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Best College Basketball Bets Today | NCAAB Picks January 2

Written by: Andrew Norton
Published January 2, 2024
6 min read
Best College Basketball Bets Today January 2

Can you smell it in the air? Conference season is amongst us, with several high-profile matchups, including two huge games in the Big Ten. The No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers, who are 1-1 in the Big Ten through their first two conference matchups, head east to face the Maryland Terrapins, a team that has underwhelmed through non-conference play. 

Additionally, the No. 9 Illinois Fighting Illini hope to learn how to win without their leading scorer, Terrence Shannon Jr., who they will likely be without for the remainder of the 2023-24 regular season. Illinois will host Northwestern, a team that has already upset the aforementioned Boilermakers. 

Read further below for our analysis of both games, including our best college basketball picks today!

No. 1 Purdue @ Maryland

Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook. Head over to DraftKings to place your bets!

PICK:  Maryland +6.5 (-108)

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Even though the Purdue Boilermakers are the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, they are not currently in first place in the Big Ten, as Indiana is 2-0 in the conference while Purdue is merely 1-1. 

Of course, Purdue’s 12-1 overall record is extraordinarily impressive, especially when considering their opponents thus far: No. 10 Arizona, Alabama, No. 7 Marquette, No. 5 Tennessee, Xavier, Iowa, and No. 24 Gonzaga. That resume would already be strong enough for consideration as a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and Purdue has not even entered conference season. 

Still, we expect Purdue to run away with the Big Ten regular season title in short order, especially after its biggest competitor, the Illinois Fighting Illini, lost their best player and leading scorer, Terrence Shannon Jr., for the remainder of the season due to an indefinite suspension. 

The Boilermakers have reigning Wooden Award winner Zach Edey, a 7-foot-4 center who averages 23.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game on 62.4% shooting from the field. Edey is joined by a handful of key returners, including Fletcher Loyer, Braden Smith, Mason Gillis, Ethan Morton, Trey Kaufman-Renn, and Caleb Furst.

Meanwhile, the Maryland Terrapins have had a poor start to the 2023-24 regular season, boasting a 9-4 record with losses to Indiana, Villanova, Davidson, and UAB. However, since the Terrapins’ loss to the Hoosiers on December 1st, they have gone 5-0, securing wins over UCLA and Penn State in the process.

Purdue is laying 6.5 points on the road against Maryland. Can the Boilers cover the spread on the road in a hostile environment, especially since the Terrapins are 8-0 at home this season and were 16-1 the season before?

Purdue might win in College Park but don’t expect this to be easy. The Terrapins have seemingly turned things around since the beginning of the season; they have Julian Reese (14.3 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and Jahmir Young (19.3 ppg), two extremely talented players, at their disposal. It doesn’t quite make sense to us to lay 6.5 points in this spot; we will take them instead. Maryland won’t be a pushover here.

Northwestern @ No. 9 Illinois

Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.

PICK: Northwestern +5.5 (-115)

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This season, the sample size for Illinois without Terrence Shannon Jr. is quite small; Shannon has only missed the Fighting Illini’s last game against FDU on December 29th. While Illinois won by an impressive 33 points, that hardly indicates what it will look like in Big Ten play against this Wildcats team with a 10-2 record, including a massive win over the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers.

Illinois is the ninth-ranked team in the nation and has a neutral court win over No. 17 Florida Atlantic. Its two losses can both be classified as “good losses,” as it dropped bouts against the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers and the No. 7 Marquette Golden Eagles. However, all of those games happened with Shannon on the floor; his 22 points per game on a hyper-efficient 51/41/77 shooting split will be missed.

Luckily, in the Fighting Illini’s last game against FDU, they were able to distribute Shannon’s offensive workload successfully; Illinois shot 52% from the floor and 41% from behind the arc. Illinois ranks 18th in adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency per KenPom, but both will likely fall without Shannon.

Meanwhile, Northwestern has been inconsistent at times this season. Despite boasting a 10-2 record heading into Big Ten conference play, there have been moments where the Wildcats don’t look like a competitive team. 

Look no further than their mysterious home loss against Chicago State, a team that ranks 311th so far this season in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin. On the other hand, Northwestern has put together a few excellent performances, particularly against Purdue, when it shot 47% from the floor and 50% (10-20) from behind the arc. 

The Wildcats are again led by Boo Buie, one of the program’s greatest players; he has averaged 17.9 points, 4.8 assists, and four rebounds on a 44/34/83 shooting split so far this season. 

Buie is joined by Ty Berry, Brooks Barnhizer, and Ryan Langborg as double-digit scorers for Northwestern. This team has had offensive moments between these four players, but the defensive end of the floor will differentiate the Wildcats between being good and being great this season.

Can Northwestern hang on, or at least stay within 5.5 points, at home against a shorthanded Fighting Illini squad?

The Wildcats should be able to keep this one close, even if they don’t win. Shannon Jr.’s absence will hurt this team, and although they didn’t skip a beat against FDU (352nd in adjusted defensive efficiency), Northwestern is a completely different team; they rank 58th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margin, including 52nd in adjusted defensive efficiency. 

Northwestern’s tempo (351st in adjusted tempo) is slow and methodical, too, which does not fit the Fighting Illini’s fast-paced play. The Wildcats will force Illinois to play tough defense for the entire shot clock, which is not what it wants to do. We expect a negative regression in offensive efficiency for the Fighting Illini, especially since the team shoots just 33.4% from behind the arc as a team, and they won’t have Shannon Jr. (41.4% from three this season), who helps bolster that team average to something reasonable.

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Andrew Norton

Sports Betting Analyst

Betting Picks
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.
Nationality: American
Education: Bachelor of Arts
Favourite Sportsbook: FanDuel Sportsbook
Favourite Casino: BetMGM Casino
5 years
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