Saint Louis sensible as A-10 futures play


A number of conferences are motivated to play postseason tournaments, even during the pandemic. The Atlantic 10, which over the last few years has battled the American Athletic, the Mountain West and the Missouri Valley for a better drinking spot at the midmajor trough, is one. 


Recently the conference made the pre-emptive decision to move its postseason tournament from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to the home courts of VCU and Richmond in Virginia. This shift in locale and logistics should help the conference play its games come March 10-14. 


With a month to go and some degree of confidence it will happen, now is the time to identify any possible A-10 tournament futures plays. 


Surprisingly, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has just St. Bonaventure penciled in with the conference’s lone bid. Over at CBS Sports, Jerry Palm has Saint Louis joining the Bonnies in the tournament., which uses metadata from various online sources, places the A-10’s other top contenders, Richmond and VCU, as long shots for bids. 


The uncertainty regarding a conference that has delivered multiple teams to the NCAA tournament for 14 straight years creates an interesting opportunity for futures handicapping. 


When narrowing options, don’t fixate on the A-10’s current standings. Those are more a reflection of what didn’t happen instead of likely what will happen. 


Saint Louis began the season with a national ranking and impressive wins over LSU and NC State. Then came more than a month on the shelf followed by upset losses to Dayton and La Salle when it was able to take the court. The time away and those two defeats changed the national profile of Saint Louis and prevented it from being — like Villanova, Houston and Baylor — a minus favorite to win its conference tournament.


As a point of comparison, St. Bonaventure has played nine conference games (7-2), while Saint Louis has played just three (1-2).


That lack of action created betting value for the Billikens that might not be around much longer. 


Over the weekend, Saint Louis looked like the team from late December and knocked off first-place St. Bonaventure. The 70-59 win behind Javonte Perkins’ 21 points felt like the Billikens making a statement about who is really the conference’s superior team. 


DraftKings agrees. It has Saint Louis as the favorite at + 125 to win the tournament, while the Bonnies are + 600. 


While we normally don’t advocate jumping on the favorite, a Saint Louis play is more about taking advantage of the Billikens’ lack of exposure. 


With just seven contests left and Saint Louis likely favored in its next four against Rhode Island, Fordham, La Salle and Dayton, those expected victories will move the Billikens up the standings and remove the plus number next to their name. 


So there are two ways to play Saint Louis in the A-10 futures market. 


Either get on the Billikens now and lock in a plus number, or wait until the results of their Feb. 23 and 26 games against VCU and Richmond, respectively. 


Those two games will be challenges, and a loss in either one might create more Billikens value because betting momentum for VCU and Richmond could pick up since they will be tournament hosts just two weeks later. 


KenPom has Saint Louis falling at VCU and just getting past Richmond at home. 


At DraftKings, Richmond is + 175 and VCU is + 800 to win the conference tournament. 


There are plenty of reasons to back the Billikens. Their experience, offensive and defensive rebounding, physical defense (55th in the country, according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency metrics) and average possession length of 17.7 seconds are good foils against Richmond’s intricate passing offense and VCU’s tempo, and they can withstand St. Bonaventure’s half-court physicality. 


Don’t let the VCU name fool you. The Rams have more games and quantifiables but are a tier below Saint Louis and Richmond. 


Those short odds for the Spiders are somewhat deceiving and a byproduct of an upset over Kentucky in late November that doesn’t seem so golden today. Richmond hasn’t played since Jan. 26 and isn’t expected back until Feb. 17. That layoff should have a negative impact on Chris Mooney’s offensive style of movement and fluidity.


Two weeks ago St. Bonaventure was + 2,000 to win the conference tournament. The current + 600 had the value extracted since the Bonnies played and won games during Saint Louis’ dormant period. 


A good way to approach an A-10 play would be to take three-fourths of your futures unit and put it down now on the Billikens at a plus number before they are finally able to stockpile wins. 


Keep that other one-fourth handy and use it as an odds boost if Saint Louis loses to one or both Virginia opponents later this month. Or save that piece for hedging purposes in a tournament expected to be populated by motivated squads.  


Saint Louis’ time away from action brings to mind the current plight of Michigan (+ 1,100 to win the national championship at Circa, + 250 to win the Big Ten tournament at DraftKings). No team jumped up the national rankings and the betting boards more than the Wolverines during a phenomenal January run that was then stifled by a state health mandate to cease athletic activities. 


Juwan Howard’s 13-1 team was scheduled to play Thursday against Illinois (+ 1,350 to win the national championship at Circa; + 450 to win the Big Ten at DraftKings) in a game that would have had national championship and conference odds ramifications. However, that game has been postponed. 


While Michigan has been unable to play, most of its competitors in the best and deepest conference in the country have been able to do so. Hold off on any Michigan futures plays until the true impact of the layoff can best be determined. 


Ending with another Big Ten note relating to futures play, Iowa (+ 2,100 to win the national championship at Circa; + 600 to win the Big Ten at DraftKings) has lost four of its last five and is 0-3 without CJ Fredrick in the lineup.


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