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Illinois vs. Penn State College Basketball Odds & Picks: Plenty of Betting Value on Nittany Lions

Illinois vs. Penn State College Basketball Odds & Picks: Plenty of Betting Value on Nittany Lions article feature image

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Myles Dread.

  • The Illinois Fighting Illini face the Penn State Nittany Lions on Wednesday night in a Big Ten showdown.
  • Illinois has a pair of stars in Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, but BJ Cunningham sees value on Penn State as a home underdog.
  • Check out Cunningham's full betting preview complete with a pick and updated odds below.

Illinois vs. Penn State Odds

Illinois Odds -3 [BET NOW]
Penn State Odds +3 [BET NOW]
Moneyline -159 / +130 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 151.5 [BET NOW]
Time Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Big Ten Network
Odds as of Tuesday evening and via DraftKings, where you can get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.

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 the Penn State Nittany Lions.

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.

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Illinois Fighting Illini

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 the improvement is because it’s 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

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 Myreon 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.

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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 or better.

[Bet Penn State now at DraftKings and get a $1,000 sign-up bonus.]

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