Monday conference tournament schedule is pretty busy, but since my modus operandi (M.O. for those not fluent in Latin) is to look for unmotivated teams that are already NCAA Tournament-bound, most of the games don’t qualify as they involve one-big conferences such as the Colonial, Horizon, Summit, Southern and the easily confusing alphabet-soup MAC, MAAC and MEAC. The only team from those leagues with a shot to get an at-large bid if it doesn’t win its conference tournament could be College of Charleston, but that won’t even be a possibility if it were to lose Monday in a first-round Colonial game, so I’m passing there are well.
However, I do have one play I love right here in Vegas on Monday night and another that almost made the cut.
West Coast Conference (Orleans Arena, Las Vegas)
San Francisco ( 13) vs. Gonzaga
9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT (ESPN)
Every bracketologist has Gonzaga solidly in the NCAA field, so the Bulldogs certainly qualify as a team to fade for me on that basis. San Francisco obviously only has hopes of dancing by running the table and winning the West Coast tourney. Now, I’m certainly not predicting that and don’t like the Dons’ chances at pulling the outright upset in this semifinal match, but based on their 10- and 9-point losses in the two regular-season matchups (and covering as 13.5- and 18.5-point underdogs, respectively), I made this line Gonzaga -9 and see no reason why San Fran can’t stay within the number again on a neutral court. Besides, we’ve already seen Gonzaga beat Loyola-Marymount just 83-69 as 19-point favorites on Saturday so the Zags are comfortable with doing just enough to survive and advance as opposed to needing to win by blowouts to earn any style points. Best Bet: San Francisco 13.
BYU ( 5.5) vs. Saint Mary’s
11:30 p.m. ET/8:30 p.m. PT (ESPN2)
This game does fit by previously discussed system with BYU trying to play its way into the Big Dance against a Saint Mary’s team that is probably in the NCAA field. The problem is that’s open to debate. Some so-called experts believe the Gaels are already in the field, but some have them still on the bubble (and more might start leaning that way if they lose here). I’m also discouraged by the fact that BYU lost the two regular-season meetings by 10 and 13 points, though it should be pointed out the first meeting went to overtime so that result was more excusable. Still, I’m going to pass, though if you believe Saint Mary’s is a lock to make the NCAA field, then you might consider this underdog as well.