Conference tourneys whet NCAA appetite

In betting college basketball futures, the conference tournaments serving as the appetizer are often more fulfilling than the main course that begins about a week later.


With so many tournaments running at the same time, it’s a fantastic intersection of daily and futures plays. Last week the West Coast Conference and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, two non-power leagues some had feared would forgo their tournaments, announced plans to move ahead with their events.


Good news for sports fans and bettors. 


Handicapping tournaments can sometimes focus on teams squaring off for the third time in a three-month period. And the driving force behind a team’s goal in a conference tournament is usually apparent. 


Is it to secure the conference’s only bid? Is it a middling squad from a power conference desperate for a few wins to get off the bubble? Or is it a highly rated team with a top seed already lined up using the conference tournament more as a tune-up than a must-win? 


Remember, even at this point of the season, don’t overanalyze the results of one game when looking at futures plays — unless that game includes encouraging or troubling trends or a significant injury. 


To start handicapping conference tournaments, here is some recent historical data regarding the nine conferences on whose tournaments BetMGM and DraftKings regularly post odds. 


We examined the average seed of the winning team, the number of times the top seed won the tournament and the lowest seed to win the event since 2009. This date was selected to ensure more than a decade of data since very few conference tournaments were completed last year. 


As you begin to move from the regular season into postseason play, use this information as a tool to help make futures plays. 


(Listed odds are from DraftKings unless otherwise noted) 


Atlantic Coast Conference 

Average seed of winning team: 2.18 

Times the No. 1 seed won: 5

Lowest seed to win: 5


As you would think, the ACC’s top seeds usually do well because they tend to be some of the best teams in the country. Virginia, the No. 1 seed now, hasn’t reached that status yet but qualifies as an attractive play for the ACC tournament as well as the national championship. Virginia is + 300 in front of Florida State + 325 and Louisville + 400 to win the conference tournament, while the Cavaliers are + 2,500 to win the national title. 


Based on the lowest seed information, Clemson (+ 1,400) is projected as the fifth seed.  


Big Ten Conference

Average seed of winning team: 2.54

Times the No. 1 seed won: 5

Lowest seed to win: 8


Another example of the top teams in the country using the tournament to try to lock up a No. 1 seed. That is how we should expect Juwan Howard’s Michigan club to approach the tournament, especially after looking so good Sunday against Wisconsin. The Wolverines have the top seed and the lowest odds at + 250. Of course, this season is very different from the recent past, and that makes the next two seeds interesting. 


Ohio State (+ 300) and Illinois (+ 425) have played more games and have more wins than Michigan. It becomes a little confusing to truly determine which is the top team in the conference worthy of the No. 1 status. 


The Buckeyes have more Quad 1 wins than any team in the country. 


Based on the lowest seed information, Minnesota (+ 2000) is projected as the eighth seed. 


Big 12 Conference

Average seed of winning team: 2.27

Times the No. 1 seed won: 5

Lowest seed to win: 5


All expectations are that the Big 12 tournament name will be changed from the Kansas Invitational to the Baylor Barbecue. The Bears are massive favorites at - 250. While the Big Ten is getting the hype for being the best conference in the country based on quantity, the Big 12 is better in terms of quality. 


This brings motivation into play. Even if Baylor slips up in the conference tournament, it will still be a top seed in the NCAAs. Don’t punt on this tournament because of Baylor. Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma are available in the + 900 to + 1000 range.


Stay tuned for movements over the next two weeks. Seeding will be crucial as the varying numbers of wins and games played are blurring predictions of who will finish where. 


This could be the best quarterfinal round of any conference tournament. 


Based on the lowest seed information, Texas (+ 575) is projected as the fifth seed.  



Big East Conference

Average seed of winning team: 3.45

Times the No. 1 seed won: 4

Lowest seed to win: 9


This tournament tends to be where most of the upsets occur. If any coach is best suited to fend off a lower seed, it’s Jay Wright, who has coached three No. 1 seeds to championships. Villanova’s weekend loss to Creighton created a big move on the odds board. Before the game Villanova was -250, but now the Wildcats sit at + 120, so some value is available on a Villanova dip. 


With an eye on motivation, Villanova will need a Big East title to get into the mix of the No. 1 seeds.


The Bluejays saw their odds go from + 350 to + 200 after beating Villanova. 


Looking at the historical data of the average winning seed, the team with the third seed now is Seton Hall (+ 1000).  


Based on the lowest seed information, Marquette (+ 10000) is projected as the ninth seed. 


