Burke: Conference tournaments affect motivation entering March

By Adam Burke  (vsin.com) 

February 22, 2022 09:10 PM

Can you believe the college basketball season is winding down? The regular season has only a couple of weeks left, depending on the conference, which means we’re running into Senior Day and several other betting and handicapping considerations.

One that doesn’t get enough attention is how the end of the regular season affects conference tournaments, specifically in small conferences. The first conference tournament starts Feb. 28, so we’re getting to that time of year when you need to know how things work in terms of the format and the seeding for those events.

Byes, double byes and even triple byes are things teams push for, and those games that feature extra effort may be ones you want to play on. Similarly, there are some conferences that don’t take every team to the tournament, so teams have to make a big push to qualify. Some teams will be ineligible for the conference tournament, so their final regular-season games will be it for the year.

If you can isolate some of these scenarios, you can cash some tickets, and most bettors won’t have these things on their radars.

Conference tourneys aren't for everyone

There are a few conferences that leave the teams at the bottom of the standings home for the postseason. That means the bubble teams will be pushing hard the rest of the way.

America East: The AEC takes only eight of the nine teams to the conference tournament, but Maine is so far behind everybody else that there is no wagering angle here.

Ivy League: The Ivy League takes only the top four teams to the conference tournament, so the bottom four will be out. Right now, three teams (Yale, Penn and Princeton) look safely in, so five teams are vying for one spot.

MAC: The MAC recently changed its format and now only the top eight teams in the 12-team conference get to participate. There are no byes and all games are now in Cleveland.

Northeast: The NEC takes only the top eight teams out of the 10 that are eligible. Merrimack cannot participate in the conference tournament until 2024.

Ohio Valley: The OVC only takes the top eight teams from the 10-team conference. There is going to be a good battle between three teams (Eastern Illinois, SIU Edwardsville and UT Martin) for the last spot.

Summit: Eight of the top 10 teams make the Summit League tournament. South Dakota State has already locked up the No. 1 seed with a 16-0 record in conference play.

SWAC: The SWAC takes only the top eight teams. The conference is divided by division, but that will have no bearing on seeding or the teams that get in. The eight best conference records are in and the top four conference records are all in the West Division at present.

Teams transitioning to Division I or ineligible

Some teams are not able to play in the NCAA Tournament or the conference tournament for a variety of reasons. Those teams might be trying to finish on a high note, but others might be playing out the string. Each situation is unique.

Atlantic Sun: Bellarmine and North Alabama are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament but are eligible for the conference tournament. This is effectively Bellarmine’s March Madness, and the Knights were upset by Stetson in the first round last season. This is a hyper-motivated team the rest of the way.

Big 12: Oklahoma State is ineligible due to a postseason ban handed down by the NCAA. It may be tough for those players to stay invested with nothing to really play for.

Big West: UC San Diego is transitioning to Division I and cannot participate in the Big West tournament. The Tritons should be looking to end the regular season on a high note in their first D-I season.

Colonial: James Madison is ineligible because of a postseason ban handed down by the conference because the Dukes are heading to the Sun Belt after the academic year. They may be less engaged at the end of the season.

Northeast: Merrimack remains ineligible for the NEC tournament during its transition phase to D-I. That runs through 2024.

Summit: St. Thomas is transitioning to Division I and is not eligible for the NCAA Tournament but would be eligible for the conference tournament with a good enough record.

Double bye or triple bye

It goes without saying that double byes and triple byes are huge for teams. They greatly increase a team’s chances of going to the NCAA Tournament, especially from a one-bid league. These are hugely important and something teams will absolutely strive for as the regular season comes to a close.

ACC: Top four teams get a double bye to the quarterfinals.

Atlantic-10: Top four teams get a double bye to the quarterfinals.

Big Ten: Top four teams get a double bye to the quarterfinals.

Ohio Valley: This is one of the biggest advantages, as the top two seeds automatically get a double bye into the semifinals.

SEC: Top four teams get a double bye to the quarterfinals.

Southland: Top two teams get a double bye to the semifinals.

WAC: Top two teams get a triple bye to the semifinals; No. 3 and No. 4 get double byes to the quarterfinals.

West Coast: Top two teams get a triple bye to the semifinals; No. 3 and No. 4 get double byes to the quarterfinals.

All of this information could prove to be relevant in the final few regular-season games for these teams. There are significant incentives to finishing as high as possible and also for teams that are simply trying to extend their seasons.

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