Motivation key for conference tourneys

If you are reading this, you are motivated to make college basketball plays. 

 

That desire leads you to listen to VSiN daily, drives you to repeatedly scour the odds board and ultimately pushes you to the counter so theories can be turned into tickets. 

 

An issue bettors often face is that the players on the teams they are banking on don’t always have the same passion to win. It is starting to feel like this impediment to gambling success might become more prevalent in college basketball. 

 

Speculation is growing, and questions have even been directed to coaches, about teams opting out of conference tournaments — or events being canceled. Some reports have the NCAA and the selection committee making a statement within the week. 

 

I am going to make a “yes/no” futures line if conferences play postseason tournaments. The “yes” is a prohibitive favorite. 

 

Sure, from a competitive standpoint, a conference like the Missouri Valley would be better off forgoing Arch Madness and sending its newfound gem, undefeated Drake, straight into the field of 68. It’s the same in the Big South with Winthrop, which dropped its first game of the season last weekend. These two teams are good enough to win multiple games in the big tournament. 

 

While eliminating the conference tourneys would provide the path of least resistance for the best mid-major teams to make some March noise, it would fail to serve the conferences’ larger financial goals. 

 

That is why I am taking the “yes” for most of the mid- to low-major conferences playing their tournaments. Think of conference tournaments not as a Darwinian method to select the best teams but rather as a vital piece of sports television inventory. 

 

Tournament games give ESPN and other networks key programming while awarding member schools free two-hour television commercials. That national exposure is far more beneficial to a conference than making sure a certain team advances. 

 

This inventory carries even more value now with a dearth of new television programming available across the board. 

 

And as you would expect, many admissions offices for colleges and universities are getting fewer applications than a year ago. 

 

With the bottom line a top priority, conference commissioners, school presidents and athletic directors want tournament games to be played.

 

Even if all the games are played and no teams opt out, it doesn’t eliminate the motivation factor. 

 

Every college basketball player in the country is adjusting to a new lifestyle — one that features reduced court time and even less adulation from the media, fans and fellow students. Some players might not have as much desire to stay in this cocoon for an extended period as they did in the past. 

 

This must be taken into account when laying down March bets.  

 

With most teams having about 10 or 15 games left on the schedule, we can start addressing motivation in the same way we do at the outset of college football bowl season. When we take on the temporary position of football team psychologist in December, we often find that determining the level of motivation is a better indicator of success than the use of conventional statistics. 

 

Don’t let motivation become the only variable when determining whom to take. That is still secondary to finding the best value on the board. But once tournament tip-offs get closer, start to weigh motivation more heavily. 

 

Earmarking teams with long odds and high motivation should be the game plan. Teams in those categories will hopefully find some unexpected early-round success and then create hedging opportunities come the semifinals. 

 

Motivation and maximizing return on investment within a futures portfolio are the main reasons we start examining the odds board from the bottom and the middle instead of zeroing in on favorites. 

 

First taking the approach of finding value in early February for the national championship, Virginia is still available at + 2,600 at Circa and + 2,000 on DraftKings. The Cavaliers’ weekend road loss to rival Virginia Tech, which was extremely motivated, keeps Virginia in an attractive price zone for the national championship and the ACC title (+ 400 on DraftKings). 

 

The value of those odds on Virginia are best seen when compared with the + 1,600 at Circa and + 1,100 on DraftKings for Houston to win it all. 

 

Virginia’s style gives it a chance to beat anybody in the country, including Gonzaga and Baylor. Yes, Gonzaga smoked the Cavaliers in December, but that poor defensive performance was an outlier. The Zags shot 60% from the field and 50% from behind the arc. In Virginia’s eight games since, the defense is allowing opponents to shoot just 42.2%. 

 

The Cougars, on the other hand, have been running through mediocre and undersized American Athletic Conference opponents. The big Houston win over Texas Tech came in late November. If those teams played today, I would feel very comfortable making a wager on the Red Raiders. 

 

Seton Hall is another team to analyze with motivation in mind. The Pirates are + 3,000 on DraftKings to win the Big East tournament. That’s a nice price for a team that features one of the conference’s best players in Sandro Mamukelashvili and, according to KenPom, is the third-tallest squad in the country. 

 

Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently has the Pirates as one of the last four teams in the tournament. Teetering on the edge of postseason play should give the Hall greater motivation to play the conference tournament. Lunardi has the four teams above Seton Hall — Villanova, Creighton, Connecticut and Xavier — safely in. 

 

Seton Hall is on a three-game losing streak, two close games with Villanova and a four-point loss to Creighton. The Pirates are just a few points from being near the top of the Big East but are priced as long shots.

 

With Houston already having a high tournament seed locked up, the other AAC teams are squarely in motivational mode. The Cougars already have two easy victories over SMU (+ 450 on DraftKings to win the AAC tournament) but have yet to square off against Memphis (+ 600). 

 

Tulsa, at + 3,500 on DraftKings, down from + 5,000 just two weeks ago, has a large enough number still worth playing at a small price since it remains the only team to beat Kelvin Sampson’s squad this season.

 

It is difficult to obtain the future odds at the moment for the lower mid-major conference tournaments, but when they are posted on more boards, there is no better place to look at motivation than in one-bid leagues.

 

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