College Basketball Odds & Picks: BJ Cunningham’s Favorite Plays for Wednesday’s Loaded Slate (Dec. 23)

College Basketball Odds & Picks: BJ Cunningham’s Favorite Plays for Wednesday’s Loaded Slate (Dec. 23) article feature image
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Photo by Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Indiana Hoosiers guard Khristian Lander (4).

  • The college basketball season rolls on with a loaded Wednesday slate prior to the sport's brief cooldown period over the impending holidays.
  • Betting analyst BJ Cunningham breaks down five of his top games of the slate, including a top-25 matchup between Xavier and Creighton, plus Big Ten conference action between Indiana and Northwestern.
  • Below, find his full matchup analysis for all five games, including his picks for each.

Wednesday’s college basketball card is loaded from top to bottom with top-25 conference matchups and valuable betting opportunities.

The action begins in earnest at 3 p.m. ET as top-25 Big East opponents Xavier and Creighton tip off in Omaha. UCLA and Oregon battle for Pac-12 supremacy in the same time slot, followed by three consecutive Big Ten conference matchups to carry you through the rest of the evening.

College basketball betting analyst and multi-sport Renaissance man BJ Cunningham broke down each one of those five games and shared his betting picks for each based on his analysis. Check out five of his favorite picks for Wednesday’s slate below.


How to Bet Wednesday’s College Basketball Slate

Here’s a rundown of five of Cunningham’s favorite betting spots on Wednesday’s slate of games:

Tip Time
Matchup
3 p.m. ET
#22 Xavier vs. #13 Creighton
POSTPONED
UCLA vs. #25 Oregon
4:30 p.m. ET
#11 Rutgers vs. #23 Ohio State
6:30 p.m. ET
#18 Illinois vs. Penn State
8:30 p.m. ET
Northwestern vs. Indiana

Editors Note: As of Wednesday, Dec. 23 at 4:32 p.m. ET, today’s UCLA vs. Oregon college basketball game has been postponed.

Today's @UCLAMBB at @OregonMBB game has been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19 testing protocols for game officials. The Pac-12 will work with both programs to attempt to find a mutually agreeable date to reschedule the contest.#Pac12Hoops https://t.co/WeOXZHVHjB

— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) December 23, 2020


All listed odds are via DraftKings unless otherwise noted and have been updated as of Tuesday night. Specific betting recommendations have been sourced via the sportsbook offering preferred odds at the time of writing.

Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.


CLICK THE DROPDOWN ARROW TO EASILY NAVIGATE TO ANY GAME
Tip Time
Matchup
3 p.m. ET
#22 Xavier vs. #13 Creighton
POSTPONED
UCLA vs. #25 Oregon
4:30 p.m. ET
#11 Rutgers vs. #23 Ohio State
6:30 p.m. ET
#18 Illinois vs. Penn State
8:30 p.m. ET
Northwestern vs. Indiana

No. 22 Xavier vs. No. 13 Creighton


Xavier Odds
+7.5
Creighton Odds
-7.5
Moneyline
+270 / -345
Over/Under
155
Time | TV
3 p.m. ET
FS1
(Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images).

Xavier looks to continue its positive momentum on Wednesday when it heads to Omaha to take on the 13th-ranked Creighton Bluejays.

After surviving a road test against UConn on Sunday, the Bluejays can make it three wins in a row on Wednesday.

Greg McDermott has a loaded team in Omaha once again after sharing the Big East regular-season title last season.

The biggest issue the Bluejays face heading into the season is replacing their best player, Ty-Shon Alexander, who opted to turn pro. So far, they’re struggling to replace his production on both ends of the floor.

Travis Steele’s squad is a perfect 8-0 to begin the season and has cracked the top-25 rankings. How it was able to stay undefeated… well, it’s something you need to see to believe:

❗ | ADAM KUNKEL AT THE BUZZER! MUSKETEERS WIN!#LetsGoX pic.twitter.com/hqsaNFdqZe

— Xavier Basketball (@XavierMBB) December 20, 2020

The Musketeers lost their best two players from last season but added a couple of transfers who could lift Xavier to the top half of the Big East.


No. 22 Xavier Musketeers (8-0)

Losing Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones in the frontcourt was always going to be difficult to replace for the Musketeers, but by virtue of the transfer portal and a four-star freshman, Xavier seemingly has a better squad than last year.

