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Men's College Basketball Bets: Wisconsin-Illinois, Villanova-Marquette

Bets and analysis for a pair of top-25 matchups Wednesday as No. 11 Wisconsin visits No. 18 Illinois and No. 12 Villanova heads to No. 24 Marquette.

College basketball picks return this week with a host of top-25 teams in action.

Kevin Sweeney rejoins me to make against the spread and over/under bets for a Big Ten showdown between No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 18 Illinois in Champaign, Ill., and a Big East bout featuring No. 12 Villanova and No. 24 Marquette.

Season record: 22-22
Guest pickers: 16-11-1

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Illinois' Kofi Cockburn holds the ball after gathering in a rebound during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Maryland on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, in Champaign, Ill.

No. 11 Wisconsin (17-3, 8-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 18 Illinois (15-5, 8-2)

Time: 9 p.m. ET | BTN
Spread: Wisconsin +7 (-110) | Illinois -7 (-110)
Over/Under: Under 136.5 (-110) | Over 136.5 (-118)
Moneyline: Wisconsin (+220) | Illinois (-333)

The Badgers won their last two games against the Big Ten's bottom dwellers in unconvincing fashion. Wisconsin beat Nebraska, 63-55, last Thursday on the road and took down Minnesota, 66-60, at home Sunday but failed to cover in both games. 

Now, Wisconsin has another date with a ranked conference opponent and first place in the Big Ten is on the line. Then-No. 14 Michigan State handed the Badgers an 86-74 loss last time they faced a top-25 team. Wisconsin is 3-2 against ranked opponents.

Johnny Davis paces the team in scoring at 21.4 PPG, the eighth-highest average in the nation. He also leads the Badgers in rebounds, assists and steals per game. Wisconsin doesn’t necessarily wow on offense or defense. It ranks outside the top 150 in points per game (72.4) and outside the top 100 in points allowed per game (66.5).

KenPom.com isn’t particularly high on either unit—ranking Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies 35th and 39th, respectively.

Still, it’s hard to argue with Wisconsin’s record.

The Fighting Illini are also winners of two in a row, having defeated then-No. 10 Michigan State, 56-55, and Northwestern, 59-56, last week. The win against the Spartans was Illinois’ first against a top-25 team this season (1-2).

The key in those two games was keeping the game low-scoring—the Fighting Illini allowed 80-plus points in the two games prior and lost both.

Illinois runs its offense through All-American big man Cofi Cockburn. The 7-foot junior averages a double-double (21.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG) and is complemented by a trio of guards who shoot better than 35% from deep: Alfonso Plummer, Trent Frazier and Jacob Grandison. The Fighting Illini rank just outside the top 50 in scoring (77.2 PPG) and inside the top 100 in scoring defense (65.8 PPG). Their offensive and defensive efficiency numbers on KenPom.com are both inside the top-30, and Cockburn’s proficiency on the glass helps Illinois rank 10th in rebounds per game.

Kyle Wood’s Bets:

Moneyline or Spread Pick: Wisconsin +7

The Badgers are 12-8 ATS this season and the Fighting Illini are 9-11, per TeamRankings.com. Wisconsin has failed to cover its last three games, but that was with the team favored. The Badgers are 3-1 ATS and SU as underdogs this season. I think Illinois still wins with its advantage in the paint and defensive proficiency.

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Over/Under Pick: Under 136.5

Both teams’ games hit the over more than half of the time. However, I’m still going with the under. Illinois has scored 65 or fewer points in its last three games, well below its season average. Wisconsin has had less trouble scoring the ball recently, but is the lesser offense in this matchup and is going up against a tough defense. If the Fighting Illini can harass Davis enough and keep him in check, that should prevent the Badgers from having a big scoring night.

Kevin Sweeney’s Bets:

Moneyline or Spread Pick: Wisconsin +7

Wisconsin is a better team than their metrics indicate, and a team I like betting a lot more as an underdog than as a favorite. The big matchup in this game to watch is Wisconsin star guard Johnny Davis and how he’s able to operate against elite Illini defender Trent Frazier. Frazier has made a living taking opposing teams’ best guards out of their comfort zone, but Davis has had his biggest games in the biggest moments so far this season (remember his 37 points at Mackey Arena?).

Both teams are going to be happy to keep this game in the halfcourt, and I expect a grind-it-out affair. That makes 7 feel like a big number, particularly with how good Davis is. Illinois wins the game, but the Badgers hang in for 40 minutes in a tough atmosphere in Champaign.

