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Bet Smart: College Basketball Conference Tournaments

Delaware at Villanova

Delaware at Villanova. Getty Images

How do professional bettors handicap all the fast action of college basketball conference tournaments on the fly? This weekend’s analytical challenges are very different from the regular season. Teams playing in semifinals and finals will be trying to survive multi-games-in-multi-days gauntlets.

Sharps pay a lot of attention to box scores from earlier rounds because it’s impossible to closely watch EVERY game in EVERY tournament from the first round through the quarterfinals. Before you make your final decisions in Saturday’s Big East Championship game at Madison Square Garden (FOX, 6:30 p.m.), Saturday’s Atlantic 10 semifinals at the Barclays Center (CBSC, 1 and 3:30 p.m.), or high profile TV attractions from the Big 10, SEC, Big 12, and ACC, consider these points of focus

*Minutes Played by Key Contributors: Fatigue can be a huge factor for teams with short rotations during these unique conference tournament formats. Any surging underdog or favorite with limited bench strength is likely to hit a wall over the weekend. Deep teams are much better able to string together success. Sharps also factor in game pace (up-tempo teams wear out sooner, slower teams can endure).

*Shooting Extremes: It’s not uncommon to see a team post a great one-game result by shooting way over its head (particularly from long range). Doing that two or three games in a row is much more difficult. The laws of math get angry. And, opposing defenses make adjustments. Sharps don’t ask “lucky” teams to stay lucky.

*Turnover Avoidance: You’ve surely heard sports analysts through the years talk about the importance of “guard play” in tournament basketball. Good “quarterbacks” distribute the ball while avoiding turnovers. Efficient offenses run by quality guards are capable of stringing together wins because they waste so few possessions. Any team that won a game despite a high turnover count will have trouble overcoming that hurdle the next time out. Well-tuned engines will continue to hum.

*Defense and Rebounding Win Championships: this is another analyst favorite that’s proven the test of time. Obviously offense is needed too. But, in a field of talented athletes, defense and rebounding can be a critical tie-breaker (particularly in games priced near pick-em). Sharps respect “rebound rate” (percentage of available rebounds grabbed) and rim protection (two-point shooting percentage allowed).

One local tournament straggler to highlight. The Ivy League tips off its four-team free-for-all Saturday. Yale hosts at Payne Whitney Gym in New Haven. Top seed Harvard plays Pennsylvania (ESPNU, 12:30 p.m.), followed by Yale vs. Princeton (ESPNU, 3 p.m.). Winners meet Sunday (ESPN2, noon)

Here are the final margin averages in conference play for the four survivors…Yale +6.9, Harvard +2.1, Penn +1.1, Princeton +0.5. Note that the Ivy League plays a full home-and-home regular season round robin, providing a nice sample size vs. very similar schedules.

Yale is the market favorite to earn an NCAA bid because of superior math and home court advantage. The winner is currently projected to get a #13 or #14 seed, pending other developments amongst small conferences.


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