The Jimmy V Classic takes center stage Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, and we're taking a look at the Illinois-Villanova matchup with analysis and a free college basketball pick.
There wasn't a lot of respect being given the Big East Conference entering the season. Villanova was the only team from the conference ranked in preseason polls, and much of the attention the league was getting then focused on the fact Creighton wasn't going to have big Doug McDermott to scare opponents after the 3-time All-American departed for the Chicago Bulls in the NBA.
Slowly but surely, the conference is gaining a little respect with two more squads -- Butler and St. John's -- joining the Wildcats in the latest AP ranks where 'Nova sits seventh now. Jay Wright's club will try and keep a perfect start to the season going and help the Big East get a little more recognition when the Wildcats take on the Illinois Fighting Illini Tuesday evening in the opener of the Jimmy V Classic in New York.
ESPN will carry the contest beginning at 7 PM (ET), and Villanova is a 4 point favorite after opening -4½. SBR's live College Basketball odds will have a total when it's released.
Illini Sub For Maryland In Jimmy V Tip-Off
Maryland was originally scheduled to be part of the 2014 Jimmy V Classic, but the switch to the Big Ten this year created a scheduling conflict for the Terps. Their new conference compadres from Illinois were available, and that's how the Big Ten still managed to occupy half of the tournament's field.
There is some series history between the Illini and Wildcats, though a lot of years have passed since they last met. The series stands level at 3-3, all three of Villanova's victories coming at neutral sites. It was the 1988 NCAA Tournament when Villanova and Illinois last got together in Cincinnati during the second round of that year's Big Dance. The Illini were a No. 3 seed in the Southeast Region and favored to beat the Wildcats in the clash, but it was Rollie Massimino's 'Nova crew that pulled off the 66-63 upset.
December Starts With Stumble For Illini
The 2014-15 college basketball betting schedule started well enough for John Groce and Illinois. Now in his third season at Champaign, Groce's charges breezed through November with six consecutive wins, the final dubya for the month coming over Baylor in the finals of the Las Vegas Invitational, 62-54.
It was also a good start for Illini backers who cashed four of the five games that included odds. They were favored by four in the win against Baylor, and rallied from a 4-point deficit at halftime to get the outright win plus double up the spread.
But December started with a 70-61 loss in Miami to the then 15th-ranked Hurricanes, and followed that up with a 70-55 triumph this past Saturday vs. American, a game that failed to even make the college basketball betting board. Suffice to say, had there been a spread for that contest, the Illini wouldn't have covered.
Illinois began the season with five consecutive games scoring 80 or more, but that number is down in the mid-60s the last three as the Illini faced tougher defenses. Baylor and Miami gave Illinois' backcourt trouble, shutting down the lanes when they tried to drive with no open shots from the outside.
'Nova Set To Face 3rd Ranked Opponent
With Illinois still showing up at the bottom of the coaches poll, the Illini represent the third ranked opponent for the Wildcats. The other two came during the Legends Classic two weeks ago in Brooklyn where Villanova set down VCU and Michigan for the title.
The closely contested battle with Virginia Commonwealth turned into a clinic by 'Nova with a 24-point victory s 2 point chalk. The 'Cats pushed a 5 point total the next night vs. Michigan, and have since reeled off three straight covers to stand 5-1-1 against the spread on the season, the 'under' even more profitable (1-6 O/U).
Turnovers are always a huge part of the game, but we're going to see two teams that avoid them tonight. The Wildcats do a better job forcing turnovers plus can go a little deeper than Illinois on the offensive end, and that's why I'm laying the points with my free NCAA Basketball pick.
Free NCAA Basketball Pick: Villanova -4
Season: 0-2 (-2.20)