigan is a short dog at home, despite its impressive win over Ohio State on Monday. Illinois is coming off of a tough loss at Maryland and clearly hasn't looked the part since star guard Terrence Shannon Jr. was suspended from the team.

With that said, I think this is a great spot to take an over.

Dug McDaniel will be available in this game, since the team strangely suspended him for the next four road games.

Michigan’s offense continues to be its bread and butter, as it enters the game 20th in the country in 3PT%. The Wolverines' defense has been non-existent, and they're amongst the worst teams in the nation when it comes to forcing turnovers.

Even without Shannon, I expect Illinois to score at will against this weak Wolverines defense. It also should have plenty of clean offensive trips since the Wolverines are 325th in turnover% on defense.

With a few injuries to monitor, we could see a decimated Wolverines rotation. They already have one of the thinnest benches in the nation, so tired legs are going to be a huge factor throughout the contest.

I tend to believe tired legs correlate more with poor defensive effort, so I don't expect the Wolverines' offense to take a hit. The Illini are an elite interior defensive team, which leads me to believe the Wolverines will be shooting a ton from the outside and mid-range.

The Illini will shut down any offensive threat on the interior (3rd in 2PT%), which leads me to believe the Wolverines will be taking a ton of 3s throughout the contest. With the Illini scoring at will with up-tempo, the Wolverines will be forced to adjust their speed on offense.

I have enough faith in the Illini offense to click without Shannon in this particular matchup. Expect both of these teams to be chucking it up from deep all evening long, and we have a good game script working in our favor.

Pick: Over 153.5 (Play to 155)

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Little Rock vs. USI

Thursday, Jan. 18
8:30 p.m. ET
ESPN+
Little Rock -3.5

By Kevin Rogers

Southern Indiana has been very competitive in OVC play since entering the conference last season, but this line seems too short to back it.

The Screaming Eagles covered as a 7.5-point underdog in a three-point defeat to SIU Edwardsville last Thursday, marking their third straight cover in the ‘dog role.

Little Rock and Southern Indiana each own 2-3 conference records, but the Trojans own the second-highest strength of schedule in OVC play, compared to USI at 11th.

The Trojans haven’t faced the bottom two teams in the league yet (Lindenwood and Southeast Missouri State), while taking on many of the mid-tier squads so far. The best win came against SIU Edwardsville, a team that just defeated Morehead State, which is the highest-ranked team in the OVC, according to KenPom.

The Screaming Eagles have defeated three teams this season not on the D-I level, while also knocking off Lindenwood and Tennessee State.

Last season, Southern Indiana beat Little Rock twice, as the Trojans covered each time as an underdog.

Let’s back Little Rock in this spot to snap its two-game slide.

Pick: Little Rock -3.5 (Play to -4)


Bet Little Rock vs. USI at bet365 with our bet365 bonus code.


Eastern Washington vs. Weber State

Thursday, Jan. 18
9 p.m. ET
ESPN+
Eastern Washington +5.5

By Tanner McGrath

Can Weber State stop Eastern Washington from shooting?

Probably not.

The Eagles boast the Big Sky’s most prolific five-out zoom offense, shooting 39% from 3 (12th nationally) on a whopping 25 attempts per game (55th) with a 45% 3-point attempt rate (28th).

Conversely, the Wildcats’ switching defense often loses track of secondary actions – as they did in both matchups last year, with the Eagles sweeping while averaging over 80 PPG – so they rank 334th in Open 3 Rate Allowed.

Weber State is electric to watch because of its elite ball-screen offense spearheaded by mid-major superstar guard Dillon Jones and the ever-undervalued forward Alex Tew.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Eastern Washington runs plenty of zone defense, which essentially neutralizes any ball-screen dribble-drive penetration action. Jones struggles to create against zone, as he’d rather slice-and-dice in isolation sets.

But even in man, the Eagles have been a fine ball-screen defense, ranking top-100 nationally in pick-and-roll PPP allowed (.95). I think they’ll handle the Jones-Tew two-man sets.

Our Action PRO Model projects Eastern Washington as just a three-point road dog here, and I love the schematic matchup, so I’m giddy to grab the Eagles at +5 or better.

Pick: Eastern Washington +5.5 (Play to +5)

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