Well, sports fans, we’ve made it to the end. I’ve written something about all 32 conference tournaments. It is a truly great time of year and a really good crash course in getting ready for March Madness. All day basketball in games that all have meaning – how could it get any better than that?
Eight conference tourneys in one article seems daunting, but several of these are very small, one-bid leagues that don’t really get a lot of attention.
Let’s dive right in.
Ivy: The Ivy League Tournament doesn’t start until Saturday Mar. 12 and will be the last one to get going. Only four of the eight teams qualify and the conference tournament rotates throughout the member schools. Even though Harvard did not qualify, the tournament is on their campus in Boston.
No. 1 Princeton is the -110 favorite here per BetMGM, followed by No. 2 Yale at + 230. Even though No. 4 Cornell grades better on the ranking sites than No. 3 Penn, the matchup with Princeton is why the Big Red are + 1000 and Penn is + 500.
Princeton had major issues with Cornell. The Tigers won the first game at home by 2 and lost the second game 88-83. Yale also split with Penn, so this one could get a little bit interesting. The Tigers are the class of the conference, but -110 isn’t good value. I don’t see much value here, other than to say that I think the semifinal games could both be high-scoring.
MAC: The MAC changed up its format this year, as only eight of the 12 teams qualify and all games are now played in Cleveland beginning Thursday. MAC Madness has had some crazy moments in the past, but one team stands clearly above the rest and that is No. 1 Toledo, the + 105 favorite at DraftKings. No. 3 Ohio is the second favorite at + 400, followed by No. 2 Kent State.
Toledo lost both meetings against Kent State to account for two of three Rockets’ losses during the regular season. Kent State was the only team to shut down Toledo’s offense, holding the Rockets to .918 and .870 points per possession. Toledo was held under 1 PPP just one other time in conference play.
Toledo blew out Ohio twice and also beat Akron and Buffalo twice. Kent State looks to be their kryptonite this season. The Bobcats lost four of five to end the season, including a 23-point loss at the hands of Kent State. At + 450, the Golden Flashes look like the only futures option. They’ll also be well-represented with a big alumni base in the Cleveland area. Most of these schools will be. It’s a fun tournament.
MEAC: Norfolk State is the class of the MEAC and won’t have to go far for the conference tournament. It is played across town at the Norfolk Scope. BetMGM has Norfolk State as the -225 favorite here, followed by No. 2 Howard at + 500.
This conference features a lot of terrible offense. Norfolk State and Howard are the only teams in the top 300, with Norfolk State 186th in adjusted offensive efficiency and Howard 203rd. In the regular season finale, Norfolk State was -4.5 at home and won by 22. In a potential championship game, I’d expect Norfolk State -4.5 or -5. In that respect, Howard + 500 has a little bit of equity, but probably not enough to bet it.
Mountain West: Excitement is at a fever pitch in Sin City for this conference tournament that starts on Wednesday. This is probably the best version of the Mountain West Tournament we’ve ever seen. This will be at the Thomas & Mack Center on UNLV’s campus once again, but the home-court advantage hasn’t really helped the Rebels. They haven’t won this since 2008 and haven’t even been in the finals since 2013.
No. 1 Boise State is the + 280 favorite at DraftKings, followed by No. 3 San Diego State at + 330, the nation’s leader in adjusted defensive efficiency. No. 2 Colorado State, who beat every team but UNLV, is the third choice at + 360.
The No. 4 Wyoming Cowboys are interesting here because they are firmly on the bubble with a really tough draw. They play No. 5 UNLV and then would have to face No. 1 Boise State in all likelihood. They also probably have the most to lose and the most to gain of any team. The + 600 price doesn’t lead to a lot of betting value, though.
I like San Diego State to win this. The Aztecs are so good defensively and shoot the 3 better than everybody in this conference except for Colorado State. Fresno State is a tricky first game, but one the Aztecs should handle.
Pac-12: Another one of the many exciting conference tournaments in Las Vegas this season is the Pac-12 at T-Mobile Arena. Arizona is a substantial favorite here at -120, followed by UCLA at + 160. Those are the only teams under 10/1. That makes it pretty easy for me to find some futures value and I think USC is the team at + 1000.
With a dominant No. 1 seed, you have to look at the bottom of the bracket. I don’t think UCLA is as good as their metrics. Offensively, they rely way too much on mid-range jump shots. The Pac-12 is 18th in 3P% and 22nd in 2P% as a conference, so I don’t think their defense is as good as suggested.
USC shouldn’t be challenged too much by the Washington/Utah winner, setting up a semifinal date with UCLA. Frankly, I think Washington State in the quarterfinals is a much tougher matchup for UCLA than what USC will face.
The downside here of having + 1000 is that Arizona will be favored by 7.5 or 8 in the title game, leaving minimal hedging opportunities. Therefore, I’d suggest a decent bet on Arizona at -120 and a smaller bet on USC at + 1000 and hope to have both alive in the title game so you can sit back and enjoy with guaranteed profit in hand.
SEC: The SEC Tournament will be at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL starting on Wednesday, so it moves out of Nashville for a season. That is a bummer because Nashville drew good crowds as a destination city. That could hurt teams like Kentucky and Tennessee, who were always well-represented in the Music City.
I’ve talked about how I wonder about team motivations in these tournaments. So many of these teams are already in and there isn’t always incentive to push hard to win three games in three days or four games in four days. In this instance, I think all of these teams have some level of motivation, but one has more than others.
The No. 1 Auburn Tigers are the second choice at + 260, with No. 2 Kentucky as the + 190 favorite. I really like this Auburn team. Their four losses are by 16 combined points and seem to have righted the ship a little bit late in the season in terms of their shooting woes from beyond the arc.
I’m not sure a banged-up team like Kentucky will push that hard. Tennessee is good, but not well-coached. Arkansas is a tricky draw for Auburn if it comes to that, but the LSU game could take a lot out of the Razorbacks, whereas Auburn has an easier draw. It feels set up for Auburn in my opinion.
Southland: This conference lost a lot of its luster when Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State jumped to the WAC. The tournament starts Wednesday with No. 1 Nicholls as the even-money favorite, with the No. 3 New Orleans Privateers as the second choice at + 400. Nicholls is pretty clearly the best team. Even money is a decent wager on the Colonels, as they shouldn’t be tested in the quarters or the semis.
SWAC: We’ve reached the end with the SWAC, which starts on Wednesday as well. None of these teams rank in the top 200 for either KenPom or Bart Torvik, so the winner here will be in one of the 16 vs. 16 play-in games. No. 2 Texas Southern is the + 190 favorite, followed by No. 3 Southern at + 250.
I actually like No. 1 Alcorn State at + 450. Texas Southern and Southern have to play each other. Alcorn State has an easier draw to the final. Alcorn State looks to be about + 4.5 against Texas Southern in a potential final and probably + 4 against Southern. Alcorn State beat Texas Southern twice and also beat Southern.
At + 450, that seems worth a look to me, especially since they won’t be that big of an underdog in the title game.