Tendencies matter in league tourneys

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This next statement is not going to break any news: The best teams in each college basketball conference are almost always the most balanced. They are efficient on offense, shoot the ball well, and play hard on defense.

But as we embark into the second week of conference tournaments, I urge you to beware of the specialists. Teams that make unexpected runs in March almost always specialize in something. Look out for squads that are not balanced like the top teams in the conference, but instead, very talented in a specific area.

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Auburn made it to the Final Four as a No. 5 seed last year because they were a great 3-point shooting team. When South Carolina made the Final Four in 2017, they were No. 304 in effective field goal shooting, but No. 3 in the country in defensive efficiency. Balance usually wins championships, but specialists can certainly make a run during four-day tournaments like we have this week.

Who are some of the unbalanced teams that might be able to cause a little chaos this week? These are not necessarily teams that I would be looking to back, but if I was looking at a favorite and one of these teams was in my path, I would be a little cautious.

Portland State in the Big Sky follows Hampton’s model in the Big South: Do the bare minimum on defense and run an efficient up-tempo offense. Portland State is outside of the top-300 in defensive efficiency and effective field goal defense, but they are top-10 in offensive rebounding and they protect the basketball. The Vikings are top-20 in the country in player experience with three seniors and a junior in the starting lineup.

After losing James Wiseman at the beginning of the season and stumbling to a 10-8 record in the American Athletic Conference, Memphis has stayed under everyone’s radar. It has certainly been a disappointing debut season for Penny Hardaway, but the Tigers have put together an impressive defensive profile. Memphis is No. 1 in the country in effective field goal defense, No. 1 in 2-point defense, No. 3 in 3-point defense, and No. 5 in defensive efficiency.

The AAC Tournament is being played in a brand-new venue that has only hosted one basketball game in the past. In an environment where outside shooting is unknown, having one of the best defenses in the country could certainly come in handy.

Georgia State and Georgia Southern play on Wednesday night in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Tournament. Both of those teams are top-35 in the country in tempo, and I will be interested in betting the winner of this game against No. 1 Little Rock on Saturday.

The Sun Belt Conference did a major disservice to its top teams this year. The semifinals and final are played at a neutral site, so there is no home court advantage of any kind. The top two seeds, Little Rock and South Alabama, will have 11 days off in between games while the teams that they will face have maintained normal schedules. I will be looking to bet against Little Rock, specifically in the first half, as they look to shake off the rust after such a long layoff.

Thursday

Portland State vs. Montana State: The Vikings won and covered the spread in the first two meetings this season. Montana State’s offense is in the bottom-three of the conference in efficiency, effective field goal percentage, turnovers, offensive rebounding and 3-point shooting. PORTLAND STATE

UC Santa Barbara vs. UC Riverside: I mentioned Big West Tournament unders in last week’s column, and this one fits the bill. I prefer to play first half unders in these conference tournaments to eliminate shenanigans with late-game fouling.

UCSB and Riverside are the two slowest teams in the Big West. Riverside is No. 330 in the country in first half scoring. UCSB averaged 24.3 first half points in their final four regular season games. The first half total will likely be in the upper 50s for this one, but if recent form holds true, these two teams will struggle to break 50 by halftime at the Honda Center. UNDER

Friday

Davidson vs. Richmond: Assuming Davidson gets past La Salle on Thursday, I would look to back the Wildcats against Richmond in the A-10 quarterfinals on Friday. At press time Tuesday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Richmond as the first team out of the NCAA Tournament. That will likely create a “must win” tax on the Spiders. These two teams have nearly identical statistical profiles on offense. DAVIDSON

Last week: 2-1

Season: 2-1

About the Author

James Bunting

James Bunting covers college basketball, baseball and the NFL for Gaming Today. He has worked as a freelance sports writer for several outlets over the last decade, focusing specifically on the sports betting industry in the last five years.

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