NCAA Basketball Conference Tournament Expert Betting Advice: Vulnerable Top Seeds
The first major conference tournament of 2018, which happened a week before the rest, was a sound reminder of what can happen in these events. Michigan went into the tournament as the fifth seed and almost blew it with an overtime win in their opener against an underwhelming Iowa team. But then they shifted into another gear and beat up on the first- and third-seeded teams in the tournament, Michigan State and Purdue, en route to a conference title. The semifinals and finals weren't even remotely close. Seedings meant nothing in that tournament, and that will almost certainly be the case in some of the upcoming tournaments as well. If we have learned anything over the years in these tournaments it's that the best teams on paper often aren't the best in reality over the intensely short demands of these tournaments.
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There is a good explanation for some of the poor performances from top teams in these tournaments - they just don't care. They don't need to win to get a good seeding in the NCAA Tournament, and going into that event fresh and ready is more important than playing a lot of games to win a title that is far less significant than the one they are dreaming of. That's not the explanation for every situation when a top seed falls early - sometimes they just aren't good enough on that day. But regardless of the reason, the more effective we can be as bettors at spotting top seeds that are not as likely to win the tournament as their seed would indicate, the better for our bottom line.
Here are three high seeds I wouldn't mortgage my house betting on:
Duke, ACC (+175 favorites to win tournament at BetOnline ): Duke had gotten back on track after losing three of four and had won five in a row. But then they lost against Virginia Tech two games back, and they did so in ugly fashion. It was far from ideal, and it encapsulated everything I don't trust about this team. This is a wildly-talented team that can play sound defense, but they struggle to maximize their talent - a function of being young as much as anything if I want to give them the benefit of the doubt.
There's another factor here beyond the price, too. Coach K has been ensnared in the college recruiting scandal recently. He's not as exposed as guys like Rick Pitino or Sean Miller, but names of his players have come up more than once. Attention on the sport intensifies this time of year, and media coverage is more intense than ever. Michigan State wasn't their best in the Big Ten Tournament, and at least part of that was the relentless questioning that coach Izzo faces regularly, and he faced even more than usual in that tournament. It was a distraction, and it affected a fragile team.
Duke has also proven to be fragile at times, and they should see more questions and attention than they have already had. This could be an issue and makes it tougher to trust a team that already makes me uneasy.
Arizona, Pac-12 (+225): You can take everything I said about Duke and Coach K and multiply it by 30 here. Miller is as likely as not to leave the program before next season, key players are involved, and things are a long way from good. And beyond all those issues, they have a point guard, senior Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who has played poorly of late at a time when he needs to be at his best. Arizona is a wildly-talented team - on par with any in the country - but they have a whole lot of distractions to deal with. Perhaps the biggest issue heading into the tournament - and this is almost counterintuitive - is that the Pac-12 is so bad right now that Arizona should be capable of winning it all with their eyes closed. Given the lack of a real challenge it would be easy for them to take their eyes off the prize and give less than their best.
Auburn, SEC (+300): Auburn is a lukewarm favorite in a very wide-open tournament - there are four teams at +400 or lower to win the SEC title. I have serious doubts about Bruce Pearl's squad here. Anfernee McLemore is a defensive force on a team that needs to play strong defense, and his injury has really hurt them. The team has lost three of five when he has missed all or part recently, with all of the losses on the road and two coming against teams they absolutely should have beaten. This is a team that feels like they have been overachieving all year, and the SEC doesn't feel like a dominant conference by any means.
Is Auburn a potential factor in this tournament? Sure, this is a very wide-open field. But given where they are do they deserve to be favored? Not even remotely. They are a team jammed into their own heads right now, and they are not helping themselves out. I flat out don't trust them and would be far from surprised if they made an earlier departure than the odds suggest.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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