It may sound sacrilegious, but I actually prefer conference tournaments to the NCAA Tournament from a betting standpoint.
While the Big Dance supplies a lot of drama, it also comes with betting uncertainty. In the NCAA Tournament, non-conferences games will be back in full force for the first time since December, and most matchups will feature teams that haven’t played each other.
With conference tournaments, on the other hand, we have scheduling quirks that could create an advantage for one team over another. We have neutral sites with varying shooting backdrops that also have a significant sample size. And we usually have two head-to-head data points to analyze.
Here are five betting tips to keep in mind:
1. ‘It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season’ is false
That statement is a popular one at this time of the year, but the team that won the first two games is usually just better. Sure, from an ATS standpoint, it might be tougher to cover given that sportsbooks have likely adjusted their lines, but that’s about it.
I asked VSiN database expert Jason Latus for some numbers to support the fact that this narrative is a big, steaming pile. Here’s what he found:
2-0 records playing a third time …
Last 6 seasons: 460-197 SU (70%)
— 2020: 64-26 (71.1%)
— 2019: 47-25 (65.3%)
— 2018: 76-36 (67.9%)
— 2017: 84-41 (67.2%)
— 2016: 98-32 (75.4%)
— 2015: 91-37 (71.1%)
While the ATS record is around 50%, the SU record is not. Don’t fall into this narrative because it’s simply not true.
2. Moneyline rollover vs. future
Back at my previous gig, I would do four podcasts over two weeks covering all 32 conference tournaments with pro bettor and close friend Kyle Hunter. We’d scour the betting board to find futures that lined up and made sense, but we often found that a moneyline rollover was a much better option than a futures bet.
Sites such as KenPom’s and Bart Torvik’s allow you the opportunity to see how head-to-head meetings could be lined in a conference-tournament setting by taking the two teams’ ratings and figuring out the difference. Since most conference tournaments are neutral-site events, home-court advantage is irrelevant. You can then convert the point spread to a moneyline using one of the betting tools on the internet and use our parlay calculator to figure out what the moneyline rollover price would be.
You can also look at previous meetings during the regular season to guesstimate where a conference tournament line would be.
In a bracket-style format, you can use a moneyline rollover and likely get much more bang for your buck. A moneyline rollover means betting the team on the moneyline in the first game and then rolling over both your risk amount and your win amount from the previous game. For example, you may start with $100 on a team that is 120 in its first game. Let’s say that team wins and is 200 in the next game. You’d bet $220 (initial risk plus winnings) to win $440 on Game 2. If your team wins again, your next bet would be $660 ($220 plus $440) to win “X,” and so on.
I guarantee you’ll find a team that is 1200 to win its conference tournament where a moneyline rollover would pay more like 1400 or 1800. Sportsbooks have high theoretical hold percentages on futures. Their margins are smaller on straight-up wagering and props, so they look to use futures to hold money. As a result, the futures odds are almost never going to be close to true odds.
Also, to hedge a futures bet, you have to make another investment to bet the other side. A moneyline rollover hedge can be to simply stop betting or to make a smaller bet on a game that might be a bad matchup.
3. Pay attention to the venues
Madison Square Garden (Big East) is notoriously bad for scoring. It’s one of the best Under venues for a conference tournament. And it isn’t the only one. The Enterprise Center in St. Louis (Missouri Valley) has historically been a very strong Under venue for “Arch Madness.”
Others are neutral or don’t seem to have any impact on scoring. In major conferences, teams are used to playing in big venues, but smaller-conference teams might go from playing in on-campus arenas that seat a couple of thousand to a multi-purpose arena that holds more than 10,000.
They won’t get that many fans, but the venue will still be bigger. The seating areas behind the basket will be deeper, thus throwing off depth perception. New venues are especially interesting. The Sun Belt tournament is actually held at two different venues, so you may have a team that plays a game or two on one floor and then has to move to the other floor for a deciding game. Those things can create an edge.
Furthermore, home-court advantages can pop up. Teams such as Kentucky and Tennessee were always well-represented in Nashville for the SEC tournament. This year’s tournament is in Tampa, which is not a destination spot like the Music City, so fan support could be muted and will also be Florida-heavy.
Some of the really small conferences still host conference tournament games at the higher-seeded team’s campus. Those are more obvious home-court situations, but you still don’t want to overlook them.
4. Look for scheduling advantages
Some conference tournaments are known for big scheduling advantages. I wrote about some seeding edges last week, such as the Ohio Valley tournament in which the top two teams get byes to the semifinals. There are big advantages to being a No. 1 seed in most cases.
The Missouri Valley is a prime example. There is an 8-9 game on opening night at 6 p.m. Central time, and the winner has to turn around and play the No. 1 seed at noon the next day.
Some tournaments are broken into afternoon and evening sessions, which can create some advantages in the semifinal round. Examples are the Pac-12, CAA, Big South and A-10.
5. Look for rest advantages for in-game betting
Some teams will be playing three games in three days or four games in four days. Teams riding a wave can sometimes overcome fatigue, but if a game goes awry early, a team may not have much left in the tank. A team that overcomes a huge second-half deficit to advance may not have it in them to make a big push the next night.
Sometimes rest can be a bad thing, too. We’ve seen higher seeds get bounced from conference tournaments because of a slow start against a team that has already gotten rid of the nerves and gotten used to a new venue. Each situation will be unique as a conference tournament plays out, and it will be up to you to decide whether or not a rest scenario is actionable.
Some can be pregame plays, but others will be opportunities to take advantage of in-game positions. There are big talent gaps in certain conferences, and fatigue can expand an advantage that much more.
Conference tournaments are my favorite time to bet college basketball, and these factors are the reason why.