Handicapping the Conference Tourneys

Handicapping the Conference Tourneys

Handicapping the NCAA tournament isn’t an easy thing, of course. Everyone’s done the office pools, picked the straight-edge winners in the CAA tournaments, and bet the final numbers on the March Madness coattails. But because the NCAA’s introduced 3 or 4 new formats over the last 5 years, it’s been more challenging to pick the sure things. When Vegas releases its odds, the usual challenge is to try to find the new Wheres and Is, Is Good Enough?, but many of the changes have been in the field or in the ACC, Big East, Big West, SEC, and Pac-10. The old NCAA Office pool winner, for example, might be a good Goliath, but if Goliath had a pet hedge fund he’d probably bet it like the Cubs or Goliath might like the Mets.

So for the conference tournaments, let’s try to break down the so-soConference Tourney field, starting with the ones we feel are the four best bets. We like Cincinnati, the 18th seed, for what it’s worth. The Bearcats played disciplined basketball this season, and if Cincinnati makes it in, there’s no reason they shouldn’t stay together. If Cincinnati gets knocked off, which seems likely, the joyride continues.

This has been a fun first round in the Big Dance. Let’s keep it that way.

All of our 12 Sweet 16 teams have had a busy college basketball campaign. Let’s review their tournament run: Gonzaga went 18-12. Syracuse went 18-8. Seton Hall went 19-3. And Marquette went 19-7.

Because those teams are in the Sweet 16, we can examine their results against common opponents. In Gonzaga’s first 16 games, the team has gone 10-2 SU, 9-3 ATS. Syracuse went just 15-17. Marquette lost by an average margin of 15.5 PPG. During that run, Mega Marquette went 11-1 SU, 10-4 ATS. That’s a huge disparity!

Marquette lost by an average margin of 22.7 PPG in its first 16 games. That’s hardly due to getting smacked around, in other words, the way the Bearcats were on Sunday. Marquette won its first game by 22 at Cincinnati, on a 70-54 win. That was the only game during the Bearcats’ streak, a span of exactly one week. In addition, prior to beating the Bearcats on February 9, the Golden Eagles hadn’t won a game in two weeks. So what happened?

Cincinnati easily beat the Bearcats on Tuesday, 79-75, and the next evening, the Bearcats easily beating the Jayhawks, 76-67. These two teams are Anything But Defeated. High seeds are not known for their offensive or defensive dominance, certainly, but the bottom seeds are a suddenly dicey matchup. The bottom seeds have gone just 5-13 since ’84; the top seeds, 8-1!

High seeds are often easier to beat than the bottom seeds, too, for the simple reason that they are more talented. When the bottom seeds lose, more people think they are weaker than their better counterparts, which increases ticket sales. But it’s not necessarily a good thing when the bottom seeds go on to win, because it means the difference between a win and a loss by a team selling tickets.

A typical bottom-ending line is the 13th-seeded Jamaican underdogs beating the 11th-seeded Mountaineers, both in Memphis and St. Louis, by 15 and 19 points, respectively. The next lowest-seeded favorite, the 11th-seeded Warriors, beat the 10th-seeded Pacers in the second round, 64-46.

So here’s the money line for Round 1:

  • Hawkeyes by 2 over Any Other seed in round 1 = -130
  • 202nd-ranked Winthrop vs. orterockets -120
  • 110th-ranked Virginia vs. revolverlogic +100
  • warfareballdogs +700

The numbers tell us that Iowa is a good head-to-head pick to win this tournament, and they should probably be favored to end up in the Final Four, along with Seton Hall. Iowa is also probably a good pick to win the Big Ten, despite losing five players to the NBA. Winthrop, a sixth-seed, is a dangerous underdog to face in the regional finals, especially inside the paint.

There’s a lot of depth in the Pokerlegenda tournament, and you can find a quality underdog to ride into the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, even in the eight-team field. But don’t expect to see a top-four matchup in the Final Four.