Motivation factors in to this Dance
February 27, 2018 3:00 AM
by Ian Cameron
One of my favorite times of the sports betting calendar year is upon us with conference tournaments in college basketball tipping off this week. Those will last for two weeks taking us all the way to Sunday, March 11, which is Selection Sunday.
The NCAA Tournament gets the hype and much more of the discussion from national media but the conference tournaments, in my mind, offer savvy and knowledgeable college basketball bettors even stronger betting opportunities on an annual basis.
I’ll be talking about some of the important key handicapping factors I take into account as I begin my own pursuit of profits throughout this exciting time of year.
It is important to know the motivation level and what is at stake for each team in a conference tournament setting. Some teams can still earn a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament based on their performance in the conference tournament. Some teams need to go on an extended run in the conference tournament or at least win a game or two to ensure inclusion in the Big Dance (Nebraska out of the Big Ten is one of the teams in that predicament).
Other teams are already locked into the NCAA Tournament and don’t necessarily have much to gain from a big run through the conference tournaments. Often the teams in that latter category could be targeted as “bet against” teams, especially if those teams are battling cluster injuries at the time.
You will often see coaches not willing to risk further injuries or health impairments to their teams during the conference tournament if they are already shorthanded due to multiple key injuries. Teams in that situation may be content to just exit the conference tournament earlier in an attempt to stay healthy for the grind that is to come in the NCAA Tournament.
Conference tournaments are very different from the NCAA Tournament in a lot of aspects but there is one similarity between the two. In both settings, I prefer to be backing teams that have displayed a solid enough ability to win games and cover pointspreads on road and neutral court environments during the course of the season.
The majority of conference tournaments are playing on a neutral floor with the exception of some of the lower level mid-major conference tournaments that may have some games hosted by the higher seeded team.
It is often very sketchy to trust teams that have been feasting on wins on their home court but have not proven themselves capable of being a good team from a SU and ATS perspective away from home. Another important thing to watch for is depth and the amount of minutes played by starters throughout the conference tournaments.
One of the biggest differences between the Big Dance and conference tourneys is the fact teams will have to play in some cases three games in three days or even four games in four days in certain situations and often it is the teams with greater depth and a stronger bench/second unit that are poised for more success in these tough turnaround scheduling spots. If you find one team with many of their key starters logging 35-plus minutes in games over multiple days in a row and facing a team that goes 9, 10 or even 11 players deep into their bench, you could see a legitimate edge in energy and execution for that team with the deeper bench and deeper player rotation in those taxing scheduling situations.
In conference tournaments, teams are facing one another in many instances for the second or third time in a single season. There is always a “fairy tale narrative” you will often hear at this time of year: for a team that won each of the regular season meetings between the teams, it is difficult to sweep that same team and win again in the conference tournament. That is pure nonsense.
Often if one team dominates the other during the regular season, you will routinely see a similar result when the same two teams match up in the conference tournament. The idea of a team that is red hot vs. a team that is struggling facing one another in a conference tournament is a situation that often can be an advantage for the team playing well, but it still needs to be treated as a case by case situation.
There are instances, albeit rare ones, where teams that absolutely played terrible basketball through much of the conference season can suddenly flip a switch and get things rolling at conference tournament time. However, I find there are still more instances where the bottom feeders, especially in the major conferences, are prone to be “one and done” in their conference tournament.
The smaller mid-major conferences are the tournaments where we are more prone to see lower seeds make some unexpected noise and a long run all the way to a championship and I would be more comfortable looking for dark horses in those smaller conference tournaments.
The gap between quality of player and athlete between the teams is much smaller in these lower conferences, which often results in more parody in the mid-major conference tournaments. Troy winning the Sun Belt conference tournament last season as a middle of the pack 6-seed in the conference is a perfect example.
All of the above talking points are guidelines that I like to implement and follow when betting college basketball conference tournaments and I would advise you to consider all of these factors as well before placing your bets over the course of the next two weeks!