NCAAB Bets: Under The Radar Teams That Could Win Conference Tournaments

The madness is finally here as several leagues have already started their league tournaments, and by the end of this week, all conferences will be done with their regular seasons with their sights set on the postseason. Conference tournament time is my favorite time of the year to bet on college hoops, as we have seen these teams battle it out for months, and nearly every matchup we will see in these league tournaments is a matchup that we have already seen at least once this season, and in most cases twice, which gives us a lot of data to pull from to make our bets.

As I look at the board this week in search of value, I see several under the radar teams that could win their conference tournaments. These are the teams that aren’t the betting favorites to win their league and the auto-bid into the NCAA tournament that goes with it, but could absolutely win their tournaments and get us paid.

For argument’s sake, I decided that for a team to be truly “under the radar,” that they couldn’t be the betting favorites or even the co-favorites to win their conference tournaments. There are a million guys out there that can tell you to bet the heavy favorites and why they are going to win, but the real value when betting on college basketball future’s odds like these is found by looking further down the board and finding teams that pay out jumbo odds.

Do you wanna make some real money this week? Look no further, as we here at TheSportsGeek have got you covered. We will kick off our conference tournament coverage today by taking a look at 5 under the radar teams that could win their conference tournaments. With that, let’s head to the Missouri Valley Conference and break down the betting odds on the Northern Iowa Panthers!

Northern Iowa Panthers – Missouri Valley Conference (+500)

I am going to get straight to the point with this one, as this is just plain and simple a bad line. Usually, when you are looking for upset picks to win a tournament like this one, you have to look at teams that finished in the middle of the pack in the regular season standings. That just isn’t the case with this bet, though, as not only did Northern Iowa not finish in the middle of the pack in the Missouri Valley this season, but they won the regular season league title outright, and the Panthers hit the MVC tournament as the top overall seed!

I can understand why the Ramblers of Loyola Chicago are ranked higher than the Panthers, as despite being the 4 seed, Loyola has been special in March several times in the last couple of years, and they are the highest rated team in the Valley on Kenpom by a fairly wide margin. But when I see that Missouri State is also valued ahead of NIU, and that Drake isn’t far behind, I almost can’t believe all of the shade the books are throwing at the Panthers right now.

Northern Iowa will face Illinois State later today, a team that they swept in the regular season, and presumably, the Panthers will have to play Loyola Chicago in the semifinals, assuming that the Ramblers ramble past Bradley in their 4/5 matchup. Beating Loyola Chicago late in the season is never easy, but luckily for us, the Panthers just did that, as they beat the Ramblers 102-96 in the regular season finale to lock up the league title.

Please Note:
If the Panthers get through Loyola Chicago, they will likely match up with either Missouri State or Drake in the finals. Northern Iowa was 3-1 against those teams this season, with the lone loss coming in overtime, so if that is all that stands between us and a winning ticket, I like our chances.

Based on the price alone, this play shows outrageous value as it is nearly unheard of to get an outright league champion and top seed at a price like this. And when I take a closer look at how the Panthers got here, they are built for a deep run in March. They play a very efficient offense, rarely turn the ball over, and they make all of their free throws.

The Panthers have won 9 of their last 10 games, a stretch that includes wins over Loyola Chicago, Missouri State, and Drake, and there isn’t a play on the board that shows more value than this one as the Panthers have all of the momentum that they need to win the MVC tournament and punch their ticket to the Big Dance. Lock in your action on this play now, as the odds are only going to drop after the Panthers beat Illinois State for the 3rd time later today.

Boise State Broncos – Mountain West Conference (+320)

I am high on the Mountain West Conference this season, as I see it as the 2nd best mid-major league in the nation, trailing only the WCC. The league has 7 teams ranked in the top-100, and depending on which “expert” you believe, this league could get as many as 4 bids into the NCAA tournament. My gut says that the MWC get 3 teams into the madness, and Boise State is absolutely going to be one of them.

The Broncos are all alone in 1st place atop the MWC standings and would lock up the outright league title with a win this Saturday on the road at Colorado State. Boise State has already earned at least a share of the regular season championship but could end up in a 3-way tie with Colorado State and San Diego State if they lose in their final game of the season, and the Aztecs beat Nevada in their regular season finale. I think that is a fairly likely scenario, as Boise State lost at home to the Rams, and a win on the road in the rematch is going to be a tall task.

