The “A’s and Bigs” will kick off the first of two write-ups for the conference tournaments that start on Wednesday or Thursday. There are 11 conference tournaments that get underway on Wednesday and two more on Thursday. It will be a very busy time in the sportsbooks this week with so many games going on throughout the day.
These next two days will be a pretty good appetizer for March Madness, so let’s dive right in.
AAC: The AAC Tournament starts on Thursday and will be played at the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. That gives teams like Houston and SMU a little bit of a bump as the only Texas teams in the field. Houston is the No. 1 seed coming off of an embarrassing loss to Memphis. While the Cougars have only lost to top-30 teams, they also haven’t beaten a single team with a tournament-worthy résumé.
They’re still the odds-on favorite at -135, with Memphis at + 350 per BetMGM. This conference drops off so much after SMU and Memphis, which is why Houston has such a steep price. SMU and Memphis are likely to play in the semifinals. Houston should have a pretty easy path through Cincinnati and probably Tulane.
Memphis swept Houston during the regular season, winning outright as a 10-point dog and as a 2.5-point dog. If you like Houston, you might get better than -135 straight up against Memphis, if that’s who the Cougars play in the title game.
I think Memphis is pretty clearly better than SMU as well. The + 350 price is pretty good for a Tigers team that isn’t completely locked into the NCAA Tournament. It’s the only one I could take here.
A-10: The A-10 is one of the few conference tournaments that bounces around a lot. It is back at the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. for the second time (2018). No. 2 Dayton is the + 350 favorite at DraftKings, followed by No. 1 Davidson at + 330. Dayton is the No. 2 seed by virtue of a 1-0 record over Davidson, which was the tiebreaker over No. 3 VCU.
This is a top-heavy conference, but the top five or six teams are all pretty good. No. 6 Richmond has promise, but went 4-11 combined against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents, so + 750 probably isn’t a big enough price on them, given that they’ll run into good teams if they beat the Rhode Island/Duquesne winner.
Davidson is pretty clearly the best offensive team here, ranking 13th in adjusted offensive efficiency per Torvik. VCU is a top-five team in defensive efficiency, but struggles mightily on offense. Dayton is the most balanced team, but Saint Louis isn’t far behind. Futures value is hard to find in a balanced conference like this, especially with depressed prices on all the top teams.
If Saint Louis snuck onto the No. 4 line instead of the No. 5 and could play three games in three days instead of four games in four days, I’d like them more. Davidson actually has a decent draw, since they’ll catch Saint Louis playing 3-in-3 or face a St. Bonaventure team that struggles on defense. Davidson at + 330 looks like the best pick to me.
Big 12: Kansas will have a de facto home-court advantage at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City once again and is the co-favorite at + 200 alongside Baylor. The two teams tied for the regular season title, but Kansas split with Texas Tech and Baylor lost both games, so the Jayhawks are the No. 1 and the Bears are the No. 2.
Even though the Big 12 is littered with good teams, I don’t see much futures value because Kansas, Baylor and Texas Tech are stronger and more reliable than the rest of the field. I prefer the draw for Kansas, given that Baylor would have to face Texas Tech in the semifinals, whereas the Jayhawks get a Longhorns team I’m not that fond of and feel like is overrated from an efficiency standpoint by being in the Big 12.
Big East: The first thing to know about the Big East Tournament is that it takes place at Madison Square Garden. Between conference tournaments, neutral-site games and the NIT, Madison Square Garden is one of the most reliable under venues in college basketball. The oddsmakers are well aware of this and do price it into the lines, so you may not get a ton of line equity, but I’d expect several totals to move down throughout the tournament.
With an imbalanced number of conference games, the Big East is slotted by win percentage, so Providence is the No. 1 seed, despite being the third choice on the board at + 500 per BetMGM. Villanova is the + 165 favorite, with No. 3 UConn as the second favorite at + 400. I always find it interesting when teams slated to meet in the semifinals are lined as favorites.
One team I like overall, but will avoid, is No. 4 Creighton (12/1). The Bluejays have made the final three times and lost by 7, 14, and 25. As a jump-shooting team, MSG is just a tough venue for them. In fact, I think there’s a good chance that they lose to Marquette in the quarterfinals. Marquette would be very live against Providence in the 5/1 matchup.
A moneyline rollover on Marquette would be more equitable, as they’d be a dog to Providence and also a dog to the likely Villanova/UConn semifinal winner. From a straight futures standpoint, the + 700 isn’t bad, but you usually get a few more dollars on a rollover.
Unders and line moves towards the under are what to remember here.
Big Sky: For the third straight time, the Big Sky will be in Boise, ID at the renamed Idaho Central Arena. There are a lot of moving parts in this conference. There are a lot of teams that play at very different paces, teams that are great offensively and awful defensively, vice versa and teams that rely a lot of 3s.
No. 1 Montana State is the deserving favorite at + 200, followed by No. 2 Southern Utah at + 300. No. 4 Weber State lost the No. 3 spot based on tiebreakers, which could be tough having to face Montana State instead of Southern Utah in all likelihood. That could also be a boost for No. 3 Northern Colorado, who plays at a fast pace, scores a ton and gives up a ton. If Northern Colorado and Southern Utah meet in the semis, books may not be able to set a total high enough. Their two regular season meetings ended 91-81 and 100-95, both in favor of Northern Colorado.
Montana State is the only team in the top 200 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. I actually think getting a more predictable team like Weber State is better than facing a wild card like Northern Colorado or Southern Utah. Assuming, of course, that Weber State beats archrival Montana in the quarterfinals.
In a conference that features a lot of unpredictability, I’m surprised I like the favorite here in Montana State, but I really do. The Bobcats have beaten everybody in this league, including a 21-point revenge win over Weber State after losing the first matchup. They rank about 30 spots higher than anybody else and strike me as the most polished team at + 200.
Big Ten: BetMGM has priced Purdue as the + 250 favorite to win the Big Ten Tournament, which is back at Gainbridge (Bankers Life) Fieldhouse for the first time since 2016. The biggest development here is that No. 4 Rutgers found a way into the top four seeds to get a bye to Friday. That means teams like No. 5 Iowa or No. 6 Ohio State have to win four games in four days. It’s certainly been done before, as recently as 2018 when Michigan did it in dominant fashion.
So many of these teams feel interchangeable in what is actually an overrated conference this season. The top eight seeds all won more games than they lost, by virtue of being able to beat up on the bottom of the conference.
I think Illinois is the best team in the conference. I also wonder if Illinois wants to push hard to win three games in three days with Kofi Cockburn’s health questions throughout the season. Unlike one-bid leagues, where teams have to let it all hang out, most of the major players here are already in the field. Teams worried about their seeding will push harder than others. Maybe Illinois is, but not at the expense of Cockburn’s workload.
That’s why I look at a team like Michigan at + 1000. The Wolverines are listed as “Last Four Byes” by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. They’re a team that has significantly underperformed this season. Juwan Howard is back from his suspension. I know they have to win four games in four days, but they’ve done it before and they have a lot of incentive to upgrade their seed line if they can.
I wish they weren’t running into Illinois, but they can beat the Illini and I’d like them against the winner of Iowa and Rutgers for a chance in the championship game.