College Basketball Computer Picks for February 18: UCLA Can’t Be Beaten 

Adem Bona UCLA Bruins v USC Trojans

With some great action awaiting us today in the college basketball odds boards, three games particularly interest me: Evansville vs. Illinois State, Northwestern vs. Indiana, and Utah vs. UCLA.

For your picks today, I will recommend investing in Evansville, Northwestern, and Utah.

My recommendations are backed by OddsTrader’s computer AI and by my handicapping.

Picks Summary

  • Evansville +4.5 (-110)
  • Northwestern +2 (-110)
  • UCLA -2.5 (-110)

*All odds from Bet365 (check our Bet365 Review)

Evansville Purple Aces vs. Illinois State Redbirds

Sunday, February 18, 2024 – 03:00 PM ET at CEFCU Arena

Our computers project a tight game in which Evansville covers the spread. I agree with this projection: you should bet on the Purple Aces.

The Case Against Evansville

Let’s first consider why someone might be disinclined to bet on Evansville.

In all fairness, its perimeter defense is weak. Evansville’s defenders often lose track of their man. One reason why this happens is that they like to collapse on potential scorers inside the arc, leaving opposing shooters open behind the arc.

Why This Argument Is Bad

This case against Evansville is utterly weak because every team has its weaknesses. What matters is the matchup. We have to ask: can the Purple Aces’ opponent take advantage of their poor perimeter defense?

I really like Evansville because Illinois State is, approximately more so than every other school in the nation, very poorly equipped to take advantage of the Purple Aces’ weakness.

When the Redbirds get favorable three-point shooting opportunities, they will only rarely convert. They rank 355th in the nation in three-point percentage.

Illinois State’s Poor Rim Protection

It is much rather going to be the case that Evansville exploits the Redbirds’ weakness on defense.

On defense, Illinois State struggles with rim protection. This struggle is a consequence of its utter lack of size – as a team, it ranks 339th in height. Evansville will take advantage with its proclivity to attack inside.

The Purple Aces will use ball reversals, screens and cross-court passes to create driving space for themselves. They regularly do a solid job of scoring at the basket, ranking 53rd nationally in field goal percentage at the rim.

NCAAB Pick: Evansville +4.5 (-110) at Bet365

Northwestern Wildcats vs. Indiana Hoosiers

Sunday, February 18, 2024 – 03:00 PM ET at Assembly Hall

Our computers indicate that this game will be a nail-biter that results in a Northwestern cover. I agree with this projection and confidently believe that you should play the Wildcats.

Indiana’s Misleading Perimeter Defense Stats

On the surface, the Hoosiers’ defense looks appealing because they allow a low three-point conversion rate. However, especially their most recent games show their vulnerability to devoted and competent three-point attacks.

Their two losses in their last three games both featured strong shooting from the opponent. Lowly Penn State converted twelve of its 22 three-point attempts against the Hoosiers. Most recently, Purdue used a 38.1-percent three-point conversion rate to blow past Indiana.

Northwestern’s Three-Point Attack

The vulnerability of Indiana’s perimeter defense is crucial to note because Northwestern loves to shoot threes. Northwestern ranks number one in the Big Ten in three-point conversion rate.

Sometimes utilizing four-out-one-in spacing, where four guys are positioned behind the arc, Northwestern will spread out opposing defenses, which makes it easier for them to use simple passes to find an open shooter.

The Wildcats boast three players who convert over 38 percent of their three-point attempts.

Compact Defense

Indiana’s offense will suffer for being one-dimensional. The Hoosiers are allergic to shooting threes. For their second straight game, the Wildcats thus get to face an opponent that is determined to score inside.

They will play compactly, with multiple defenders positioned in or around the paint, in order to make scoring inside difficult for Indiana.

NCAAB Pick: Northwestern +2 (-110) at Bet365

Utah Utes vs. UCLA Bruins

Sunday, February 18, 2024 – 07:00 PM ET at Pauley Pavilion

Our computers indicate that UCLA will cover the spread as the favored team, and I agree. With your best bets in mind, expect, therefore, a sufficiently strong UCLA win.

UCLA’s Form

UCLA is automatically worth investing in right now because of its strong form: the Bruins have won six straight games, with five of those wins coming by four or more points and with four victories coming by at least eight points.

UCLA’s Stifling Defense

On defense, the Bruins have grown a lot this season. Among other things, they are forcing more turnovers, such that their defense now ranks third in their conference in turnover rate.

UCLA will use its ability to force turnovers to take advantage of Utah’s paucity of reliable ball-handlers. The Utes’ point guard suffers a high turnover rate that justifies pessimism toward his outlook today.

When the Utes do get shots off, they’ll have to deal with a UCLA defense that will use, among other things, its good length to contest their shot attempts.

Utah’s Struggles

One reason why the Utes have lost three in a row is their vulnerable perimeter defense. Their loss to Arizona State provides a great example.

UCLA won’t need to score that many points to cover the spread, but revitalized shooting form from Will McClendon would sure help. His last two games notwithstanding, he shoots 39.3% from deep. While he should pick up his efficiency again, Dylan Andrews has anyhow become a more consistent threat from deep.

The Bruins have the personnel to thrive behind the arc while the likes of uniquely efficient center Adem Bona thrive inside.

NCAAB Pick: UCLA -2.5 (-110) at Bet365

*The line and/or odds referenced in this article might have changed since the content was published. For the latest information on line movements, visit OddsTrader’s free betting odds tool.

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