With Gardner Webb grad transfer Nate Johnson and freshman CJ Wilcher now in the lineup, Xavier is setting the nets on fire.

The Musketeers rank 10th in the country in effective field goal percentage and 3-point percentage through their first eight games. That has led them to the 13th-ranked offense in terms of offensive efficiency, per KenPom.

In fact, in its last game against Marquette, Xavier shot 54.5% from beyond the arc. With Creighton struggling to defend the 3 so far this season, Xavier could shoot the Jays right out of the gym.

The loss of Marshall and Jones has been felt most on the defensive end of the floor, as Xavier has gone from ranking 20th in defensive efficiency last season to 88th this year.

The Musketeers mainly struggle to turn opponents over and keep them off the offensive glass. Creighton is one of the best teams in the country at limiting turnovers but has been struggling on the offensive glass, so Xavier’s frontcourt may be off the hook on Wednesday.


No. 13 Creighton Bluejays (6-2)

Creighton is going to miss Alexander a lot this season. He was the heart and soul of the Jays and was their most-used player.

Creighton finished the season as the third-ranked team in offensive efficiency last season, per KenPom. Additionally, it finished sixth in effective field goal percentage and 3-point percentage. However, over half of its shots came from Alexander.

Creighton does return point guard Marcus Zegarowski, and he will be a candidate for Big East Player of the Year. He was by far the Bluejays’ best shooter from downtown, owning the second-highest percentage in the Big East at 45.6%. He also ranked third in the conference in assist rate, so the Jays are in good hands with Zegarowski running the point.

The biggest hurdle Creighton is going to face this season will be on defense.

The Bluejays are 59th in defensive efficiency and are allowing their opponents to shoot over 35% from deep to begin the season. Xavier has been on absolute fire from behind the arc, so the Bluejays will need to find a way to keep them in check or they might get run out of the gym.


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Betting Analysis & Pick

It’s really hard to bet against this Xavier team right with how it’s shooting the ball. The Musketeers have put up over 90 points in their last two games against Oklahoma and Providence, and they should be able to do the same against Creighton.

I only have Creighton projected as a -6.11 favorite at home, so I think there’s a little value on Xavier at +7.5]. However, I wouldn’t play it any lower than that.

Pick: Xavier +7.5


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Tip Time
Matchup
3 p.m. ET
#22 Xavier vs. #13 Creighton
POSTPONED
UCLA vs. #25 Oregon
4:30 p.m. ET
#11 Rutgers vs. #23 Ohio State
6:30 p.m. ET
#18 Illinois vs. Penn State
8:30 p.m. ET
Northwestern vs. Indiana

(POSTPONED) UCLA vs. No. 25 Oregon


(Photo Credit: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images).

UCLA heads to Eugene on Wednesday to take on Oregon in a showdown between two of the best teams in the Pac-12.

Mick Cronin has plenty of talent on his Bruin roster, with UCLA poised to finish near the top of the Pac-12 standings.

The Bruins started off their season with a blowout loss to San Diego State but have since rattled off five wins in a row, including a home victory over Marquette, before losing in the CBS Sports Classic to Ohio State over the weekend.

Oregon was dealt a huge blow this week as one of its best players, N’Faly Dante, tore his ACL and is out for the season.

Before the Dante news, the Ducks were projected by almost every outlet to be crowned Pac-12 champions. Outside of an opening season loss to Missouri, the Ducks have ripped off six straight wins, including victories over Seton Hall and Washington. However, UCLA will be the best team Oregon has seen so far this season.


UCLA Bruins (5-2)

Cronin’s squad had completely rebounded from the blowout loss to San Diego State to begin the season but fell short against Ohio State on Saturday. The Bruins allowed the Buckeyes to shoot 50% from the floor, so they’ll need to improve their defense if they want to be slow Oregon’s offense.

The Bruins are humming offensively, ranking 14th in offensive efficiency, while playing at one of the slowest tempos in the country (336th in AdjTempo, per KenPom).

The biggest issue for UCLA last season was its terrible shooting and defending from the perimeter. The Bruins shot only 32.2% from deep and allowed opponents to shoot more than 38%, which I’m sure drove Cronin insane.

So far this season, the Bruins have improved in both of those areas, specifically defensively, as they allow opponents to hit at a 28.7% clip from deep.

UCLA brings back almost everybody from last season and added sharpshooter Johnny Juzang from Kentucky via the transfer portal. So, the Bruins are loaded and ready to contend in the Pac-12 this season.


No. 25 Oregon Ducks (6-1)

Replacing an Oregon legend like Payton Pritchard was always going to be difficult for Dana Altman, but this Ducks team is loaded with experience.

Double-digit scorers Will Richardson and Chris Duarte are back to lead the Ducks’ backcourt, while versatile transfers Eric Williams Jr. (Duquesne) and Eugene Omoruyi (Rutgers) will command the frontcourt and give the Ducks possibly the most complete starting five in the Pac-12.

However, the loss of center Dante cannot be understated. The 6-foot-11 sophomore was poised for a breakout year before his season was cut short.

So far this season, the Ducks have been well balanced on both ends of the floor, ranking inside the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, per KenPom. However, they’ve struggled from deep to begin the season, likely due to the absence of Pritchard. Now, the Ducks are shooting only 31.7% from behind the arc.

Defensively, though, Oregon is one of the best teams in the Pac-12. It allows an effective field goal percentage of only 44.9% to opponents and only 29% from 3-point range. If the Bruins don’t shoot the ball well on Wednesday, they could be in a lot of trouble.


Betting Analysis & Pick

Without Dante, there’s a big hole in the Oregon frontcourt that UCLA should be able to take advantage of. However, UCLA will need to shoot a high percentage against this Oregon defense if it wants a chance to pull off the upset as short road dogs.

I have the Ducks projected as 1.82 favorites with Dante on the sidelines, so I think there’s some value on the Bruins moneyline of +135. However, I wouldn’t play it any lower than that number.

Pick: UCLA moneyline (+135)


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CLICK THE DROPDOWN ARROW TO EASILY NAVIGATE TO ANY GAME
Tip Time
Matchup
3 p.m. ET
#22 Xavier vs. #13 Creighton
POSTPONED
UCLA vs. #25 Oregon
4:30 p.m. ET
#11 Rutgers vs. #23 Ohio State
6:30 p.m. ET
#18 Illinois vs. Penn State
8:30 p.m. ET
Northwestern vs. Indiana

No. 11 Rutgers vs. No. 23 Ohio State


Rutgers Odds
+2
Ohio State Odds
-2
Moneyline
+115 / -139
Over/Under
141
Time | TV
4:30 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
(Photo Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images. Odds via BetMGM.)

A top-25 showdown in the Big Ten takes place in Columbus on Wednesday as the 11th-ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights take on the 23rd-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

Rutgers is fresh off a huge home win over a loaded Illinois squad but will have to put that behind it to avoid getting knocked off by the Buckeyes.

Steve Pikiell has done a tremendous job turning the Rutgers program into a legit NCAA Tournament team. Now, he has a squad that can compete for a Big Ten title, with all of his main contributors returning from last year’s team that finished No. 28 in the KenPom rankings.

Ohio State got back on track this weekend after losing its Big Ten opener to Purdue by beating UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic.

Losing talented players like Kaleb Wesson and Luther Muhammad was always going to be difficult to overcome. However, Chris Holtmann added depth via the transfer portal, and Ohio State is set to be a top-25 team again this season.


No. 11 Rutgers Scarlet Knights (6-0)

The Scarlet Knights now have something that they’ve never had before: expectations. They bring back almost everyone for a team that would have been an at-large team for the NCAA Tournament had it not been canceled last season.

The reason Rutgers was so good is that it was one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking sixth in defensive efficiency, per KenPom. So far this season, the Knights have continued to be stout defensively, allowing an effective field goal percentage of only 45.7%. However, the biggest improvements for this Rutgers squad have come on the offensive end of the floor.

Last season, Rutgers desperately struggled from beyond the arc and from the free-throw line, ranking in the bottom 100 of college basketball in both. It’s still struggling from the charity strike but has improved almost 6% from 3 and shoots 36.5% this year. The Scarlet Knights will need to continue that hot shooting against a fantastic defense like Ohio State.


No. 23 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-1)

Last season, the Buckeyes’ bread and butter was their defense. Holtmann deploys a pack-line style defense — similar to Virginia — and it has done wonders. Like the Cavaliers, Ohio State plays at a snail’s pace, ranking 318th in tempo and forcing its opponent to make every possession count.

