How to handicap college hoops in Illinois

Gamblers aren’t big on Ramblers, but they like Illini. And be sure to bet the under for Illinois schools.

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Ayo Dosunmu’s ability to hit clutch shots late in big games is one reason professional gambler Ron Boyles wouldn’t be surprised if Illinois makes an NCAA title run.

Holly Hart/AP

LAS VEGAS — Three professional bettors reach a rough consensus about the Fighting Illini, but they are less certain about the hoops fate that awaits Loyola.

Ron Boyles owns futures tickets on both programs, which could provide hedging leverage should either make an NCAA Tournament run, and Tom Barton has a position on Illinois winning the title.

Conner Streeter, however, did no such preseason prospecting. He has been watching Loyola closely and would have been impressed had it followed a victory at Drake with another convincing triumph over the Bulldogs on Sunday.

Instead, the Ramblers lost in overtime, 51-50. “Now,” Streeter said, “I’m not so sure about them.”

Barton has been sure about a certain Loyola angle that has been paying splendid dividends. And when the Illini invested in coach Brad Underwood in 2017, Boyles figured Underwood would guide them into the elite.

“Sure enough, they have a legitimate chance to win it all, the way they play defense and they way they’re coached,” Boyles said. “And they have a [future] pro in Ayo Dosunmu who can hit a big shot late in an NCAA game.”


Boyles, who splits time between West Virginia and Las Vegas, prospered betting against Illinois on Feb. 12, when he gauged value with Nebraska getting 14 points in Lincoln. The Illini won 77-72.

He had Illinois, giving three points at home, when it defeated Iowa 80-75. He has a 30-to-1 ticket on Illinois winning the NCAA title, 125-1 on Loyola.

Within those two paragraphs lies a valuable head-heart lesson, involving Boyles putting money on Illinois to ultimately fare well yet essentially betting on it to not do so well in a game.

Barton put $100 on the Illini at +1750, to win $1,750. In various ways, the Long Island resident has capitalized on 17 of Loyola’s last 18 foes having failed to tally more than 60 points.

He said bookmakers have “caught up” to Loyola spreads but not their totals, so the under in its games remains hot. Said Barton: “You have to outsmart the book.”

Games involving Illinois, UIC, Illinois State, Loyola and DePaul have all been on a goofy 42-13-2 under roll. That’s a return of 27-plus units, much of which has padded Barton’s bankroll.

Northwestern had not covered in nine of 11 until Wednesday, when it was getting 13 points at Illinois. Like Boyles with Nebraska, Barton scored with Northwestern when it only lost 73-66 to the Illini. He predicts further enviable spots for the Wildcats and DePaul.

“The Blue Demons are not very good, but they’re getting double digits almost every night,” Barton said. “If I see double digits, I’m jumping on them.”


Boyles respected Loyola coach Porter Moser even before the Ramblers reached the 2018 Final Four, where they lost to Michigan. The current Ramblers, who possess the country’s stingiest defense, are 10th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.

Cameron Krutwig, the only remaining Rambler who scored against the Wolverines, has raved about his 19-4 squad. However, Conner Streeter, the professional alias of a savvy offshore punter with many global outs, questions Loyola.

In its biggest games of the season, Streeter said, it trailed most of a defeat to Wisconsin by double digits and lost a close one to Richmond.

“The Ramblers won’t be easy to put away in the NCAAs,” he said. “But I don’t see them as good as their Final Four team, regardless of what Krutwig says.”

Eastern Illinois opponents have attracted Boyles’ attention. The Panthers have covered in only three of their last 20 games, and he’s watching Northwestern.

“The Wildcats are decent, way better than they were last season,” Boyles said. “But they’re playing in the Big Ten, which is the best conference in the world, maybe the best conference I’ve seen in the past 10 to 15 years.”

For the first time, three Big Ten programs are among the top five in the AP Poll — No. 3 Michigan, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 5 Illinois. Iowa is No. 11.

“Northwestern is improved, but that doesn’t mean they’ll win games,” Boyles said. “Playing Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State and Michigan, they have almost no chance of winning — but they can cover. Chris Collins is a decent coach.”


In the Illinois-Minnesota game today, an early line had the Illini favored by four points, with a total of 150. In mid-December in Champaign, Illinois won 92-65.

In the last eight seasons, the Gophers have one of the nation’s largest disparities between home success and road weariness. Boyles leans toward the Gophers and the points.

“They are kind of on the bubble right now,” he said. “They aren’t guaranteed to get an NCAA bid, so when they have the chance to beat a top-five team at home, I give them a slight lean.”

In four of the Illini’s five defeats, they have yielded at least 80 points. So if the Gophers hit 80 today, Boyles expects Illinois to lose.

“Take Illinois and the over,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll lose both sides. Illinois will either crush them and cover, or they’re going to have a bad defensive effort and the game will go over. But you might win both.”

When I broach the high entertainment value of Illinois, from Dosunmu’s versatility and electric moves to center Kofi Cockburn’s low-post dominance, Barton paused. On his daily sports-betting show, he warns listeners to heed their heads, or logic, over their hearts, or emotion, when betting on sports.

“The worst thing a handicapper can have is a heart,” Barton said. “Can’t fall in love, man. Stock-market guys say, ‘Trade stocks, don’t marry stocks.’ Same thing betting. Don’t marry teams, because you’ll get burned if you do.”

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