Champ Week is already upon us, the buzzer beaters, dreams realized and hopes dashed all in a moment. The joy of victory and the agony of defeat affects those in the arena and us with money on the combatants. The smaller conferences have already provided some drama but the power conferences are about to go center stage, and we’ll focus on them here too. Picking conference winners while in league play are some of my favorite future bets. Conference tournaments on the other hand, can be very difficult with the one and done nature, consecutive games and different level of desperation based on if and where you are in the projected NCAA Bracket. But as my brother once said incredulously while looking at a racing form “I hate every horse in this race, but what am I not going to bet it?!”
Odds from Caesars Sportsbook
Favorite: Duke Blue Devils (+270)
Cuff: This conference is the biggest wild card of all the power conferences, illustrated by Duke (the No. 4 seed) having the longest odds of any conference favorite. The narrative is that the ACC stinks, but that’s inaccurate and lazy analysis. While the back end is horrible, there are quality teams at the top end although no one has separated themselves. Because of that lack of dominance, I think there are five to six teams that could win this. Miami (+350) and Virginia (+350) are regular season co-champs. UVA isn’t elite defensively and rely on making jump shots too much for my liking to win three games in three days. North Carolina (+700) will have to win this tournament to get into the big dance in my opinion, but despite the desperation, I just don’t think they’re good enough to do it.
Miami and Duke are most likely to cash but they’re on the same side of the bracket. Duke is playing their best basketball but have to play Pitt in the quarterfinal. I think Miami’s path is easier, so I’d lay my money on the Hurricanes. That said, the real value play that will also get some cash is NC State (+1200). They’ve got NBA level guards, a great big in DJ Burns and can make shots. They’re on the weaker side of the bracket and with that price are a good longshot play.
Cuff’s pick: NC State (+1200)
Favorite: Purdue (+145)
Cuff’s picks: Indiana (+600), Northwestern (+1000)
I called Indiana a Jekyl and Hyde team, and that remains true. The inconsistency in the conference is staggering and points to a lot of mediocrity as reflected in the projected NCAA tournament seed lines and plethora of bubble teams (Rutgers, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State). Purdue separated from the bunch but struggled down the stretch losing four of their past eight games. The Freshman guards of Fletcher Loyer and Braden Smith are good but concern me as they can be pressured and struggled to manage a game. Despite the top seed, they’re in a tougher side of the bracket with some matchups that could be more problematic. Indiana (+600) is where I’m going to go. I like their path, Trayce Jackson-Davis is a beast and Jalen Hood-Schifino, despite his inconsistency is an NBA guard and not many teams in this league can say that.
I also will put some money on Northwestern (+1000). They’re a No. 2 seed that has been overlooked all year. Very good backcourt, highest defensive turnover rate in the league and with that price worthy of some cash.
Favorite: Kansas (+250)
Cuff’s picks: Kansas (+250)
The Big 12 is the opposite of the Big Ten. There are elite teams everywhere and eight of their ten teams could go to the NCAA tournament with five potentially top 4 seeds. The Jayhawks won this league outright which was so impressive. Despite losing their last outing at Texas, it’s hard for me to argue against Kansas with how they’ve played as of late. They won nine of their past 11 games and Big 12 tournament is in their home away from home in Kansas City, Missouri. With a price of +250, I like some money on them, Texas (+350) is a solid play too but as I look at the odds, I think TCU (+600) is also interesting. The Horned Frogs play at an electric pace, can really defend and don’t rely on 3-point shooting which can help in a multiple-day tournament setting. However, Eddie Lampkin Jr. has left the team and this is the hardest one to handicap.
Favorite: UConn (+220)
Cuff’s pick: Marquette (+350)
I think this is going to be a really fun tournament in the World’s Most Famous Arena. However, I think one of the top 3 betting favorites will cut down the nets. The favorite UConn (No. 4 seed), regular season champs Marquette (+350) and No. 3 seed Creighton (+250). Xavier (+500) are the No. 2 seed but will be without their leading scorer and arguably most important player, Zach Freemantle for the rest of the season. Despite how good Villanova (+1000) has been as of late I don’t think they can win four games in four days. The No. 1 seeded Golden Eagles have a great advantage with St. John’s (+4000) or Butler (+15000) in their quarterfinal compared to the Huskies playing Providence (+1800) who they lost to earlier this year. On the other side of the bracket Creighton’s biggest challenge will be that quarterfinal in a likely matchup with Villanova who are a bad match up for them and just beat the Bluejays on Feb. 25 by 12 points. I think it’s Marquette or UConn and I’m going to lean the much-disrespected Marquette to add to their regular season title.
Favorite: UCLA (+135)
Cuff’s pick: Arizona (+190)
UCLA and Arizona (+190) are clearly the two best teams in this league and it’s not close. The Bruins are superior to the Wildcats and showed that in their last outing, controlling every aspect of the game en route to a nine-point victory. However, that game cost them. Jaylen Clark, arguably the best defender in the country and UCLA’s second leading scorer, is out for the rest of the season after suffering an Achilles injury. The Bruins struggle to score at times and losing their best defender will be a huge loss. Even if Clark is available, I’d wonder if the team just decides to rest him for the Big Dance. I’m taking Arizona now as I imagine that price will come down and they may become the favorite if Clark is ruled out.
Favorite: Alabama (+150)
Cuff: Alabama has been the best and most consistent team in the SEC up until the past three weeks. They’ve struggled mightily in first halves and battled back to win three of their past four games. Before this swoon in form, I would have said to bet on Bama. But while the Crimson Tide are still the play, let’s rip through a few others. Tennessee (+400) is too offensively limited and losing their best and most creative guard, Zakai Ziegler, takes them out of the running. Missouri (+2500) is the No. 4 seed but they’ve been too inconsistent away from home, as have Arkansas (+1500) and Auburn (+1600). Texas A&M (+550) is the No. 2 seed. The Aggies just beat Bama and could be good value.
This may be fool’s gold, but I think Kentucky (+350) will get some money if Cason Wallace is healthy. He missed their last game which was a commanding win at Arkansas. Wallace is the only sure-fire pro on their roster so if he’s playing, I’m in.