Ohio State has finished inside the top 25 in KenPom’s defensive efficiency every year since Holtmann’s arrival. However, this season has been a bit of a change, as the Buckeye’s are relying on their offense rather than their defense.

Offensively, Holtmann’s squad has been one of the most efficient offenses in the Big Ten, ranking eighth nationally in offensive efficiency. For Ohio State, it’s the fundamentals that make it one of the elite offenses in the country.

Its effective field goal percentage is right around the NCAA average, but it sits in the top 40 in turnover percentage, offensive rebound percentage, and free-throw percentage.

Ohio State went through some injury issues before the UCLA game, as leading scorer and rebounder EJ Liddell missed the Purdue game. However, he returned for the game against UCLA and logged 19 minutes. He should be a huge difference-maker for Ohio State if he can play 30+ minutes on Wednesday.


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Betting Analysis & Pick

For Rutgers to remain undefeated, it’s going to have to slow down Ohio State on the offensive end of the floor. But the Knights don’t have the defense and frontcourt to do so.

If Ohio State can control the tempo in this game, it should have no problem dominating Rutgers at both ends of the floor.

Rutgers has a few rotation players injured who are game-time decisions tomorrow, so the Scarlet Knights could be a little thin depth-wise.

I have Ohio State projected as a -3.67 favorite factoring in Rutgers injuries, so I think there’s value on the Buckeyes at -2. However, I wouldn’t play it any higher than that.

Pick: Ohio State -2


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Tip Time
Matchup
3 p.m. ET
#22 Xavier vs. #13 Creighton
POSTPONED
UCLA vs. #25 Oregon
4:30 p.m. ET
#11 Rutgers vs. #23 Ohio State
6:30 p.m. ET
#18 Illinois vs. Penn State
8:30 p.m. ET
Northwestern vs. Indiana

No. 18 Illinois vs. Penn State


Illinois Odds
-3
Penn State Odds
+3
Moneyline
-159 / +130
Over/Under
151.5
Time | TV
6:30 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
(Photo Credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

After dropping their third game of the season to Rutgers on the road, the No. 18 Illinois Fighting Illini will try and rebound in Happy Valley against Penn State.

Despite three losses to open the season, Brad Underwood has completely transformed Illinois back into the powerhouse it once was. The Illini won more than 21 games last season for the first time since 2013 and were one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the conference tournament before everything got shut down.

Illinois has two legit NBA talents in Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu returning, so Illinois is going to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

Penn State has had an up-and-down start to the season with wins over VCU and Virginia Tech, but losses to Michigan and Seton Hall. Longtime coach Pat Chambers abruptly stepped down right before the season started, so the Nittany Lions started the season with a little adversity.

Penn State is projected to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten, but an upset win over Illinois on Wednesday could be just what the Nittany Lions need to propel themselves toward the top half of the league.


No. 18 Illinois Fighting Illini (5-3)

The reason the Illini rose to prominence last season was because of their drastic improvement on the defensive end of the floor. Underwood switched to a full pack-line defense (similar to what Virginia runs), and it paid huge dividends. Illinois improved from 108th in defensive efficiency in 2018-19 to 35th in 2019-20, per KenPom. Having a 7-foot, 290-pound Cockburn in the middle of its defense also seems to make a difference.

So far this season, Illinois’ defense has slightly improved, but the real improvements have come at the offensive end.

The 2020-21 season is going to be the Dosunmu and Cockburn show in Champaign. Both players flirted with the NBA before deciding to return for another collegiate season.

Underwood made a big change last season in slowing down the pace. Illinois went from 52nd in tempo to 266th, which turned out to be a positive change, as the Illini improved their offensive efficiency. That has done wonders for Illinois this season, as it is the No. 7 team in the country in terms of offensive efficiency.

The main reason for their improvement is because they are absolutely shooting the lights out from downtown. The Illini have the second highest 3-point percentage in the country at 45%. If they are able to shoot a high percentage again on Wednesday, they should be able to score at will on Penn State’s defense.


Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2)

Losing Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins is going to be a big blow for Penn State this season. However, the Nittany Lions’ best all-around offensive player Myeron Jones returns to the backcourt with Myles Dread, so the Nittany Lions shouldn’t drop off too much in terms of scoring.

