Conference Tournament ATS Trends
by Trevor Whenham - 03/07/2007
It's conference tournament time. The smaller mid-majors have finished and now it's time for the big boys to step to the plate. By the time Sunday rolls around every conference except the Ivy League will have played their tournaments. If the games that have already been played are any indicator, then there will be all sorts of surprises and upsets. Because of the challenges of handicapping tournaments - condensed schedules, the importance of momentum, different motivations for teams - making a profit this week can often be difficult. In times of uncertainty like this, you can rarely go wrong by sticking with the fundamentals that have worked up to this point. At least as a starting point, it makes sense that a team that has consistently covered the spread all season stands a solid chance of doing so in tournament play, as well. Here's a look at teams in major conferences that have been friendly to their backers this season:
Mississippi State - The Bulldogs have quietly put together a very solid season. If you asked most people, they wouldn't be able to tell you that the team is actually a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, and that they have a first round bye. Because the Bulldogs are fairly anonymous, most people also wouldn't be able to tell you that the team was very solid against the spread all season. Though just 17-12 overall, the team was an impressive 17-7 ATS, including a stellar mark of 11-1 ATS at home. The team comes into the conference tournament having covered seven of their last nine games, including a streak of six in a row. The basically one-dimensional team - sophomore forward Jamont Gordon leads the team in points, assists and rebounds - needs a win or two if it wants to make the field of 64, but past trends show us that even if they don't get the win they will often find a way to stay close enough to cover.
Georgetown - Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert were both unanimously named All-Big East, and their stellar efforts have been as impressive at the betting window as in the paint. The Hoyas finished the regular season at 17-6-2 ATS. Most impressively, the team has failed to cover just twice since the beginning of December - a span of 24 games. Over that stretch the team has shown their range - they have covered both as 21.5-point favorites and as 10-point underdogs. They've been very good against the spread at home (8-4-1) and even better on the road (9-2-1). They've covered against elite teams (Duke, Pitt), and against the lowest of the low (Towson, James Madison). They've been a bettors dream, and they come into the tournament having won 12-of-13 and favored to win it all. If they keep doing what they've been doing so far then it could very likely go their way.
Maryland - What is there not to love about how Maryland is playing heading into their conference tournament? A week into February they were 10-8 ATS, and weren't doing much to excite anyone. All they've done since then is win and cover seven in a row, including wins over Duke twice and North Carolina. They play Miami in the first round, a team that the Terps somehow managed to lose to in January despite being 16-point favorites. That was before Maryland started playing some of the best ball in the country, though, and the Terps will be out to avenge that embarrassing setback. Revenge plus the trend could equal profits.
Purdue - Wisconsin and Ohio State are the only two teams in the Big Ten that anyone is talking about, but neither of those teams have been nearly as kind to bettors this season as the unheralded Boilermakers. Ohio State is barely profitable at 15-12-1 ATS and Wisconsin has been only slightly better at 14-11-1. Purdue, on the other hand, is 17-9 ATS. They have covered seven of their last eight games, including a solid showing in Columbus in which they stayed close throughout and ended up losing to Ohio State by much less than the spread. Forward Carl Landry has been playing some exceptional basketball down the stretch, and that has translated to profits.
USC - The Pac-10 has been so tough and hard fought all season that for a while it seemed like no team would be able to emerge from the pack and assert themselves. Though UCLA ultimately proved that they were the class of the conference, it was the Trojans that were, by a large margin, the best bet. At 18-9 ATS they were wildly profitable, and only Stanford could even come close in that regard. Enthusiasm over that impressive mark has to be tempered a little bit, though - three of the nine games that they failed to cover came over their last five games. That a rough end to a great betting season, but there is reason to believe that they may have regained some momentum to start the conference tournament - they ended the season by covering the spread in a hard fought overtime battle in Pullman against the impressive Cougars.
Kansas State - The Big 12 is full of teams that people are talking about. Kansas is hot, Texas A&M is impressive and Texas (a pitiful 12-13 ATS, by the way) has the most dominant one-man wrecking crew in sneakers. Despite that impressive trio, it is Bob Huggins' team that has quietly been rewarding bettors all season. The team has a conference best ATS mark of 17-9. Like USC, though, the Wildcats haven't been able to maintain the momentum of their betting success down the stretch. They have alternated wins and losses over their last eight games, and they haven't covered any of the games that they have lost in that time. The four covers over that span have come against Iowa State, Nebraska and Colorado twice - hardly a murderer's row. This is clearly the case of a team that needs more research and investigation before deciding to pick them.