The Mecca of Basketball will be rocking when Game 1 of the Jimmy V Classic tips off tonight between the Florida Atlantic Owls and Illinois Fighting Illini at Madison Square Garden.
FAU has reeled off five successive victories after being upset by Bryant while Illinois is coming off its first Big Ten win of the season but will be playing its first contest on a neutral court. College basketball odds are positioning the Illini as slight underdogs at MSG.
Let's take a closer look with my free college basketball picks for Florida Atlantic vs. Illinois on Tuesday, December 5.
Florida Atlantic vs Illinois best odds
Florida Atlantic vs Illinois picks and predictions
Florida Atlantic was the darling of the 2023 NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four, falling one point shy of getting to the NCAA Final.
FAU has picked up right where it left off and has reeled off five straight victories, including solid wins over Butler, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and Liberty. The Owls scored 83+ in each of those victories, fueled by tremendous shooting from inside and outside the arc, but have also allowed 74+ in three of their last five games.
Illinois has also had an excellent beginning to its season. Its only blemish was a 71-64 home loss to No. 4-ranked Marquette, and it opened its Big Ten season with a victory over Rutgers. Illinois boasts a 57% effective field goal percentage, but after that, the Illini are a below-average shooting team from downtown and the charity stripe.
I like the Fighting Illini defense, and I expect a low-scoring game.
Illinois has a tremendous size advantage, leading the nation with 49.3 rebounds per contest. The +5.9 rebounding margin FAU usually enjoys won’t be as easily obtainable, and second-chance points for the Owls will be at a premium. The Fighting Illini defense is No. 1 inside the arc and No. 38 outside the arc, and FAU will have to work hard to get anything going consistently on the offensive end.
FAU may not play stout defense, but Illinois isn’t a good offensive team from anywhere. It turns the ball over too much and can’t get to the charity stripe, and even when it does, it makes 57.8% of those shots. For as big as the Illini are, they boast a mediocre 53% effective field goal percentage.
Finally, this is Madison Square Garden, and playing in this famed arena is a dream for most young kids. These squads will be nervous, and that will affect both offenses. Illinois is the better defense, and the tallest squad FAU has faced, which will keep the Owls well below their 83.9 season average. Illinois hasn’t scored well against anyone, relying primarily on defense to win, and I don’t see this matchup exceeding the 148.5-point total.
My best bet: Under 148.5 (-110 at BetRivers)
Florida Atlantic vs Illinois same-game parlay
New shooting environments are always interesting, especially when facing a much taller and more physical team like Illinois. Playing at a famous venue like MSG on national television doesn’t help much, either. FAU has a 4-4-0 Over/Under record and 2-2-0 on a neutral court. Illinois is 2-5-0 to the Under overall, and tonight marks its first neutral court appearance this season.
Illinois covering the spread makes sense and correlates well with the Under. The Fighting Illini win games with their defense — and the only way for them to win is if they hold FAU to under 70 points. They will do so by owning both ends of the glass, keeping shooters Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin from going off from downtown.
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Florida Atlantic vs Illinois spread and Over/Under analysis
BetRivers has the best number for the spread (+3.0) and at -110. They opened this game, Illinois, +3.5 (-110), and the number dropped to +3.0 on Monday evening. Everyone else has Illinois +2.5 at odds, ranging from -105 at ESPN Bet to -115 at Betfred.
Flip that around, and FAU -3.0 (-110) is available only at BetRivers. FAU -2.5 (-110) is available just about anywhere, but if you wait long enough, this game could be a pick'em by tipoff.
Under 148.5 (-110) is available now after opening 149 (-110) at several sportsbooks, including BetRivers and Superbook. 148.5 (-110) is the highest number for the total after opening 149 (-110), and there are several shops with Over 147.5 (-110). That number on the Over could fall to 146.5 before they finish singing the Star-Spangled Banner.
If I did have a lean, it would be the Illinois moneyline, but the value is getting sucked out of the line with every word I type. Illinois opened +130 at BetRivers, but that number is now a less valuable +112. We’ll be looking for Illinois +130 in-game, as I believe +130 isn’t coming back to us pregame.
Value is headed toward FAU as it opened at -159 and now resides at a more valuable -135.
Florida Atlantic vs Illinois betting trend to know
Illinois has hit the Game Total Under in 19 of their last 32 games (+4.70 Units / 13% ROI). Find more college basketball betting trends for Florida Atlantic vs. Illinois.
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Florida Atlantic vs Illinois game info
|Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
|Tuesday, December 5, 2023
|6:30 p.m. ET
Florida Atlantic vs Illinois key injuries
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