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Anticipation is building for the NCAA Tournament, but why wait for action?Sharp bettors know there are just as many opportunities, if not more, to find value in conference tournaments.
“If I was on the other side of the counter, I’d rather be out here (in Las Vegas) for the conference tourneys because you’ve got more games and the lines aren’t as solid,” said Jeff Stoneback, manager of Mirage Resorts International sports books. “A team wins at 10 o’clock on a Wednesday night and you’ve got to put a line up for them by 8 o’clock Thursday morning.
“And then you’ve got teams playing three or four nights in a row against some very fresh teams, and you’ve got to be right, but is that team gonna be tired or keep up their unbelievable roll like Connecticut did a few years ago? That makes it fun.
“In the NCAA Tournament, everyone gets a day off and the same schedule, so there’s an equal playing field. (In conference tournaments), there’s a lot of variables, which create much better betting opportunities.”
Handicapping the conference tournaments
Richie Baccellieri, an analyst for The Linemakers on Sporting News, said conference tourneys and the NCAAs are all rich in opportunities because teams are out of their normal routine.
“You can always find something because of the uniqueness of that type of game,” said Baccellieri, who ran the books at Caesars, MGM Grand and the Palms.
The first thing to handicap is a team’s strength on a neutral court, suggests Baccellieri.
“Home court varies anywhere from no points to 6 or 6.5 points,” Baccellieri said. “Take that off the table, and it truly does become a rating.”
In general, Baccellieri looks for lower-scoring games and more underdogs in conference tourney play.
“Teams that are dead all year long have a fresh start,” he said, citing Loyola Marymount as a perfect example. “It’s their last chance to do something.”
The Lions finished dead last in the West Coast Conference (1-15) and entered WCC tourney play on a 14-game skid. They then reeled off three straight wins – including one as an 11-point dog – before covering in a loss to top-ranked Gonzaga.
Counting its regular-season finale, Loyola Marymount ended the season on a 5-0 ATS run.
With quick turnarounds in conference tourney action, Baccellieri suggests paying careful attention to injuries and going the extra mile to get all available injury info via local websites.
Conference tourneys often involve rematches, with teams sometimes playing each other for a third time. Study the first and second matchups and look for important factors that could be outliers, such as big disparities in free throws or 3-point shooting. Also note who was and wasn’t healthy for those earlier meetings.
Several mid-majors and smaller conferences just completed their tournaments. The big boys start Tuesday with the Big East. Wednesday brings the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, Mountain West and Conference USA, with the ACC, Big 10 and Atlantic 10 following Thursday. Don’t forget the Big Sky, Big West, WAC or MAC either.
What’s happening in Vegas
It won’t match what’s on tap next week, but Las Vegas sports books will be buzzing this week.
It doesn’t hurt that four conference tournaments are being played in Vegas this year. The Pac-12 is at the MGM, the Mountain West at the Thomas & Mack, and the WAC and WCC at the Orleans.
“A lot of college basketball fans will be in town to support their teams,” Stoneback said, anticipating increased action.
Conference tourney week – it’s actually two weeks – doesn’t carry the luster of the Big Dance, but you can bet games from 9 a.m. Vegas time until late at night. About 40 games will be on the board Thursday, and the same goes for Friday.
“There are people that come out specifically for the conference tournaments,” Stoneback said. “It seems to be building up more each year.”
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