March Madness is finally here, and behind the Super Bowl, it’s probably the biggest event in the world of sports betting.
And because of the uniqueness that comes with the sport’s regular season conference tournaments, handicappers have to alter their usual betting strategy. There are distinctive situations to factor in that could give you an edge when looking at the odds – not unlike college football bowl games.
Here are five things to consider before making any wagers this week:
Bet on the bubble teams
This week is where bubble teams get most of the attention from both college basketball analysts and fans. Some teams need to win just one game to feel safe about making the NCAA Tournament, while others know they have to string together a couple of wins to have a stress-free Selection Sunday.
Our tournament projections are a good starting point to identify schools on the bubble. Taking those teams to cover spreads in conference tournament games is the recommended way to bet because you know you’ll get maximum motivation.
As for my thoughts on this year’s bubble…
*TCU, Oklahoma and Texas will be the teams I’ll look to target in the Big 12 Tournament.
*Florida and Alabama have a lot at stake in the SEC Tournament.
*Over in the Big East, Creighton and Georgetown look to be the teams that need more wins in order to earn a spot in the “Big Dance.”
*I would stay away from games where both teams are on the bubble.
*One of the most important games this week is Wednesday’s ACC battle between North Carolina State and Clemson. Both are currently part of the “last four in” for Stadium’s tournament projections, so some might consider it a play-in game.
*It appears the Indiana-Ohio State matchup on Thursday will have massive implications at the Big Ten Tournament. The winner of that one will play top-seeded Michigan State on Friday, so that makes Thursday’s game even more important as the winner will be significant underdogs against the Spartans.
Bet on teams that want to improve their NCAA Tournament seed
While bubble teams are understandably focused this week, the proven programs that know they are in the NCAA Tournament will also show up with the hopes of improving their seed for the NCAA Tournament.
That’s why I love Kentucky in the SEC Tournament.
The Wildcats, who are currently projected to be the No. 1 seed in the South Region, would be playing in Louisville in potential Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups if they stayed in their current projected spot. What team wouldn’t love to have that type of home-court advantage for the NCAA Tournament?
Expect for Kentucky to give their best effort in Nashville this week as they make their tourney push.
Fade teams that are more concerned about their NCAA Tournament performance
On the opposite side, there will be teams that won’t be motivated to make a deep run in their conference tournament because they have their seed locked up or are more concerned with the NCAA Tournament.
Virginia is a team that fits the bill for both reasons. They can lose their first game at the ACC Tournament and still be a No. 1 seed.
And after last year’s loss as the No. 1 seed to UMBC, you have to think Tony Bennett will make sure his team is prepared to play in the NCAA Tournament. Winning the ACC Tournament is obviously nice, but the Cavaliers want to follow up their terrific regular season with a national championship.
Know whose fans will travel well
Conference tournaments are considered neutral site games, but there will be hidden home-court advantages that could provide line value in the point spreads.
The ACC Tournament is in Charlotte, so there should be strong support in games involving Duke and North Carolina.
Over at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, K-State and Kansas fans will definitely dominate the Sprint Center.
Kentucky always has great traveling support, and they will once again at the SEC Tournament, but after a strong season from Tennessee, expect plenty of Volunteers fans to make the three-hour trek to Nashville. A possible semifinal between Kentucky and Tennessee would probably have an evenly split crowd on Saturday.
The Big Ten Tournament should have a mix of fans with large alumni bases in Chicago.
When betting on futures, look at the best paths for teams
There are futures odds to win each conference tournament in the betting market. The highest seeds are typically the favorites, but there could be opportunities for value depending on the bracket layout.
One conference that sticks out is the SEC and the top half of the bracket. LSU, who’s the No. 1 seed for the SEC Tournament, will likely be without Head Coach Will Wade after he was suspended for his possible involvement in college basketball’s massive corruption scandal.
Kentucky and Tennessee are on the bottom bracket so there is a favorable path for a team like Auburn or Florida to make a run to the title game.
Florida could offer value at 15/1 because they are squarely on the bubble and have a must-win game against Arkansas on Thursday. If they win that matchup, they will draw LSU in the quarterfinals — a team the Gators have already beaten in Baton Rouge.
I’m going to consider betting on Florida to win the SEC Tournament, and I hope to have the chance to hedge if they make it to Sunday.