NCAAM Pick December 23, 2020 – Illinois Fighting Illini at Penn State Nittany Lions

While there are only 28-games on the NCAA Men’s basketball schedule today, there are some great matchups on the slate. The Big 10 highlights the action as they have league games between Northwestern and Indiana, Illinois at Penn State, and Rutgers at Ohio State. The Big East is in full swing for league play as well, as Xavier travels to Creighton in a game between two ranked teams. Georgetown plays at Seton Hall. Providence and Butler play at Hinkle Fieldhouse, and Villanova plays at Marquette.

Other ranked teams in action today include Oregon, who host the UCLA Bruins in PAC-12 league play, and Tennessee hosts South Carolina Upstate. A couple of teams that are lurking just outside of the top-25 nationally will look to keep their hot starts to the season alive when the Billikens of Saint Louis play Missouri Kansas City and the BYU Cougars play Weber State. For our free daily betting pick, we will head to the Big 10, where the Penn State Nittany Lions square off against the Fighting Illini of Illinois.

Today’s Game

  • Illinois Fighting Illini (5-3) at Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2)
  • Jordan Center, University Park
  • 3:30 PM PST
  • TV: BTN

The Penn State Nittany Lions are looking to rebound tonight at home after dropping their Big 10 opener to Michigan in their last game, as they host the Fighting Illini of Illinois. Penn State is expected to finish near the bottom of the Big 10 this season, but after picking up quality early-season victories over top-100 teams like Virginia Tech and VCU, the Nittany Lions are looking like a team with NCAA tournament aspirations.

For Illinois, the Illini have played a brutal schedule and find themselves losers of three of their last five games. After climbing to as high as 5th in the AP Poll, the Illini have dropped all of the way to 18th in the latest poll with their recent struggles. The Illini are expected to compete with the likes of Iowa and Michigan State at the top of the Big 10 this season, but are looking for their first road win in league play tonight, after losing at Rutgers in their last game.


  • Illinois Fighting Illini (-4.5)
  • Penn State Nittany Lions (+4.5)
Money line:

  • Illinois Fighting Illini (-186)
  • Penn State Nittany Lions (+155)
Total Points:

  • Over 150 (-110)
  • Under 150 (-110)

Illinois Fighting Illini (5-3)

It is hard to be too tough on the Fighting Illini right now as they have played a vicious schedule. The losses to Missouri and Rutgers both came in true road games, and the loss to Baylor came to a Bear’s team that is ranked as the 2nd best in the nation. Illinois has a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke, and they also beat a top-50 Minnesota Golden Gophers team at home in their Big 10 opener, so it hasn’t been all bad for Illinois.

There isn’t a team in the Big 10 that has more talent than this Illinois team does, as Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn are both All-American candidates, and Adam Miller is one of the top freshmen in the country. The losses have come to good teams, but if Illinois wants to be considered a legit Final Four threat, they are going to have to beat good teams. Road games in the Big 10 are always a beast, and if the Illini can’t beat quality teams on the road in league play, it is going to greatly dimmish the ceiling on a team that many feel could cut down the nets and win in at this year.

Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2)

It has been a strange start to the season for the Penn State Nittany Lions. The wins over VCU and Virginia Tech were undeniably good ones that should hold up as quality victories on Selection Sunday. And the losses didn’t necessarily have to be losses, as they were tied with Michigan on the road with under two minutes to play in the game, and they led by as many as nineteen in the game they lost to Seton Hall, before losing in overtime.

If the variance had broken their way late in those two games, and the Nittany Lions were sitting at 5-0 right now, they probably would be ranked in the top-25, and people would be looking at this team a lot differently right now. But they didn’t manage to close out those games, and instead of being ranked, they are sitting at 3-2 and are squarely on the bubble, where most people thought they would be entering the season.

Who Do I Like?

Last year, Big 10 home underdogs were the epitome of free money. In a home team dominated league, if you were able to get points on a home team, you wanted to take them every time. This year, home teams haven’t been elite against the spread as favorites in the Big 10, but home teams are 7-1 straight up in the league. Home court advantage isn’t what it has typically been in this season, but if the early returns are telling us anything, it’s that winning on the road is always going to be a tall order in the Big 10.

Big 10 teams as home underdogs are 3-1 covering the number this year. Only Nebraska hasn’t covered at home when getting points. I think Penn State will continue that strong home court trend tonight and cover this number. Will they win the game outright? I am not so sure. Will they lose close enough to cover, if they can’t win outright? I think so.

The Bet

When Penn State has lost this year, they have lost very close. They lost to Seton Hall in overtime, and they lost to Michigan by just four points. I think that is what happens tonight, as I don’t see the Nittany Lions winning this game outright, but I do see them keeping it very close.

Illinois has had trouble closing out games on the road this year, with both of their road losses coming in the final few possessions. If they can’t close this one out down the stretch, they could end up losing their 4th game of the year. I’ll take the Penn State Nittany Lions, getting +4.5-points tonight at home as they keep it close enough to cash our ticket. I’ll call it a 76-75 final score with Illinois sneaking out of Happy Valley with a razor close victory.

The Bet: Penn State Nittany Lions +4.5

My Pick
Penn State Nittany Lions +4.5
Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL