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Best College Basketball Bets Today | NCAAB Picks December 21

Written by: Andrew Norton
Published December 21, 2023
11 min read
Best College Basketball Bets Today December 21

Rivalry game alert! The No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats make the short trip to Louisville for an inevitably intense battle against the Cardinals. Additionally, the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers host Jacksonville just days after knocking off then-No. 1 Arizona. Can the Boilermakers avoid a letdown game and cover the massive spread? Can Kentucky fend off a feisty Louisville team? Let’s get into it below!

Jacksonville @ No. 1 Purdue

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PICK: Purdue -30 (-110) at DraftKings

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The Purdue Boilermakers already have the type of resume that most one-seed hopefuls wish they had by the end of the season, and it is only December. Purdue has registered wins against Alabama, No. 4 Arizona, No. 6 Marquette, No. 8 Tennessee, Xavier, and No. 15 Gonzaga. As I said, that is the type of resume that any other team looking to secure a top seed in the NCAA Tournament could hang their hat on, but Purdue is just getting started.

A large portion of the Boilermakers’ success so far this season can be attributed to the number of talented returners they have, including 7-foot-4 reigning Wooden Award winner Zach Edey, as well as Braden Smith, Fletcher Loyer, Trey Kaufman-Renn, Mason Gillis, Ethan Morton, and Caleb Furst. They also brought in senior transfer Lance Jones and four-star freshman Myles Colvin to add to their loaded roster. 

There were two issues that Purdue needed to address coming into this season, especially after it lost to a No. 16-seeded team in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament: three-point shooting and finding the “Robin” to Edey’s “Batman.” Luckily, the Boilermakers solved both of those problems.

Returning sophomore guards Braden Smith (14.4 ppg, 6.7 apg, 5.7 rpg) and Fletcher Loyer (11.7 ppg), as well as senior transfer guard Lance Jones (10.5 ppg), have been the collective “Robin” (multiplied by three) that Purdue so desperately needed. Obviously, Zach Edey has picked up right where he left off last season, averaging an insane 24.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game on 62% shooting from the field.

The good news for the Boilermakers doesn’t stop there. They currently rank seventh in the nation in three-point percentage (40.3%), which is the perfect complement to an unstoppable big man whose passing vision continues to improve by the day. Unsurprisingly, Purdue ranks second in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin and second in adjusted offensive efficiency.

The Boilermakers are an unstoppable train, but can they cover a ginormous 30-point spread?

Purdue’s three-point shooting, combined with Jacksonville’s poor three-point shooting defense, which has allowed opponents to shoot 39.1% on the road, is enough to consider backing the Boilermakers. 

Additionally, Jacksonville is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country (defensive rebounding percentage of 68.6%), while Purdue’s unadjusted offensive rebounding percentage sits at 32nd in the nation. The Boilermakers have played the fifth-hardest (per KenPom’s opponent adjEM) schedule in the nation, so they’d likely rank even higher on the offensive glass if they played fewer ranked teams.

Ultimately, this is a huge mismatch, and while a letdown game could be a concern for Purdue after knocking off then-No. 1 Arizona, the Boilermakers are simply too talented across the board for Jacksonville to stay close. Back the Boilers.

No. 9 Kentucky @ Louisville

Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.

PICK:  Kentucky -13.5 (-110) at DraftKings

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The best way to describe the Kentucky Wildcats is “untapped potential.” They have moments where they look like one of the best teams in the nation and others where they seem vulnerable, especially in their seven-point loss at home against UNC Wilmington.

Even though the Wildcats only returned two key players from last year’s team (Antonio Reeves and Adou Thiero), they had no issues replenishing talent. Kentucky got Tre Mitchell, the former West Virginia star, in the transfer portal and brought in a truckload of five-star (or five-star-caliber) freshmen, including Rob Dillingham, Reed Sheppard, D.J. Wagner, Aaron Bradshaw, and Justin Edwards.

With Bradshaw now in the rotation, the Wildcats are beyond dangerous; they have added size and skill in the paint, joining Edwards and Mitchell in what is one of the most talented and physical frontcourts in the nation.

Meanwhile, Louisville is struggling to get wins again. If you had told fans of Louisville basketball ten years ago that the state of the basketball program would be where it's today, there is simply no way that they would have believed you. The Cardinals had won a National Championship in 2013 but held just a 4-28 record last season. That’s a drastic change for such a historic program.

Luckily, Louisville has been more competitive this season, boasting a 5-6 record (5-2 at home.) The Cardinals have some talent, with Mike James, Skyy Clark, Tre White, J.J. Traynor, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, and Ty-Laur Johnson all averaging between nine and 15 points per game.

Unfortunately, Louisville has lost three of its past four games but was able to at least secure a win against Pepperdine in its last matchup behind James and Huntley-Hatfield, who combined for 39 points. Discipline, consistency, cohesiveness, and three-point shooting are notable concerns, but when they rally together, the Cardinals can be a tough team to beat, especially at home.

Louisville nearly beat No. 19 Texas on a neutral floor if it weren’t for a game-winning shot from Longhorns guard Max Abmas, and it also played Indiana to within eight points just one day after that.  

Where does that leave Louisville for this matchup against Kentucky? Can the Cardinals get a huge rivalry win over the Wildcats?

Kentucky should not struggle with Louisville. The Wildcats are better at every position, are better coached, have more size (Bradshaw is 7-foot-1), and shoot extraordinarily well (40.8% from deep, fifth in the nation.) 

Further, Kentucky has options defensively: it can funnel Louisville’s guards into the paint and force them to shoot over and around Bradshaw, or it can allow them to shoot from deep, where the Cardinals have shot merely 29.4% from deep (305th in the nation.) The Wildcats could run away with this one.

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AUTHOR

Andrew Norton

117 Articles

Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.

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