I love conference tournaments, and, as someone interested in not just basketball but also wagering on it (as evidenced by you reading this column), you should too. The NCAA Tournament is one of the greatest sporting events in the world, but for sheer VOLUME of entertaining, intense, well-played bettable games, you really can’t beat this week.
As always, my preference and strong-suit is analyzing individual head-to-head matchups, but there are some fun wagers out there for conference tournament futures as well. So, with so much to cover, let’s dive right in with a look at several of the power conferences and some value odds to win their conference tournaments.
Kansas won the league for the THIRTEENTH consecutive time. Yawn… (just kidding, but you get the point). However, in that same time, they’ve only won the tournament seven times and missed the final three times. So, there is hope for a few other teams to sneak in and steal the trophy.
FAVORITE: Kansas +120 – A reasonable selection, but a pretty steep price. The Jayhawks are far from invincible and have one of the worst ATS records of any Top 25 team in the country. They very well COULD win the tourney, but at +120, I’ll pass.
CONTENDERS: West Virginia +185, Baylor +550 – West Virginia feels like the obvious second choice, but again, with a game against Baylor likely, you’d be getting less than two to one for essentially a Baylor/Kansas straight-up parlay. +185 is an insufficient payout for that much risk. They’d be a likely +145 or so against Kansas in a single-game neutral court setting.
Baylor at +550, now we are talking. The Bears slumped down the stretch, but have enough talent and athleticism to run the table. Not a terrible value at +550.
LONGSHOT: Oklahoma State +1800 – why not take a longshot flyer on one of the hottest teams in the country? Sure, no one seeded higher than fourth has EVER won the Big 12 Tourney, but this is a weird college hoops season, right?
MY PLAY: Iowa State +650 – This is my favorite value on the board. The downside is Kansas in the semis, with little chance of anyone clearing the giant for them. However, they have ALREADY won AT Kansas this year, so they have more than proven they are capable of taking the tourney trophy.
Of all the major conference tournaments, this one has been the most wide-open with the top seed failing to win in each of the last four years and the average seed of the champion being 4.0. It’d be real surprising if one of the Big Three DIDN’T win this year, but does anyone outside the obvious trio even have a worthwhile lotto ticket?
Oregon +150 – The Ducks were the preseason favorite, and after a bit of a twisting, winding journey, are the favorites (slightly) once again. Dillon Brooks has provided two stone-cold assassin moments this year, so you know the Ducks can win close, and they have the most impressive individual game of the season on their resume with the complete domination of Arizona. The Ducks are priced fairly, considering they get the edge of not having the killer semi-final that Arizona/UCLA likely have. I’ll take the Ducks at +150 for the value of having them all-but-definitely in the finals, providing a narrow hedge opportunity.
THE OTHER FAVORITES: UCLA +175, Arizona +370 — I love UCLA. I’ll wait for the bracket, but I’ll probably have them in my Final Four as I think that at their best, they are the best team in the country. But at +175, the vale isn’t great compared to Arizona’s at +370. The ‘Cats are one of the best teams in the country and a legit Final Four contender. The +370 SU combo for UCLA/Oregon is reasonable and my favorite wager in this tournament.
LONGSHOT: Cal +1800 – It’s unlikely Cal wins the tournament. It’s not certain they GET IN to the Real Tournament. But they sure do have the talent to make some noise. If it all comes together, there is some decent value at +1800.
MY PICK: I’m going combo here, Oregon at +150 as I’d be floored if they don’t make the final, and Arizona +370 on a greedy numbers-value play. Dream scenario is they meet in the final and we can hedge a little to add even more potential profit.
This one feels WIDE open this year. Purdue would be the obvious favorite, but with the league at large underperforming and so many teams muddled in the middle, even anticipating potential matchups is a challenge. Maryland and Wisconsin slumped late. Minnesota has a gaudy record but some real question marks, Northwestern hasn’t been good against the best teams and Michigan State just isn’t Michigan State this year… it’s W-I-D-E open in 2017. Here’s my take on where the value is strongest.
FAVORITE: Purdue +165 – The odds aren’t as great as I’d like, but Purdue does feel like the clear-cut best team in the league. Their draw makes me nervous though. Michigan as a #8 is a sleeping danger, and if they advance, Minnesota as a #4 is one of the hottest teams in the league. It’s enough of a minefield that I need more than +165 to Boil Up…
CONTENDERS: Wisconsin +220 – This is another one a little too lean for my liking. With a field this open, I want to look for hedge value rather than trying to guess the overall winner. There isn’t enough hedge value for a team that looked as bad in February as the Badgers did.
VALUES: Minnesota +650, Maryland +850 – Now we are talking. I like both of these values. Both could win it, both have decent draws.
LONGSHOT: I would have gone #8 seed Michigan, but at +900, they aren’t priced like a true longshot. Michigan State at +1100 is simply romanticizing Izzo’s March reputation, and Indiana at +1700 is the last faint glimmer of “but…but… they were SO GOOD in November…” The only real longshot I like is Northwestern at +1350 because of a decent draw.
MY PICK: Maryland – I know, they have GASPED down the stretch, but they are in a favorable half of the bracket with Michigan, Purdue, Minnesota all on the other side, and don’t discount the Washington, DC factor. This is friendly home turf for the Terps, which is a nice advantage considering this tourney is always played in Chicago or Indy, more traditional Big Ten country.
As far as other Conference Tournaments, I don’t see Villanova losing in the Big East, Kentucky/Florida is a toss-up in the SEC, and if you want to try to guess who is emerging from the ridiculous ACC, be my guest… I’ll pass, thank you very much.
Have a great week, enjoy some awesome matchups and hopefully cash in some winning plays!