On offense, quite literally, Penn State lives and dies by the 3-ball. Penn State relies on over 40% of its points coming from behind the arc, and the Nittany Lions are shooting a cool 37.7% on 3-pointers, so it’s justified. The problem is when they step inside the arc, they are only shooting 45.3% so if they start struggling from deep, it’s pretty much game over.

Defensively, I would categorize the Nittany Lions as “average.” They rank in the middle of the Big Ten in defensive efficiency and are right around the NCAA average in defending the opposing team’s shot. However, they’ll need to go to a different level on Wednesday if they are going to shut down Illinois’ offense.


Betting Analysis & Pick

For the Illini to win this game, they are going to have to dominate on the offensive end of the floor. Penn State doesn’t have anyone near Cockburn’s size, so you’ll probably see them feeding the big man all night long.

I have Illinois projected as a -1.19 favorite in this game, so I do not think there is much value in the opening line of -3. However, if Penn State’s line climbs to +3.5 or higher, I think there is value on the Nittany Lions.

Pick: Penn State +3.5


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Tip Time
Matchup
3 p.m. ET
#22 Xavier vs. #13 Creighton
POSTPONED
UCLA vs. #25 Oregon
4:30 p.m. ET
#11 Rutgers vs. #23 Ohio State
6:30 p.m. ET
#18 Illinois vs. Penn State
8:30 p.m. ET
Northwestern vs. Indiana

Northwestern vs. Indiana


Northwestern Odds
+8.5
Indiana Odds
-8.5
Moneyline
+335 / -455
Over/Under
139
Time | TV
8:30 p.m. ET
Big Ten Network
(Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

After a historic upset over Michigan State on Sunday night, Northwestern goes for another one on Wednesday, when the Wildcats travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana.

Northwestern knocked off No. 4 Michigan State at home on Sunday, which was its first win over a top-five team since 1979. The Wildcats were projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten this year, so another upset on Wednesday could propel them toward the middle of the conference.

Indiana finished in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten last season, and Hoosier faithful need to see results if head coach Archie Miller is going to see a fifth season. The Hoosiers have failed their two biggest tests of the season against Texas and Florida State but otherwise have taken care of business. They have a date with Illinois over the weekend, so this could be a possible look-ahead spot for the Hoosiers.


Northwestern Wildcats (4-1)

Northwestern was extremely young last season and went through a lot of growing pains, finishing with only three Big Ten wins in 2019. However, with a win over Michigan State under their belt, the Wildcats may be on their way out of the conference’s basement.

Northwestern’s offense this season hinges on the play of Boo Buie. The sophomore guard had 21 points against Michigan State and is the Wildcats’ No. 1 scoring option. Northwestern also adds four-star recruit Ty Berry to the backcourt, which should help Buie with scoring load.

Northwestern has been shooting the lights out through their first four games, ranking inside the top 20 in effective field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Northwestern really struggled against the 3-ball last year, ranking 225th in 3-point percentage. The Wildcats also were one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers, ranking 329th according to KenPom. However, they’ve drastically improved those numbers through their first four games, so they may be able to shut down Indiana’s offense on Wednesday.


Indiana Hoosiers (5-2)

For Indiana, the offense runs through sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis. He is the Hoosiers’ leading scorer and has the highest usage rate of any player in the Big Ten this season. As Jackson-Davis goes, Indiana goes.

Outside of losing Devonte Green, Miller has all of his main contributors back, which has jumped Indiana from 34th in the KenPom rankings last season to 17th in 2020. So far, the Hoosiers have been pretty average on the offensive end, but the real improvements have come on defense end.

On defense, the Hoosiers have made drastic improvements from last season and rank inside the top 10 in defensive efficiency, compared to ranking 26th. Indiana has been fantastic in regards to every defensive shooting stat, but Northwestern has been shooting the lights out.



Betting Analysis & Pick

Given how Northwestern is shooting the ball, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they can shoot Indiana out of the gym. The Hoosiers do have one of the best defenses in the country, but they’ll have their hands full on Wednesday.

I only have Indiana projected as -6.46 favorites at home, so I think there is some value on the Wildcats at +8.5. However, I wouldn’t play it any lower than that.

Pick: Northwestern +8.5


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