But I don’t really care if Boise State hits the Mountain West tournament as the 1 seed or the 3 seed, or in between, as this is a very talented team that nobody is going to want to play. The Broncos had an awful start to their season, as they lost 4 of their first 7 games, but since then, they have played really high quality basketball. Boise is 21-2 since that slow start, and they have top-100 wins over Santa Clara, Washington State, Fresno State (twice), Utah State (twice), San Diego State (twice), Wyoming, and UNLV (twice).

The books have San Diego State as the betting favorites to win the MWC tourney, and while the Aztecs are a strong team as well, Boise State beat them twice already this season. The Broncos win games by playing hard-nosed defense, ranked 17th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and we certainly saw that in their games against San Diego State as they completely shut down the Aztecs attack, allowing just an average of just 47 points in the season sweep.

Realistically, I see 5 teams that could win this tournament. Along with Colorado State, San Diego State, and Boise State, I think both Wyoming and UNLV could take home the conference tournament title in what is a very competitive league. But with the Broncos being the team that is the hottest right now and currently has the best league record, they show all kinds of value as only the 3rd highest rated team on the board. If Boise does find a way to win this weekend at Colorado State, watch out, as these odds are going to plummet.

Jacksonville Dolphins – Atlantic Sun Conference (+500)

The Atlantic Sun is not a very good league this season, and there isn’t a team that sticks out as being much better than the rest. Usually, in these smaller leagues, we will see 1 team emerge as the class of the conference that runs through league play with a gaudy record. This year, we have seen that with teams like South Dakota State, Murray State, and Vermont. But in the A-Sun, there are teams that are a bit better than the rest, but for the most part, the teams are fairly tightly grouped together.

Liberty and Jacksonville State are the co-favorites in the A-Sun right now, followed closely by Jacksonville and Bellarmine as the league tournament was one of the first to start play, and we are already at the semifinals. I am surprised that we can still get Jacksonville at 5-1 despite the fact that they are just a game away from the tournament finals.

The Dolphins are going to be underdogs to the Gamecocks on Saturday, but when these teams matched up earlier this season at Jacksonville State, the game was highly competitive, and I would expect another tightly contested game this weekend. In some of these smaller leagues, the conference tournaments are played on the home floors of the higher seeded team, which does put the Dolphins at a disadvantage against Jacksonville State in the semis, and if they do advance to play top seeded Liberty in the finals, that game will be on the road as well.

It is going to be a tough path for the Dolphins, but they did beat Liberty in mid-February, and they had won 8 of their previous 9 games prior to losing to Florida Gulf Coast in the final game of the regular season. They looked good in their opening game of the A-Sun tournament with a double-digit win over Central Arkansas, and in a league where there is no dominant team, the Dolphins have a shot to shock the world and go dancing.

Based on the math alone, a bet on the Dolphins makes sense. Jacksonville certainly isn’t +500 to win against Jacksonville State, and if they can knock off the Gamecocks, the hedge value alone makes a play on the Dolphins one that has ample value. We need to run good to cash this ticket, but it is March, and anything can and will happen, and at a price like this, I love a bet on Jacksonville!

UNC Wilmington Seahawks– Colonial Athletic Association (+1200)

You can file this line as the most absurd on the board, as it makes absolutely zero sense. We already talked about how in many of these smaller leagues, we see a team that sets themselves apart from the rest of the pack, and I would listen to a case that Towson is that team in the CAA. The Tigers have played great, and their Kenpom ranking of 65th would suggest that they are a team that is worth at least a mention in the at-large bid conversation, although they realistically need to win this tournament to go dancing.

But the only problem I have with handing this league title over to the Tigers right now is that UNC Wilmington shared the regular season league title with them, with an identical 15-3 conference record. Those of you out there that haven’t followed the Colonial closely this season and haven’t gotten a chance to take a peek at the current betting odds to win the league tournament might assume that as the co-champions of the regular season and the number 2 seed in the conference tournament, that the Seahawks would be the 2nd favorites? Yeah, not even close.

Not only are the Seahawks not the 2nd favorites, but they aren’t 3rd or even 4th either! Wilmington currently pays out as the 5th favorite to win the CAA tournament at 12-1, in a league that they dominated all season long. Wilmington ranks below Towson, Hofstra, Drexel, and Charleston right now on the eve of the start of the CAA tournament that kicks off tomorrow.

I mean, I guess that the Seahawks haven’t played as well down the stretch as they did when they started out league play 9-0, but they are a combined 6-2 against the teams priced ahead of them, with at least 1 win against each of those teams, including conference kingpin Towson. This line seems to be heavily influenced by the analytics, as Kenpom has Wilmington ranked at 187th in the nation, which is laughably bad.