Over/Under Pick: Under 136.5

As I alluded to, I think the tempo of this game is going to be of the grind-it-out variety. Illinois has played consecutive games won in the 50s and has really embraced the grittiness necessary to win in the Big Ten while shorthanded. Even with the Illini finally getting healthy, I don’t see them abandoning that. Plus, Wisconsin has proven to be perhaps the best team in the country at imposing its will on a game and sucking the life out of it. The Badgers are going to want to take the air out of the ball and with it, take the air out of the Illini crowd. This game feels like a first-to-65 wins proposition.

Marquette guard Darryl Morsell (32) and Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels (23) reach for a rebound during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, in Villanova, Pa.

No. 12 Villanova (16-5, 9-2 Big East) vs. No. 24 Marquette (15-7, 7-4)

Time: 10 p.m. ET | FS1
Spread: Villanova -4.5 (-118) | Marquette +4.5 (-110)
Over/Under: Under 132.5 (-110) | Over 132.5 (-118)
Moneyline: Villanova (-213) | Marquette (+160)

The Wildcats’ only loss in the last month came against Marquette on their home floor. Villanova gets the opportunity to even the series in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Just two short weeks ago, the Golden Eagles scored a 57-54 victory against then-No. 11 Villanova. It was a disastrous shooting night for Villanova, hitting less than than 40% of its team’s attempts and shooting just 25% from three. Collin Gillespie, the Wildcats’ leading scorer at 17.1 PPG, managed just 10 points.

Villanova demolished its three opponents since then, winning by an average of 15.3 points. The Wildcats rely heavily on Gillespie and guard Justin Moore, who lead the No. 6 adjusted offense per KenPom.com. Villanova is also more than capable of stifling its opponents on defense. The team allows 60.1 PPG, the 15th-fewest in DI. The Wildcats have been more than battle-tested to this point—this is their eighth game against a ranked opponent and they are 4-3 thus far.

Things looked grim for Marquette at the start of January. The Golden Eagles had lost four straight, had a record of 8-6 and were 0-3 in conference play. They rattled off seven wins in a row—four against ranked opponents, including Villanova—before the streak ended Sunday against Providence. Marquette lost to the Friars, 65-63, on the road. Now they return home, where they’ve won four in a row.

Freshman forward Justin Lewis leads the Golden Eagles in scoring at 16.5 PPG, but it’s Tyler Kolek who runs the offense. He dishes 6.1 assists per game, 13th-most in the country, and contributes to Marquette’s 17.2 dimes per game, the 11th-most by a team. The advanced numbers favor the Golden Eagles’ defense to their offense. They have the 23rd-best adjusted defense efficiency on KenPom.com and No. 68 adjusted offensive efficiency. Kolek contributes to Marquette’s 8.0 steals per game by getting into passing lanes and creating turnovers.

Kyle Wood’s Bets:

Moneyline or Spread Pick: Marquette +4.5

The Golden Eagles have one of the highest cover percentages in college basketball. I’m confident in them getting points at home, especially given their recent win over Villanova. Marquette is capable of producing turnovers with disruptors like Darryl Morsell and Kolek, and saw that the key to beating Villanova is keeping its shooters, like Gillesipie, in check. Marquette is more than capable of winning this game outright and completing the season sweep, but I’ll take the points to be safe.

Over/Under Pick: Under 132.5

The total in the last matchup was 111. I expect a slightly higher scoring game this time around, but not by much. Villanova ranks 356th out of 358 teams on KenPom in adjusted tempo and both of these teams rank in the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Villanova got virtually no bench production (five points from Caleb Daniels) in the first meeting, which should change this time around. Still, I think defense prevails in a hard-fought, low-scoring affair.

Kevin Sweeney’s Bets:

Moneyline or Spread Pick: Marquette +4.5

It feels risky to bet against Jay Wright in the second meeting of the season after a loss, but I think this is a bad matchup for Villanova. Marquette is deep, physical and athletic on defense, a bad combination for the Wildcats, who scored just 54 in the teams’ first meeting. Marquette guard Darryl Morsell is among the nation’s best defensive players, and the Golden Eagles have a great rim protector in Kur Kuath who can send back shots at the rim. Plus, Marquette has the best player on the floor in Justin Lewis, who put up 21 points and 8 rebounds when these two teams met in January. I think Marquette will ride a rowdy home crowd to an inspired performance…and even if it’s not enough to win, I believe it will be enough to cover.

Over/Under Pick: Over 132.5

Yes, Marquette’s defense is excellent and matches up well with the Wildcats. But for Marquette to stay in this game, it will have to score. That starts with Lewis, who has been playing perhaps the best basketball of his career of late. But I think the home crowd will lift the Golden Eagles to a hot outside shooting performance, and that combined with a steady defensive effort is enough to keep Marquette in the game.

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