Pac-12 Conference

Average seed of winning team: 3.09

Times the No. 1 seed won: 3

Lowest seed to win: 6


Another conference where seeds below 1 and 2 tend to be alive for a title. With a number correlated to the recent strong play of freshman big man Evan Mobley, USC is the projected top seed and favorite at + 150. Colorado (+ 400) doesn’t have a marquee name like Mobley but is right there with the Trojans in terms of wins, odds and talent. 


Oregon’s + 580 is a result of fewer games played compared with USC, Colorado and UCLA (+ 175). That provides some value on the Ducks. 


Based on the lowest seed information, Arizona is projected as the sixth seed. The Wildcats will not play in the tournament based on self-imposed sanctions.  


Southeastern Conference

Average seed of winning team: 2.54

Times the No. 1 seed won: 4

Lowest seed to win: 5


Alabama (+ 225) is trying to follow the lead of its football program. Can Nate Oats do what Nick Saban did and win a conference title, then a national championship? That’s a + 2000 question worth finding an answer at the betting window. 


The Tide have the 3-point shooting and defense to wear multiple crowns in 2021 just like their football brethren.


LSU (+ 375) quietly moved into the second seed, a place with good history at the SEC tournament. 


Based on the lowest seed information, Floridia (+ 630) is projected as the fifth seed. 


Atlantic 10 Conference

Average seed of winning team: 3.54

Times the No. 1 seed won: 2

Lowest seed to win: 6


Of all the conferences we examined, this is the one with the lowest average seed of the winning team. VCU (+ 800) had a nice home win Friday over St. Bonaventure (+ 600) to take over the conference’s top spot. But bookmakers, with a nod to recent history, are looking further down the standings and making Saint Louis (+ 125) a slight favorite over Richmond (+ 175) to take the A-10 title. 


I agree and remain focused on the Billikens regardless of regular-season games played or seeding. 


Based on the lowest seed information, UMass (+ 2,500) is projected as the sixth seed. 


American Athletic Conference (since its inception in 2014) 

Average seed of winning team: 2.0

Times the No. 1 seed won: 4

Lowest seed to win: 6  


Bookmakers have stated their position on Houston from the outset as the favorite to win the AAC. The current -335 is unplayable from a pure value betting standpoint. It is also too high when motivation handicapping comes into play. The Cougars just less than two weeks ago were making a case for a No. 1 seed in the national tournament. But a Feb. 3 loss to nondescript East Carolina ended that speculation. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Houston pegged as a No. 2 seed. 


With plans for a top seed gone and a third seed built in as the floor, perhaps Houston won’t play the conference tournament with as much domination as the -335 suggests. 


The odds for SMU (+ 450) and Memphis (+ 600) are not high enough to justify a play. Rather hold off on any AAC futures before the tournament, where information is more important than odds.


Based on the lowest seed information, Cincinnati (+ 10000) is projected as the sixth seed.


I absolutely recommend a micro unit play on this long number. Cincinnati has played the second-fewest games in the conference, making it difficult for bookmakers (+ 6,600 on BetMGM) to find a proper power rating number. The Bearcats have won four straight games since Feb. 4, but their odds have not changed. Bets of 100-1 are done with value in mind and the hope an opportunity arises to use it to hedge.  


Mountain West Conference

Average seed of winning team: 2.41

Times the No. 1 seed won: 2

Lowest seed to win: 5


The Mountain West has had a rotating list of three favorites throughout its entertaining season. At the moment, San Diego State (+ 145) is back in the lead. Then comes Utah State (+ 175), followed by Boise State (+ 400). Colorado State (+ 470) has also nudged into the championship conversation with victories over all three of those teams.  


The Aggies have won the last two tournament titles and currently sit atop the conference standings. Because of the varying number of games played, this is another conference in which games played and win totals tend to jumble the standings. Utah State took those previous conference titles coming out of the second seed, the place the Broncos now hold. 


Based on the lowest seed information, Nevada (+ 30000 on DraftKings) is projected as the fifth seed. Steve Alford’s surging team just swept home series against UNLV and Boise State. 


Futures notes


— DraftKings moved Baylor (+ 290) into the overall favorite position in place of Gonzaga (+ 310). BetMGM has both teams at + 300, while Circa has Gonzaga (+ 195) atop its board, followed by Baylor (+ 410). 


— As for the John Wooden Award, the favorite, Iowa’s Luka Garza, is -1000 at BetMGM and -2000 on DraftKings.


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