College Basketball weekly preview: Back Utah State, Illinois in key conference matchups

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There’s no football to look forward to this weekend, but we are going to get you prepared for a loaded college basketball slate that culminates on Friday night with a top 25 matchup in the Big Ten between two Final Four contenders.

As always, the spreads listed are KenPom’s projected margins and totals unless otherwise noted.

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Utah State (-5.5, 138.5) at UNLV - Monday, 9 PM EST

Odds Courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook on Monday morning

There are two keys to this one: three-point shooting and rebounding.

UNLV is one of the most three-point dependent teams in the country, more than 40% of their points come from deep which is 15th most in the country. On the other end, they allow a ton of three-point makes, allowing the 12th highest percentage of points from beyond the arc.

Against a Utah State team that has four players hitting 34.4% from deep, I’m going to side with the better shooting team if this becomes a three-point contest.

As well, the visitors are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. Utah State is 18th in offensive rebounding rate and fifth in allowing opponents second chances. The Aggies are going to generate plenty of second chance opportunities while limiting the Runnin’ Rebels to one shot.

USU big Neemias Queta has been fantastic this season, averaging a near double- double on 61% shooting, and dominated the lone matchup he played in last season against UNLV, scoring 21 points.

The talent gap between the top and bottom of the Mountain West Conference is large, and this line feels a couple of points short. I’d play this to Utah State -6.5.

Pick: Utah State -5.5, up to 6.5.

Creighton (-2, 148) at Seton Hall -  Wednesday, 7 PM EST

This is a rematch from January 6th when Creighton boat raced Seton Hall in Omaha, winning 89-53.

Since, Creighton’s stock has dropped considerably, losing a road game to Butler in overtime, and at home to Providence. The Blue Jays were able to grab a win over the weekend against a short-handed Connecticut team, but were fairly unimpressive in doing so, getting outrebounded 42-27.

Meanwhile, Seton Hall has played just twice, beating DePaul and losing a heartbreaker to Villanova. At home, I expect the Hall to get up for this one and exact revenge against Creighton, especially with some reinforcements.

Seton Hall got back Havard transfer guard Bryce Aiken against Nova. He played just 10 minutes but if he can continue to work himself into the rotation. Aiken is a difference maker in the backcourt.

Kevin Willard’s club is not a stellar rebounding team, 150th in the nation in total rebound rate, but Creighton has been bleeding on the offensive glass. The Blue Jays have allowed opponents to grab at least 10 offensive boards in six January games.

Don’t sleep on the context of the game either. Seton Hall sits at 9-6 on the year and can use a few resume building victories.

I think they win outright, but willing to take the points to be safe.

Pick: Seton Hall +2, down to +1

Iowa at Illinois (-1, 165) - Friday, 9 PM EST

I’ve had this game circled for months. Illinois is a great matchup for Iowa and laying inside of a bucket at home is a bet for me. This game is going to be back and forth with a ton of points but the Illini are going to be able to take advantage of Iowa’s inability to limit second chances or defend dynamic guard play.

Iowa ranks 246th in the country in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage as of this writing, while the Illini are fantastic at generating second chance opportunities, placing inside the top 50.

Second chances can be huge, but so will open looks. Ayo Dosunmu is going to be able to beat the Hawkeye defenders off the bounce and find wings along the three-point line where Brad Underwood’s team is shooting greater than 39%. This can spell trouble for an Iowa defense that gets burnt from deep, allowing nearly 35% of opponent’s threes to fall.

A concerning sign for Illinois is that they rank outside the top 300 in turnover rate, which is going to hurt against the No. 1 offense in the country. Iowa big man Luka Garza is will get his, but I trust the Illinois guard play to be the difference in this one.

These are two of the strongest teams in the Big Ten, but the Illini have the edge in several key areas that make them a bad matchup for Iowa.

Pick: Illinois -1, up to -1.5.