The most underrated days on the sports calendar are almost here.
We all know about Super Bowl Sunday, the final round of the Masters, the first round of the NCAA tournament, Major League Baseball opening day or whatever else you prefer. But the two best days that never get mentioned happen on Friday and Saturday.
On Friday, starting at noon Eastern, we get quarterfinals and semifinals for practically every major conference and a lot of fun mid-majors and one-bid leagues. Then on Saturday we get 14 conference championship games with NCAA tournament bids on the line and semifinals for the five title games on Sunday. There’s more action and drama packed into those two days than any other 48-hour stretch in sports.
It’s also a good way for casual fans to find their entry point into the NCAA tournament. Watch some conference tournament games this week and you’ll find that No. 13 seed you’ll be picking in your bracket next week. And while we’re scouting for the big dance, might as well bet on the action right? Here are some best bets for the major conference tournaments, with help from BetMGM odds (as of Monday evening):
Kansas is the favorite here at +110, and there’s no value in that. Texas, which got itself back in the bubble talk with a late run, is intriguing at +2800. But the best play is Texas Tech, whose offense got on track in conference play (No. 2 in offensive efficiency in Big 12 games, according to KenPom), and will always defend. It’s also comforting to back a stellar coach like Chris Beard. A four-game losing streak to end the regular season wasn’t ideal, but there were some close games including an overtime loss to Baylor and a tight four-point loss to Kansas.
Best bet: Texas Tech +750
It’s not the Big East tournament of old (thanks, realignment), but this year’s tournament at Madison Square Garden should be fantastic. Villanova finished strong and Seton Hall has Myles Powell, but Creighton is an offensive machine. Creighton has won 12 of 15, and 10 of those wins came by at least eight points.
Best bet: Creighton +300
Virginia has won eight straight, including wins over Duke and Louisville. As the No. 2 seed it’ll likely get Louisville in the semifinals, and the Cardinals are 2-11 against Virginia since Tony Bennett became coach. Virginia isn’t the best team in the ACC, and it is scary to trust its offense to win three in a row in the tournament, but the value is clearly on the defending national champs.
Best bet: Virginia +700
I like Oregon to win this tournament, mostly because I don’t trust anyone else. Especially with Arizona’s swoon. Ducks guard Payton Pritchard is the kind of player who can dominate March. The Ducks aren’t terribly priced at +250. But USC is a nice long shot, with a first-round bye and a lot of talent. USC freshman forward Onyeka Okongwu is going to be an NBA lottery pick. I’m copping out here because I can’t choose just one.
Best bet: (tie) Oregon +250, USC +1700
Kentucky is probably the right pick, especially because it seems like Ashton Hagans will return for the Wildcats. But there’s not a lot of value in the odds at +225 for a team that advanced metrics really doesn’t like. But who would you like? LSU has been bad lately but still has the talent to make a run, especially if guard Skylar Mays carries the Tigers. I don’t love any of these SEC teams, but someone has to win it.
Best bet: LSU +700
It’s really hard to deny Michigan State. Guard Rocket Watts and forward Aaron Henry have emerged lately to help Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman Sr. The Spartans were a preseason title favorite and we’re finally seeing that team. And we know the history of Tom Izzo in March. If you want to take Michigan State as the chalk at +300, I get it. But how many times do you get the No. 1 seed in a tournament at 10-to-1? Wisconsin somehow rallied against an easy stretch of their schedule to get the No. 1 seed, and they have an easier path than the Spartans, who will likely draw Maryland in the semifinals. I wouldn’t pick the Badgers straight up but as the team tied for the sixth-best odds in the Big Ten tourney? Sign me up.
Best bet: Wisconsin +1000
Bonus picks: Big Sky (Montana), Sun Belt (Texas State), Conference USA (Louisiana Tech), MAAC (Monmouth), MAC (Akron), MEAC (Norfolk St.), WAC (New Mexico State), Big West (UC Irvine), Atlantic 10 (Dayton), Southland (Stephen F. Austin), SWAC (Southern), American (Wichita State), Ivy (Harvard)
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