3-Point Shots: Northern Iowa, SFA, Tennessee Among Conference Champion Value Plays

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Guard Trae Berhow (shooting) is one of five returning starters for Northern Iowa. (Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)

Regular-season conference odds have been rolling out of certain sportsbook presses, with some usual suspects that are strong incumbents to repeat.

UCLA (Pac-12), Duke (ACC), Villanova (Big East), Southern Utah (Big Sky), Belmont (Ohio Valley) and Yale (Ivy League) are all favorites in their leagues, and for solid reasons.

Of course, those tight numbers don’t translate into decent dividends. We searched for some smart value plays, tapping several resources, and have come up with a few—including a “two-fer” Southeastern Conference package—on the eve of the season’s tip-off. Check the overall betting market to find the best odds on these future bets.

Northern Iowa Panthers (+900)

Ben Jacobson (301-189 in 15 seasons as the Panthers coach) returns all five starters and three key reserves, an unheard-of 100% of his scoring output.

Loyola–Chicago is always a force to be reckoned with in the Missouri Valley Conference, but the Ramblers will miss two key assets—coach Porter Moser and post menace Cameron Krutwig —this season.

Moser took his impressive résumé (Final Four in 2018, Sweet 16 in ’21) to Norman, Oklahoma, where he’ll coach the Sooners. Krutwig is collecting professional hoop paychecks in Belgium.

Junior swingman AJ Green was the 2019-20 MVC Player of the Year, when he averaged 22.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. Three games into last season, he was shelved by a hip injury that required surgery. So that returning-all-starters note should come with an asterisk.

Guards Trae Berhow and Nate Heise, along with forwards Noah Carter and Austin Phyfe round out the first five. Its +900 figure, to win the Mo Valley, and the rest of our highlighted odds are from Station Casinos. It pays to shop around as PointsBet was only offering +600 on the Panthers to win the conference title.

The best Panthers barometer might be 2019-20 with Green in the fold. They were top-25 in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage and defensive rebounding.

They lost consecutive games, one coming at Loyola, only once, finishing 25-6. They won the league at 14-4, a game ahead of the Ramblers. Moreover, Northern Iowa was 19-9-1 against the spread, ninth-best in the country.

Preseason home games against Nicholls, Vermont and Richmond, and tilts at Arkansas, St. Bonaventure and Bradley will hone UNI for the league.

Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks (+1200)

Coach Kyle Keller is 104-46 in five years, and the ’Jacks could make quite a début in the Western Athletic Conference by winning it. Abilene Christian also joins the WAC, but it lost outstanding coach Joe Golding to UTEP.

Two seasons ago, SFA won the Southland at 19-1. It was 28-3 overall and poised to do some March damage before the pandemic padlocked the globe. Its 44-8 record over the past two seasons is bettered only by Gonzaga, Baylor and San Diego State.

Junior forward Gavin Kensmil leads a group of four returning starters. SFA is outstanding at making the other guys turn it over, on the offensive glass, at the free-throw line and beyond the 3-point arc, and it’s exceptional at shooting 2-pointers.

Should Nigel Hawkins repeat the success he had at UTEP and the Lumberjacks significantly reduce their own turnovers, the Lumberjacks will press Grand Canyon (coached by Bryce Drew) and New Mexico State atop the WAC.

Tennessee Volunteers (+1000)

The Vols last won the SEC in 2017-18, when they tied Auburn at 13-5. They operate best at a deliberate pace, with a top-10 offense and an élite defensive footprint.

This is Rick Barnes’s seventh season in Knoxville and 35th overall as a head coach. He had much to overhaul, including two spots on his staff. But his roster strength is No. 16, according to the meticulous research of Conner Streeter, the alias of an eminent professional offshore bettor.

And at 13th overall, Tennessee, with shorter +500 odds at FanDuel, has the SEC’s highest preseason KenPom rating.

Senior guard Victor Bailey Jr. is a reliable marksman and double-digit scorer, and fellow guard Santiago Vescovi can handle either backcourt position. Small forwards Justin Powell and Josiah-Jordan James need to average a combined 25 points and 15 boards.

Brandon Huntley-Hatfield left prep school a year early to begin playing college ball, and he was a big-time acquisition for Barnes. Auburn had offered him a scholarship when he was 14, and Kansas and Syracuse were among the others after him.

However, he told The Athletic that he liked that Barnes had coached Kevin Durant at Texas. He called Barnes “a legend.” Watch Huntley-Hartfield while you can, because he’s only expected to spend one season in college.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (+2000)

Between Tennessee and Mississippi State, if one wins the SEC we’re ahead of the game in these conference wagers. For that matter, we’re in the black if just one of these four hits.

The Bulldogs are one of only three 358 Division-I programs, with Gonzaga and Southern Utah, to not only receive A-ratings in backcourt, frontcourt, bench and intangibles by Chris Dortch’s Blue Ribbon annual, but one of those (frontcourt) is an A+.

That is élite. In six seasons in Starkville, Miss., former Northern Arizona, Pitt and UCLA boss Ben Howland had his best SEC showing in 2019-20, when his 20-11 Dogs finished 11-7, tied with Florida at fourth.

At Circa, they’re +2500. They are top-40 in experience and top-20 in rebounding, and very good in effective field-goal percentage, but need to improve ball security and free-throw touch.

State’s post game will be strong, with 6-foot-10 twin towers Tolu Smith (12.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Garrison Brooks, who started 108 games for North Carolina. Rookie forward Derek Fountain is hailed for his 3-point prowess.

This is where ex-Michigan State guard Rocket Watts landed, thanks to Howland assistant and Detroit native Ernie Ziegler, and Spartans coach Tom Izzo’s failed attempt to turn Rocket into a point man.

In Starkville, that position belongs to sophomore Iverson Molinar. Former Memphis small forward DJ Jeffries, who is tight with Fountain and swingman Cameron Matthews, makes this a well-rounded club.

As long as they polish those free throws.

Also read: Final Four Longshots | Best Future Bets On NCAA Champion

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners.

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