NCAA Basketball Pick: Auburn +9 over Illinois

LT Profits Sports Group

Sunday, December 8, 2013 5:00 AM GMT

The Auburn Tigers come off of their worst game of the season in a blowout loss at Iowa State, but they seem undervalued on a neutral floor vs. Illinois on Sunday.

The SEC teams looks like an overlay vs. the Big Ten team on a neutral floor Sunday when the Illinois Fighting Illini (7-1, 1-1 away) take on those Auburn Tigers (4-2, 0-1 away) at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA at 3:00 ET in a game available on ESPN3.

The point spread at Pinnacle Sports has Auburn as a sizable underdog for this contest with the current line at +9 with odds of -111.

Yes, Illinois is off to a 7-1 start, but the fact that the Illini are unranked while playing in a Big Ten that currently has six teams ranked in the Top 25 should tell you something, as Illinois has faced a weak schedule ranked 330th in SOS according to the Pomeroy Ratings, and after a 7-0 start vs. a bunch of pancakes, the first Illinois loss came in its first game vs. a team ranked higher than 114th on Pomeroy at 87th ranked Georgia Tech on Tuesday.

Granted Auburn has faced an even weaker schedule ranked 342nd in SOS, but that should only bring these teams closer to even on a neutral floor and at least the Tigers have shown the ability to make shots closer to the basket, while Illinois has struggled from all parts of the floor despite its weak schedule.

The Illini have underdone an overhaul from the team that finished 23-13 last season and beat the Colorado Buffaloes in the second round to the NCAA Tournament before getting nipped 63-59 by the Miami Hurricanes in the third round. In fact, Illinois lost five of its top eight scorers from a team that finished 54th in offensive efficiency including its top two scorers in Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.

That left the Illini with only one returning double-digit scorer in Tracy Abrams, and they have dropped all the way down to 145th in offensive efficiency this season while ranking a horrendous 235th in effective field goal percentage, thanks to ranking 256th in three-point shooting (31.0 percent) and 194th in two-point shooting (48.1 percent).

Even the 71.2 points the Illini are averaging is inflated due to the competition, and when Illinois suffered its first loss Tuesday in its first game vs. a major opponent, it shot just 41.8 percent overall in the 67-64 loss at Georgia Tech.

Now, Auburn comes off of it worst performance of the season in a 99-70 loss at Iowa State in a true road game at a very difficult venue for visiting teams. Still, Auburn is averaging a shade above seven more points per game than Illinois at 78.2 points vs. a similar schedule, and the reason for that is the Tigers are hitting on 52.5 percent of their two-point attempts, which is how they can be expected to take this game down to the wire.

It also helps that Auburn does not turn the ball over much at 15.9 percent of the time vs. a national average of 18.5 percent, and the Illinois defense does not turn opponents over much at 16.8 percent, so the Tigers should be able to run there offense and ensure that the get good shots from inside the three-point arc.

As long as it continues to hit those shots at the good clip that is has been, Auburn should be able to stay in this game from start to finish in Atlanta on Sunday.

[gameodds]14/251781/?r-1=238-92-43-349-192/us[/gameodds]

NCAA Basketball Pick: Auburn +9 (-111)