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As of tomorrow, it will be the beginning of March. In typical “March Madness” fashion, we expect the fireworks to start even before the NCAA Tournament! Below are three key games featuring the Big Ten, Big 12, and Big East conferences.
Two of these games have regular season conference championship implications, while the other game features two teams that have grown to have a disdain for one another. Check out the best bets for these three matchups below: Iowa versus Indiana, Texas Tech versus Kansas, and Marquette versus Butler!
When: 6:30 PM EST
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Marquette has the opportunity to close the door on a Big East regular season conference title in this game against the scrappy Butler Bulldogs. The Golden Eagles have had an unbelievable season and rank No. 6 in the country in the latest AP Poll.
Nobody expected this Golden Eagles squad to be nearly as good as they have turned out to be. As a matter of fact, they were ranked in the preseason by SI.com to finish ninth in the Big East! The Golden Eagles have thrived under Shaka Smart (the former coach of VCU, which he helped take to the Final Four in 2011, and Texas), despite this being just his second season at the helm.
Marquette’s bread and butter is undoubtedly its offense, which ranks third in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. The Golden Eagles have a balanced attack offensively, not leaning too heavily on any one player; however, sophomore Kam Jones has been the obvious first option on this team, averaging roughly 15 points per game on 47% shooting from the field and 37% from behind the arc.
Jones is joined in the backcourt by sophomore lead guard Tyler Kolek (12 points and eight assists per game), who is the leader and commands the offense. Kolek ranks second in the nation in assists per game and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio. Head coach Shaka Smart has his “guy” he can work through on the floor with Kolek.
The scariest aspect of this Golden Eagles team is that they have no seniors who actually get minutes. The majority of their rotation consists of freshmen and sophomores, with forward Olivier-Maxence Prosper being the only junior.
With no clear-cut NBA first-round draft picks on the team, Marquette may return most of these guys as long as they don’t enter the transfer portal. The Golden Eagles could be destined for greatness once again next year.
In a competitive Big East conference, Marquette has been winners of nine of its past ten games; its only loss was to the No. 14 UConn Huskies on the road. UConn is without a doubt one of the best teams in the nation, despite a dry spell in January. Don’t let the Huskies’ conference record fool you.
Meanwhile, Marquette and Butler have faced off once before this season, with the Golden Eagles securing an eight-point win at home. Now, they have to hit the road to try and beat Butler in legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The Butler Bulldogs rank 121st in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, including a morbidly poor 224th in adjusted offensive efficiency. In other words: Butler is really bad offensively.
This was not the year that future Hall-of-Fame head coach Thad Matta was hoping for in his first season back; however, he has not yet had the opportunity to recruit a team that fits his style. It will be a process to turn this program back around after several incredible seasons in the 2010s.
For this game, I like Marquette to win by double-digits and cover the spread. Butler does a great job of playing well against tough competition and has for a while, but the Golden Eagles have a lot to play for in this game.
The gap between these two offenses is simply too substantial, and I don’t expect Butler to hold the Golden Eagles to merely 60 points again. Marquette averages 81 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of 56.6%. I have to back the Golden Eagles here.
When: 7:00 PM EST
After a shocking road win against No. 5 Purdue, the Indiana Hoosiers look to defend home court at Assembly Hall in their final two games of the Big Ten regular season. The Hoosiers have more than a good shot at securing a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, which is of the utmost importance; it would help them keep fresh legs by minimizing the number of games they have to play.
Surprisingly, Trayce Jackson-Davis was not the star of the show, as he finished with just ten points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. It was Jalen Hood-Schifino, the five-star freshman, who had a career game on the road against the formerly No. 1 ranked Purdue Boilermakers; he scored 35 points on 14-24 shooting from the field. JHS sliced and diced the Boilermakers in the mid-range, forcing Zach Edey to decide on whether to step up and contest or stay tight on TJD in the paint. Edey often chose the latter, and Hood-Schifino made them pay.
Outside of that game, Indiana has leaned heavily on TJD throughout the entire Big Ten season to keep it competitive since the Hoosiers have been without their starting point guard, Xavier Johnson. They will continue to do so these next few games.
Johnson’s status for this game, and the last game of the Big Ten regular season, is a huge question mark; Indiana has kept information regarding his injury close to the vest, often giving cryptic answers about his future availability.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Hawkeyes are riding the roller coaster high of mounting an incredulous comeback in the final minutes of their last game against Michigan State. The Hawkeyes erased a 13-point deficit in the final 90 seconds of the game to send it into overtime and, eventually, secure the win.
Iowa boasts one of the best-scoring frontcourts in the Big Ten, with Kris Murray (brother of the No. 4 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Keegan), Filip Rebraca, Payton Sandfort, and Patrick McCaffrey combining for roughly 54 points and 24 rebounds per game.
Despite having that offensive firepower, Iowa has been one of the worst teams on the road this season; the Hawkeyes’ only two Big Ten road wins have come against Minnesota (1-16 record in Big Ten play) and Rutgers, who they match up well with given their significant scoring output.
I have to back Indiana in this spot; it has found the right time to play the best basketball of the season, and there is always the chance of Xavier Johnson returning for this game. Even if he doesn’t, the Hoosiers were pummeling Iowa on the road before giving up a massive comeback late in the second half.
At home, they will have the maturity to get up big and put the Hawkeyes away. Iowa’s defense, which ranks 170th in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, should get obliterated by the dynamic duo of Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino.
When: 9:00 PM EST
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Kansas now sits in solo first place in the Big 12, the toughest conference in the nation. The Jayhawks squeaked out a narrow two-point victory at home against West Virginia, while the Baylor Bears provided an “assist” to Kansas by beating the Texas Longhorns at home.
Now, the Jayhawks have their destiny in their own hands; if they win their next two games, they will be solo Big 12 regular season champions again. However, losing one or both of these upcoming games could jeopardize their conference championship.
Kansas has had an incredible season, boasting the most brutal schedule in the country (per TeamRankings.com), and still is 24-5 overall at the end of February! The Jayhawks don’t have an incredibly deep team, but their starting lineup of Gradey Dick, Jalen Wilson, Kevin McCullar Jr, Dajuan Harris Jr, and K.J. Adams Jr is amongst the best in the nation.
Kansas is also one of only four teams (Purdue, Houston, Kansas, and Alabama) in the country that ranks in the top 20 in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies!
On the other hand, Texas Tech has not had much to show for its season, going just 5-11 in Big 12 play with a 16-13 record overall. The Red Raiders aren’t a bad team by any means, ranking 51st in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, but they are nowhere near good enough to consistently compete with teams like Kansas, Baylor, or Texas.
With so much on the line in this game, I like the Jayhawks to shut the door on the rest of the Big 12, besides Texas, at home. A 9.5-point line is quite extensive for any game in the Big 12 conference, which is solid from top to bottom; however, this is the best opportunity for Kansas to claim at least part of the Big 12 regular season conference title as its final game is on the road against No. 9 Texas.
Kansas won on the road by three points earlier in the season against Texas Tech, despite the Red Raiders shooting 10-21 from three; if the Jayhawks can hold them off when they shoot like that on their home floor, they should have no problem doing it in Allen Fieldhouse. Expect significant shooting regression for Texas Tech in this game, as it ranks 151st in 3P%. Further, the Red Raiders rank 303rd in turnovers per game, while Kansas forces the 45th-most, despite having the most challenging schedule in the nation. The Jayhawks will bury Texas Tech in transition points and cover the spread.
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.More info on Andrew Norton
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