We’re excited about so-called Championship Week here in the Tuley’s Take home office, but the truth is we’ve already enjoyed a lot of action with the smaller conferences this past week.
As I’ve written every year for a long time: the conference tournaments offer more and better betting opportunities than the actual NCAA Tournament.
We get hundreds of games in the two weeks leading up to the Big Dance, then just 32 games in next Thursday and Friday’s first round and just 16 on Saturday and Sunday. And only a handful more if you’re into the NIT and other smaller tournaments.
As I wrote last week in Point Spread Weekly as well as in “Tuley’s Takes Today” at VSiN.com, the most success I’ve had over the years in the conference tournaments has been fading teams that are locks for the NCAA Tournament when they’re playing “bubble teams” or teams whose only shot is to get the automatic bid by winning the postseason tournament. While everyone would like to win a conference tournament title, it’s not the No. 1 priority for the very top teams; they’re already looking ahead to the NCAA Tournament. If they survive and advance toward a conference title, that’s OK, but they’re not devastated if they lose as they know they have bigger fish to fry. Meanwhile, the underdogs in these games are highly motivated because there’s no tomorrow. Think back over the years to all the conference tournament upsets in which a lower-ranked team upset a team that was a lock for the NCAAs and TV talking heads said things like “Nobody saw that coming.” Well, there’s a good chance that I — and other bettors like me — did. And even if these teams don’t pull the upset to move on, they’re often good bets to keep the game close and cover the spread.
So let’s go over the conference brackets and pinpoint the dogs we’ll be looking to back the rest of the week. Of course, we’ll be giving our official plays in each morning’s “Tuley’s Takes Today,” but it’s not that hard to see these plays in advance and then adjust — based on how teams perform in earlier rounds, plus injuries and other things that might affect the point spreads — on game day.
I was going to break these down by conference, but I believe it’ll be more helpful for readers to do it in chronological order. FYI: there are some cases of bubble teams being favored over lower-seeded teams earlier in the week, but I would pass on them as part of my “dog-or-pass philosophy” and wait to make sure they advance to the underdog roles we’re projecting below.
Oklahoma vs. Baylor: Defending national champ Baylor is a lock and draws a highly motivated Oklahoma team that’s on a three-game winning streak. We’re already seeing Oklahoma popping up at 8 and 8.5, and that looks good to us.
Virginia Tech vs. Notre Dame: The Hokies are squarely on the bubble, and a win Wednesday over the Clemson-NC State winner probably won’t be enough to secure an NCAA bid.
Virginia vs. North Carolina: Joe Lunardi had Virginia among his “Next Four Out” heading into this week’s games, so the Cavaliers have work to do, and a Wednesday night win over the Louisville-Georgia Tech winner won’t be enough. Does anyone think the committee will leave the Tar Heels out after they beat Coach K in his home finale?
Michigan-Indiana winner vs. Illinois: This is really a tentative play as there’s a decent chance that the winner of Thursday’s matchup will punch its ticket to the NCAAs. However, both are right around the cut line. If we see some bids being stolen early in the week, the Michigan-Indiana winner might not be safe. If not many bids are being stolen, we’ll probably pass.
Texas A&M-Florida winner vs. Auburn: These “Next Four Out” teams face each other Thursday, but the winner will still probably need another quality win to emerge from the bubble. The first line I saw offshore was Florida -1.5 over A&M, but the winner should get plenty of points against Auburn.
Rutgers vs. Iowa/Northwestern-Nebraska winner: Is the Big Ten’s No. 4 seed, Rutgers, really on the bubble? This is another game where we need more time to see how things shake out.
Wyoming-UNLV winner vs. Boise State: Wyoming is one of Lunardi’s “Last Four In,” so that’s always a tenuous position. On Thursday afternoon, the Cowboys have to face UNLV, which is a live long shot with the Mountain West tournament being played on UNLV’s home court. Either should be a playable dog against regular-season champ Boise State.
Note: There are lower-seeded teams that are sure to emerge as dark horses in the early rounds of their conference tournaments (like Georgetown last year in the Big East), and we’ll keep an eye out for those in “Tuley’s Takes Today.”