Now that football season is over, attention for many bettors starts to shift - at least somewhat - towards college basketball. And just in time - soon enough we'll be into conference tournaments and then the Big Dance. In anticipation of that great time of year, this is a good time to look beyond the high-profile teams and pick out some of the under-the-radar teams from smaller conferences that, if they make the field, could do some damage.
I'm not saying that these four are threats to win it all. In fact, I absolutely guarantee they won't. They have a chance, though, to get hot at the right time and make the second weekend if they get the right matchup. Those are the kinds of teams that can be very kind to bettors.
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Vermont, America East: The Catamounts are a team that has made regular appearances in the tournament, and they have made some noise when they show up. They are well on their way to another appearance. They have 22 wins already, including a perfect 12-0 mark so far in conference play. Stony Brook is the next-best team in the conference, and Vermont already has a comfortable road win against them, so there is no reason to think that the Catamounts can't claim the conference bid. At this point it would be an upset if they didn't. They succeed despite not blowing people out - leading scorer Trae Bell-Haynes averages only 11.3 points per game, and 180 teams nationally score more per game than they do. It's their Top 25 defense that drives this bus.
Valparaiso, Horizon: Valpo is 10-2 in conference play so far, and they beat Alabama and BYU in nonconference play. Those two conference losses were to Green Bay and Oakland, the two next teams in the standings, so they are not in cruise control to win the conference yet. They rebound and defend reasonably well, and that has helped them cover spreads profitably - they are 13-9 ATS. I like that they were seasoned by a very tough nonconference schedule - they also played Kentucky and Oregon. And I am a big fan of star player Alec Peters. The forward is averaging 23.2 points per game and 10.9 rebounds. He is the kind of player who could really be a star in March if he gets the opportunity, and as a senior he'll be particularly motivated because he has a decent chance of playing himself into the first round of the draft.
Middle Tennessee, Conference USA: The Blue Raiders are an impressive 11-1 in conference play. The lone blemish was an odd one. They lost to a very bad UTEP team as 11-point favorites two games ago. They need to learn from that mental lapse and grow stronger from it. It can be just the kind of wakeup call a team needs at this time of year. They are a strong 16-8 ATS on the season, so they have been a treat to bet on as well. The biggest concern, though, is that they have not played a particularly tough schedule. As proof, they have been an underdog only three teams all year, and the last time was on Dec. 17 before conference play started. They are 3-0 ATS as underdogs at least, but I would have preferred to see them tested more often. At the very least that would make it easier to have a sense of whether they are really any good. They play very strong defense, and that has allowed them to go "under" the total in 16 of 24 games - a nicely-profitable rate. Again, though, we don't really know how that defense will stand up against real teams.
Nevada, Mountain West: The Wolf Pack is locked in a tight battle in the conference - they are one of four teams with eight conference wins. Of those four squads, though, this is the one I would most like to see in the tournament. They have two nonconference wins against Pac-12 teams - Oregon State and Washington are not good Pac-12 teams, but they still count. They are a strong offensive team. What I really like, though, is that they are extremely tough to shoot threes against - they rank eighth in the whole country in that category. That could make them a tough early-round tournament matchup for a lot of higher seeds in the tournament. They have a deep and strong backcourt, led by leading scorer Marcus Marshall, and they make the most of it - they regularly start four guards, and three of their top four starters are guards. At 14-9-1 ATS they are a nicely-profitable team. They have gone 8-3 ATS at home, which is good for bettors right now. Of more concern, they are just 1-3-1 ATS on neutral courts - a big problem in the postseason.
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