Let March Madness begin!
March 06, 2019 3:01 AM
by Ramon Scott
There seems to be a debate recently as to what is the “most maddening” part of March.
Is it the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament? In particular, those first two sets of Thursday-Friday games, followed by the sometimes oddly-spaced second-round weekend games, which results in the temporary calm before the Sweet 16?
Or is it the two weeks leading up to the tournament selection? A real wall-to-wall onslaught of elimination basketball games, including dozens of weekday afternoon games that hardcore college basketball betting fans look forward to each year?
Your preference might just depend on your sportsbook crowd tolerance level.
While the crowd during the Big Dance is a more out-of-town group, game viewing during the NCAA Tournament is a little more manageable for the experienced home-based fan armed with a remote, a tournament app and an extra monitor or two.
But the bettors that come out to watch small and major conference tournament games, especially the early morning crowd on the three days leading up to Selection Sunday, are the more seasoned local. These are the guys who have been entrenched in their chairs underneath the big screens all season.
And they are likely the ones not to be in those seats once the tourists arrive. Despite the changing sports betting landscape, the lure of Las Vegas during the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament isn’t going away anytime soon.
For us college hoop tourney nerds, we can get our March started this week with some popular — and not so popular — internet streams. But ESPN will be showing many of these early conference tournaments on its various channels along with its streaming services.
Here’s a look at some of the early conference tourneys, some of which have already tipped off.
Look to back Youngstown State, which went just 8-10 straight-up in conference and 12-19 overall, but had a conference-best 17-12 ATS record. Regular season co-champ Northern Kentucky, which went 23-8 SU, was a conference-worst 11-18 ATS.
Fans are looking ahead to an anticipated Belmont-Murray State championship game and why not? Both teams were terrific ATS with the Bruins going 17-9-2 and the Racers finishing 18-9, as the teams finished tied at 16-2. Belmont won the only regular-season meeting between the teams, 79-66, at Murray. Jacksonville State, which finished just a game back, was 16-12-1 ATS.
A little more variance in this lower-rated league but consider third-place finisher Sacred Heart, which has covered three straight coming into the tournament and went 18-12 ATS during the regular season. Strongly prefer Fairleigh Dickinson over all opponents, including regular-season co-champ St. Francis (PA), especially given the Knights’ conference-best 10-5 ATS record away from home.
The unique structure of the WCC Tournament here in Las Vegas places Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s directly into the semifinals. Other teams are placed in subsequent rounds according to regular-season standing. Take Santa Clara for a possible ride to the semis opposite the Gaels considering the Broncos’ 10-3 spread mark away from home. The ‘Zags finished 29-2 SU and still managed an outstanding 20-11 ATS mark.
Drake finished with the fewest amount of spread losses in the nation this season (6) and shared the conference championship with Loyola, but the Ramblers won both regular-season meetings by double digits. Loyola was sub-par ATS (14-17) during the regular season, while third-seeded Southern Illinois is a “play-on” considering its 10-5-2 ATS mark away from home.
Another extra-board league featuring 12-4 co-champs Radford and Campbell. The Camels could be more of the sleeper with their 17-11 ATS mark this season, while the Highlanders finished with the opposite spread mark (11-17). Presbyterian, which finished 9-7 SU in conference play and had a 12-5 ATS mark away from home, was heavily favored in Tuesday’s tournament home opener.
The MAAC Tournament is in Albany, N.Y., where Iona (12-6 MAAC) earned the No. 1 seed but were a poor 5-13 ATS away from home this season. Manhattan and Fairfield are in a first-round matchup on Thursday where the teams are a combined 19-40-1 to the under this season. Third-seeded Quinnipiac went 10-3-1 ATS on the road this season.
The Patriot League Tournament also got underway at campus sites on Tuesday. Look to back American, which went 10-5 ATS away from home this season, particularly in its quarterfinal matchup with Navy, which went just 5-10 ATS on the road.
Undefeated regular season champ Wofford, which went 10-4 ATS away from home this season, is getting new-found attention with its Top 25 status. But the stealth Southern Conference also has strong spread winners Furman (18-9 ATS overall) and East Tennessee State (18-11 ATS).
League champ Hofstra was also the league spread champ with a 20-10 ATS mark, which included an 11-4 spread record away from home. Drexel could be the sleeper against Charleston in the quarterfinals as a near double-digit ‘dog, as the Dragons own a 17-12-1 ATS record this season, with the Cougars almost the opposite at 13-17.
Tennessee at Auburn: The Tigers get a chance to make some noise heading into the postseason as a slight ‘dog in the regular season finale. Tennessee will be in a fight to try and claim a likely possible share of the conference title. AUBURN
Texas Tech at Iowa State: The Cyclones will be in a spot to play a spoiler role against the Red Raiders. Iowa State has slumped down the stretch but won the first meeting in Lubbock by four points and revenge is tough in this joint. IOWA STATE
Duke at North Carolina: With the Blue Devils still reserving the health of Zion Williamson, look for the Tar Heels to sweep the season series in a crucial regular-season finale. Coach K said the team was “in no hurry” to rush him back, possibly indicating a return in the conference tournament. NORTH CAROLINA
Michigan at Michigan State: Purdue is a road sweep away from the Big Ten title, but these teams await this battle just one game back in the loss column. The Spartans have been one of the nation’s best against the number this season, going 20-9. Michigan State won in Ann Arbor back on Feb. 24, 77-70. MICHIGAN STATE
Last week: 2-3
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