Five conference tournaments start up on Tuesday, as now we’re getting into the big ones. You have to handicap the major conference tournaments differently than the small ones. In the one-bid leagues, everybody is trying to win that automatic bid. In the major conferences, a lot of teams are already solidly in the NCAA Tournament field, so motivations are very different.
Teams that have had a lot of injuries or a lot of adversity may prefer rest over trying to win three games in three days. Others will be trying to do what they can to improve their seeding by strengthening their profiles for the Selection Committee. You’ll want to look at each team on a case-by-case basis in conferences like the ACC and others that start later this week.
Here are some thoughts on the five tournaments that start on Tuesday:
ACC: How much will Duke’s loss to North Carolina impact the way this tournament is bet? Everybody knows Duke is the best team in this league as the only one ranked in the Top 25 and the No. 1 seed. The Blue Devils should be motivated to get Coach K some extra hardware at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but some rest and time to process the emotion might not be bad either.
Duke is the chalk favorite at -130 per DraftKings, with North Carolina second at + 800. The Tar Heels are the No. 3 seed with a double bye to the quarterfinals. Notre Dame is the No. 2 seed. No. 6 Virginia is likely to be UNC’s opponent on Thursday, while Notre Dame likely gets No. 7 Virginia Tech.
If you like a team like No. 5 Miami, a moneyline rollover will be better than the + 1100 price, as the Hurricanes have a tough draw with No. 4 Wake Forest, followed by Duke and then the teams that make it through to the semifinals. Anytime a team faces a No. 1 seed as strong as Duke, a ML rollover will almost always yield more equity.
This conference is so weak. Duke should win, so long as they are invested. The way Virginia “uglies up” the game in a tough shooting environment could make the Cavaliers live as well, but the draw is tough with teams that shoot 3s well in their part of the bracket. I don’t see much betting value here from a futures standpoint. I do lean towards unders at the Barclays Center, though.
Big West: We have a new venue for this one, as the brand-new Dollar Loan Center in Henderson, NV will be the host site. The arena seats about 6,000 people and will likely be far better shooting backdrop than the Honda Center in Anaheim. That was the host site from 2011-19 and it was a gold mine for unders. That went away last year at Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay.
No. 1 Long Beach State gets an advantage here, as the 8/9 game goes off on Tuesday at 6 p.m. PT and the winner has to turn around and play the 49ers at 12 p.m. PT the next day. The importance of conference play is on display here, though. The 4/5 game is UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, who are two of the four best teams in the conference. One will be eliminated early. Long Beach State will face the other.
Despite the draw, DraftKings has UC Irvine as the + 250 favorite, followed by UCSB at + 360. Cal State Fullerton (+ 700) is a weak No. 2 seed. I’m not keen on Hawaii (+ 600) either. At + 600, UC Riverside may be the best value play here, but you can flip a coin between Hawaii and Riverside, as they’ll be close to a pick ‘em in the 3/6 game.
But, with a new venue, I think it’s tough to know which stats to prioritize. This could be a better venue for shooting, which would help Long Beach State and Hawaii. UC Irvine is far and away the best defensive team, but a very limited offensive team. A favorite at + 250 implies a wide open tournament and I agree.
Conference USA: This remains one of the weirdest conference tournaments of them all. This looks more like an AAU showcase event with games going on simultaneously at The Ford Center at The Star, which is the Dallas Cowboys practice facility. The conference also seeds by division, so North Texas is the No. 1 seed from the West and Middle Tennessee is the No. 1 seed from the East.
North Texas and No. 2W UAB are the class of the conference and avoid each other until the potential championship game. I’m a bit surprised that UAB is the + 150 favorite at DraftKings and North Texas is second + 200. Both teams should get challenged in the semifinals. For North Texas, that would be from Louisiana Tech (+ 800) or Western Kentucky (%plussign 1000). Because UAB only has Middle Tennessee (+ 1000), the draw is why they are the favorite.
North Texas went 16-2 in the regular season, with a meaningless loss to UTEP in the regular season finale and a loss to UAB to fall to 1-1 way back on Jan. 6. The rematch was a 58-57 win for the Mean Green, who tend to play close games because they are one of the slowest teams in the nation.
Western Kentucky has lost the championship game three years in a row. A moneyline rollover would be better than 10/1, as they’ll be an underdog to LA Tech, North Texas and either MTSU or UAB in the finals if they got there. I still think North Texas wins this and will be a team nobody wants to face in the NCAA Tournament, but their half of the bracket is clearly tougher.
The best value bet on straight futures is probably MTSU at + 1000 since they really only have one tough opponent in their bracket, while North Texas could have a more challenging path.
MAAC: The MAAC is back at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the second straight year. At time of writing, I didn’t see odds for this one, but No. 1 Iona will be the favorite. There is a big drop from the Gaels to No. 2 Saint Peter’s and then an even bigger drop to No. 4 Monmouth. Siena is actually the No. 3 seed and a weak one at that. It wouldn’t be terrible surprising to see No. 6 Marist or No. 11 Quinnipiac knock off Siena on Thursday.
Saint Peter’s can’t score. The Peacocks play outstanding defense and actually rank in the top 40 in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’re also 261st in offensive efficiency. Iona beat Saint Peter’s twice by 8 and by 9 and had a lot more offensive success than most of the conference.
It would be really surprising if the title game didn’t come down to Iona and Saint Peter’s. In that hypothetical game, Iona is probably -7.5 or -8, based on being -10 at home and -5 on the road during the regular season. That leaves little hedging margin on a Saint Peter’s future. Iona does have the tougher draw with Monmouth, the third-best team in the conference, but the Gaels have no excuse for not getting the auto bid here and will probably still be worth a bet as the odds-on favorite.
WAC: This is one of my favorite conference tournaments this year and I’m hoping to attend a few games here in Vegas. It will be at Michelob Ultra Arena for the first round and then Orleans Arena for the rest of the tournament. Recent upgrades to the conference give this one a lot of intrigue. Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State are all interesting teams. Grand Canyon and New Mexico State are the class of the conference, but Utah Valley and Seattle are dangerous. This is a really deep field.
New Mexico State is No. 1 by tiebreakers, an enormous advantage because the Aggies get a triple bye to the semifinals. They are the favorite per FanDuel at + 140. The same is true for No. 2 Seattle (+ 440), whose win over Stephen F. Austin was the difference between being No. 2 and No. 3. It cannot be overstated how big of an advantage that is with the depth of this tournament.
The top six teams in this conference are all in the top 100 in defensive efficiency, led by Grand Canyon at 36th. The Antelopes are second in the nation in 3P% defense and 15th in 2P% defense. New Mexico State is the best offensive team, but likely faces Grand Canyon (+ 310) in the semis. Creating a futures position in a toss-up game is hard.
The winner of New Mexico State and Grand Canyon likely wins this one, but the other half of the bracket yields better futures positions. Stephen F. Austin at + 650 makes some sense, given the likely matchup with Seattle, but the Lumberjacks would be a clear dog in the title game.