Depending upon your viewpoint, the conference tournaments that are underway and really get rolling later in the week are either an appetizer for the glory that is next week or a distraction that just gets in the way of the good stuff. If you fit into the former group then you probably see this weekend's action as prime betting time. As you prepare to bet in those conference tournaments, though, you need to be careful - there are highly-seeded teams in most of the tournaments that aren't nearly as strong as their seeding suggests. I'm not saying you shouldn't bet on them. You just need to be especially attentive when handicapping them:
Maryland (No. 3, Big Ten): The Terrapins will most likely play a very tough Wisconsin team that is certainly on the rise in their opener. If they win that then they will run into the buzzsaw that is the Michigan State Spartans. That's a brutal two-game stretch to start things off, and it's hard to see Maryland as they are playing now surviving it. They come in having lost four of six, and the two wins are against Michigan and Illinois - hardly impressive given the state of both teams right now. They showed no soul at all in their season-ending loss to Indiana. This team was as high as No. 2 in the country just a month ago, but they seem to have found the wall and driven right into it at full speed.
Oklahoma (No. 3, Big 12): Oklahoma opens with a game they should win against a feisty Iowa State team. That's no gimme, though - the Cyclones already beat them once this year. Then they run into West Virginia and then likely Kansas. Tough road for any team, never mind one that has lost three of their last seven games - including one, inexcusably, to Texas Tech. Like Maryland, this team spent much of the season very highly-ranked - including multiple weeks at No. 1 - but they seem to be paying the piper for that lately. They could win the tournament - they are certainly capable of doing so. At this point, though, it would be more surprising if they did that than if they flopped and were out in the first round.
Villanova (No. 1, Big East): I put this team here mostly as a nod to history. Last year they were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and they folded under pressure, losing in the second round to an N.C. State team that didn't belong on the same court as them. It was ugly. This year they are back on track to being a No. 1 again, but I don't trust them under pressure any more now than I did then. They have four losses on the season, but all four have come against highly-ranked teams in high-profile contests. They are not a team that is at their best when the games matter most. They should be able to win the Big East tournament, but I am not going to put all of my faith in them when there are several potential pitfalls on the road to the championship, and I question the true heart of the team. Not the talent, but the heart.
North Carolina (No. 1, ACC): I guess you could argue that it is not the end of the world that the team lost four of their last 10 games - though I wouldn't personally make that argument. The problem to me is that those four losses came against four of the five best teams they played - Louisville, Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia (they did beat Duke in that stretch as well, and also beat Miami). It's not a good sign for a team heading into what is always a brutally-tough tournament that they currently aren't in great form. Their first game could be manageable, but the next two will be brutal, and I don't have faith in them to suddenly return to killer form.
Dayton (No. 1, A-10): First off, it's a good idea to doubt any team in the A-10 right now because the conference is deep and the tournament is going to be extremely tough. Beyond that, though, it's concerning that they have lost three of their last six games. The wins over that stretch haven't exactly inspired, either - they needed overtime twice and won the third by a single point in regulation. This is not a team playing like the No. 1 seed they are here.
Kentucky (No. 2, SEC): This is simply an issue with brand association. When casual bettors hear "Kentucky" they expect absolute dominance - especially in the SEC. This is not quite your typical Kentucky team. They lost five conference games - something that shouldn't be possible given the conference and their talent level. They don't have a signature win since beating Louisville in a squeaker the day after Christmas. They are a decent team - just not what we are used to from them.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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