I love Kenpom, and I am never one to deny the data, but his algorithm tends to value close losses far too highly and close wins far too low. That is why he has the Big East champion Providence Friars ranked 32nd when everyone else in the country has them in the top-10. The Seahawks have won many of their games by small margins, which is why they rank so poorly, but unlike Kenpom, I don’t believe in luck, as I feel that well coached teams find ways to win close games, whereas poorly coached teams find ways to lose them.

I don’t need a calculator to tell me that UNC Wilmington can beat these teams, as I have seen it with my own eyes over the course of the last several months. This is tournament basketball, and I could care less if you win by 1 point or by 20, and I won’t just bet this number, I will hammer it.

Virginia Cavaliers – Atlantic Coast Conference (+1800)

The final team we are going to look at is a truly an under the radar team, as absolutely nobody is talking about the Virginia Cavaliers right now. That is understandable, as the Cavs are way down this year, and they are going to have to win the ACC tournament to extend their season and get into the NCAA tournament. But when I look at how Virginia has dominated the ACC with Tony Bennett at the helm and how the league is as bad as it has been in decades, I think Virginia could go on a run.

Going back to 2014, Virginia has won at least a share of the ACC regular season title a whopping 5 times, more than any other team. They have also won the ACC postseason tournament twice during that span, which is tied with Duke for the most ACC tournament titles in the last 8 years. Oh, and did I mention that Virginia also has a national title and trips to the Elite 8 and Sweet 16 on their resume during that same time frame? That is a long history of dominance, and it wouldn’t at all be an overstatement to say that no team in the ACC has had more success recently than Virginia.

Virginia has been all over the place this season, but it was starting to look like they were ramping up for a deep postseason run when they won 5 out of 6 games in late January and early February. The Cavs got hot and knocked off Duke and Miami, teams that were sitting at or near the top of the league standings, and the rest of the ACC had to be saying to themselves, here we go again.

But, for whatever reason, that hot streak came crashing to a halt, as Virginia has lost 3 of their last 4 games, and their last game of the regular season won’t be an easy one either, as they have to travel to Louisville to play the Cardinals. Depending on how this week ends up, the Cavs are going to finish as either the 6th or the 7th seed in the ACC, which would make a tourney title a long shot.

When I look at the ACC top to bottom, I see a total of 1 good team. That is the Duke Blue Devils. There are a couple of other decent teams like Miami, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Wake Forrest, and North Carolina, but only the Blue Devils are an elite team. The ACC tournament title will run through Duke for sure this season, as a Virginia win over any of those other teams would be a mild upset at best. And when I see how the Cavaliers have played against Duke this season, I smell upset.

Duke is 12 -1 in their last 13 games as they try and deliver one last national title to Coach K before the Hall of Famer hangs them up for good at the end of the year. That one loss? A home loss to Virginia. The Cavs went into Cameron Indoor and beat the Blue Devils 69-68, and if they can beat them in Durham, they can beat them in Brooklyn next week too. The Blue Devils got their revenge in the 2nd meeting between Duke and Virginia, as they beat the Cavaliers in Charlottesville 65-61.

We have gotten to see what Duke against Virginia looks like for a full 80 minutes and the combined final scores of those games was 133-130. Both of those games were decided by razor thin margins, and while Duke is clearly the more talented team, if the Cavs meet up with the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament, they have shown that they can play with them.

It would take a lot for Virginia to catch fire and run the table in the ACC tournament, but last year, Georgia Tech came out of nowhere to win the conference tournament title in the ACC, so we have recent history that leads me to believe that it can happen. Tony Bennett has been too good, for too long, to not back Virginia at a jumbo price like this. When you are making bets at prices like this one, it is less about whether or not a team will win and more about whether they can win, and Virginia has what it takes to make it happen and gets us paid on a high risk, but equally high reward play.

Wrap Up

With the madness already underway, you are going to want to lock in your action on these plays now, as these odds are going to shift as more games are played, and you don’t want to get shut out! Thank you for reading, and make sure that you stay tuned to TheSportsGeek for the entire month of March, as our team of expert handicappers bring you all of the high value betting advice that you need to get paid betting on NCAA Men’s Basketball!

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Jason Gray / Author

Jason is a true Las Vegas insider as he has called the sports betting capital of the world his home for sixteen years. Jason started out his career in gaming by running the biggest poker tournaments in the world and managing some of the biggest sportsbooks on the strip. Jason has transitioned out of casino operations and has been covering sports betting for the sports geek for just over two years. His main focus is on baseball, college basketball, and the NFL

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