I’ve long contended that there’s no better “guys weekend” in Las Vegas than the opening four days of the NCAA basketball tournament (well, except for any weekend that would happen to include the words “bachelor party” and “George Clooney”). But if that 48-game stretch serves as the main feast for basketball (and betting … and booze) fanatics, then the week prior stands as a mighty tasty appetizer.
While conference tournaments allow “bubble teams” one last chance to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee—and underachieving teams (cough, cough, UNLV) one last chance to save their seasons—they provide bettors an opportunity to do a little pre-Big Dance analysis. Oh, and to enhance their Big Dance bankroll.
To that last point, here are seven teams to watch from a wagering perspective during conference tournament week (all stats are through March 3) …
St. Joseph’s (Atlantic 10): Saint Louis, UMass and Virginia Commonwealth have grabbed all the headlines in the A-10, but St. Joe’s is 17-3 since December 18. Additionally, the Hawks are 10-4-1 against the spread in conference play.
North Carolina (ACC): With wins over Louisville, Michigan State, Kentucky and Duke juxtaposed against losses to Belmont, Alabama-Birmingham and Wake Forest, there isn’t a more perplexing team in the country than North Carolina. (Cut to Rebels fans screaming, “Say WHAT?”) The good news for the Tar Heels: Right now, they’re hotter than Chrissy Teigen body-painting Kate Upton. OK, maybe not that hot, but they have won 12 in a row, going 9-3 ATS.
Oklahoma (Big 12): Although just 4-4 since February 1, Oklahoma does own victories over Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State (twice) and Texas, and the Sooners’ two losses to Kansas were close (83-75, 90-83). Lon Kruger’s club is also on a 9-3 ATS tear in conference, and has been golden as an underdog this season (9-3-1 ATS).
St. John’s (Big East): One of those aforementioned “bubble” teams, the Red Storm have won nine of 12 (8-4 ATS, including 5-0 ATS as an underdog). And two of those losses were three-point setbacks on the road to ranked foes (Villanova and Creighton).
Nebraska (Big Ten): Looking to nail one of those 20-to-1 long shots? Consider rolling the dice with Nebraska (9-3 in its last 12) to win what will be a grueling Big Ten tournament. At the very least, given their 12-4 ATS record in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers figure to be competitive … and profitable.
Long Beach State (Big West): Don’t be fooled by the 49ers’ 13-15 overall record. Instead, focus on their 9-5 league mark (three losses by a total of six points) and the fact they’re 11-4-1 ATS in their last 16.
Fresno State (Mountain West): The Bulldogs have rebounded from an 8-13 start to win seven of nine (and they’re 9-1 ATS in their last 10!). Can Fresno cut down the nets at the Thomas & Mack Center? Hey, Matthew McConaughey is an Oscar winner—anything’s possible.
Matt Jacob appears Wednesdays on Pregame.com’s First Preview, which airs 10-11 a.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1100-AM. Jacob also appears on “Vegas Wise Sports” at 9 p.m. Sundays on KDWN 720-AM.