Handicapping College Conference Tournaments
by Trevor Whenham - 03/06/2008
March Madness is just around the corner, but there is a lot of basketball to be played between now and then. Every conference except for the snooty Ivy still has a conference tournament left to play. For the lesser conferences winning that tournament is the only way to get into the big dance. For bigger conferences it's the last chance to prove that you are worthy of an at-large bid. Whatever the case, the conference tournaments are different than normal games, and they require a different betting approach to be successful. Here are seven things you need to keep in mind to bet and win:
Pick your spots - There are so many conferences and so many games that you can't possibly be effective while playing all of them. You need to pick the spots where you have the biggest edge, and avoid the ones where you are doing little better than guessing. That's obviously the approach you would (or at least should) use during the regular season, but sometimes the excitement and intensity of all the tournaments can make you lose control. Don't do it. The conference tournaments are hard enough to handicap at the nest of times, so they are especially hard to pick when you don't know much about the teams involved.
Health matters - A team that goes far in a conference tournament will play a lot of games in a short time. If the team has done that at all, it hasn't been since the pre-season tournaments. They were healthy and fresh back then, but they are inevitably banged up after a long season. A team that is hurting might struggle in the intensity of the tournament format, so you need to be on top of how players are feeling in order to be at your best.
Style of play - Some teams obviously play a more physical, intense style than others. Those teams may not lend themselves to bouncing back quickly and playing at their best again. If they are tired in their second or third game then they may not play quite as well as expected, and the line could present an edge if it doesn't compensate for that. On the other hand, a down-tempo, pace controlling team may not suffer at all from playing every day. This is one of those things that most people aren't going to consider, so if you do you are giving yourself a big edge.
Motivation - For some teams the conference tournament can mean everything. For others it's just an annoyance on the way to far bigger things. Teams that have had a lousy season will just be looking forward to being done with the season. There are as many different motivation levels as there are teams. Putting the effort into understanding how a team may be feeling about the tournament will help you locate where the value will be.
Avoid the double-revenge trap - One of the common college basketball handicapping tips you probably heard soon after you got into sports betting was that it is very hard for a team to beat another three times in a year. The theory is that it applies in football, and in college basketball, too. In a lot of cases teams will be meeting up in the tournament after two regular season meetings, so people will assume that the lesser team will be in a position avoid the sweep, or at least cover the third game. The only problem is that it doesn't hold up. Historically, teams that are looking for double-revenge have covered less than half the games they have played.
Tournament location - Every conference uses a different method to choose tournament location, and that location can sometimes be a huge advantage for one of the teams involved. One of the more striking examples of this is in the Mountain West. The tournament takes place in Las Vegas on the home court of UNLV, so it's of little surprise that the Running Rebels are among the best ATS teams in conference tournaments recently - they are 10-2 ATS. A home court is a particularly big advantage when only one team in a whole group is enjoying it.
Look ahead - You should watch, bet on, and enjoy the conference games in their own right, but it also makes sense to use them to scout the real tournament. There are a bunch of reasons why the conference tournament isn't a great indicator of how a team will do later on in March, but it also the last chance you will get to see teams in action before the brackets tip-off, so it is better than nothing. You can see how well players are playing together, how healthy players look, and anything else than can provide a clue to the later success of a team.