College Basketball conference tournaments are tipping off this week. Get the best bets and conference tournament futures for the 2023 season.
College Basketball Conference Tournament Futures Best Bets
It’s certainly starting to feel like March, and with the major conference tournaments kicking off this week, it’s one of the best times of the year. In this article, I’ll break down my favorite conference tournament futures. As always, be sure to shop around for the best odds as they can vary significantly, especially for these conference tournaments.
You can certainly find value in the favorites in these markets, but I’m looking for longshots here. Let’s find some dark horse winners to make this March a great one. I’m personally putting a half unit on each of these, but feel free to allocate your units as you see fit. Let’s get to work.
Providence to win the Big East ()
While momentum is often very important, teams on a bad run of form can sometimes provide opportunities for value. I believe that’s the case with Providence in the Big East tournament. The Friars are coming off their worst showing of the season as they got blitzed on their Senior Day in an 82-58 blowout at the hands of Seton Hall.
Interestingly, though, ShotQuality actually graded that game as a win. Three-point shooting regression was expected for both teams in opposite directions. Seton Hall shot an absurd 10-18 from deep (55.6%) and Providence hit just 4-23 (17.4%). That was actually the second straight loss by the Friars that ShotQuality graded as a win.
For some teams, that ugly performance to close the regular season would be a death sentence. However, I have a lot of faith in Ed Cooley in this spot. Cooley was the coach when Providence won this tournament in 2014, and as is similar with most of the teams on this list, I believe his coaching makes a massive difference for this team.
Of course, there’s a pretty big elephant in the room here. Providence starts this tournament against UConn, the favorite to win the Big East and the fourth-ranked team in the country by KenPom’s efficiency ratings.
Providence has stumbled to a 4-7 record since February 1st after a 9-2 record in conference play, and they ranks just 327th in positive momentum per Haslametrics. Over the same span, UConn is the second-best team in the country per Bart Torvik’s T-Rank metric. However, I don’t hate this matchup for the Friars.
UConn lost to Providence earlier this year as the Friars worked their way to the line for 35 free throw attempts. That’s part of the recipe for an upset here as Providence leads the Big East in free throw rate and percentage of points from foul shots. Meanwhile, UConn ranks 329th in free throw rate on defense, fouling entirely too often.
Providence is also well-equipped to battle with UConn in the post. Both teams rank top 20 in the country in rebounds per game. The Huskies lead the country in potential points off second chances, and the Friars can limit them in that respect. Ed Croswell is a beast on the glass who averaged nine rebounds in the two games against the Huskies this year.
— BIG EAST MBB (@BIGEASTMBB) February 26, 2023
If the Friars can pull off the upset over the Huskies, they’d face Marquette or the winner of the St. John’s-Butler game. If the Johnnies win in the first round, I’ll be interested in taking them ATS against Marquette. Either way, that’s not a terrifying opponent. Then, we’d have Providence in the final where hedge opportunities would be great for a +1500 ticket.
Villanova is currently sitting at +800 odds compared to +1500 for Providence, and I find that ridiculous. The Friars’ ugly loss to Seton Hall is giving them tremendous value in this tournament, and at 15-1 odds, they’re my favorite value on the board for any conference.
West Virginia to win the Big 12 ()
In a testament to how loaded the Big 12 is this season, West Virginia ranks 17th overall in the country in KenPom’s rankings despite finishing eighth in the conference. The Mountaineers have played the fourth-most difficult schedule this season per KenPom.
West Virginia lost five straight games in conference play by an average of 6.6 points per game, but they’re 7-6 in conference play since that point. That’s no small feat given the other elite teams in the Big 12. Over their last four games, they’re 3-1 straight up with their lone loss to Kansas being graded as a win per ShotQuality.
Senior guard Erik Stevenson is the type of player you want to back in a conference tournament. He gets to the line consistently as he draws nearly five fouls per 40 minutes and he shoots 39.2% from deep. He’s also in great form as of late with 23+ points in five straight games.
First, the Mountaineers face a Texas Tech team who is dealing with off-court issues as their head coach Mark Adams was suspended for racially insensitive comments. Texas Tech simply never found its footing this season, particularly as guard Pop Isaacs missed seven games and forward Fardaws Aimaq missed 21.
From there, West Virginia would face Kansas in the second round. While the Jayhawks are an elite team, they’re due for regression as they’re 14th in KenPom luck ratings and seventh-worst in ShotQuality record luck metric – the site expects them to have seven fewer wins.
Kansas swept West Virginia during the regular season, but both wins were graded as losses by ShotQuality. Ideally, the Mountaineers would face Iowa State in the Semifinals from there as the Cyclones face Baylor. West Virginia swept Iowa State during the regular season but got swept by Baylor.
Regardless, this West Virginia team is undervalued on the whole. It’s an incredibly experienced team as the top six leading scorers are seniors. It’s also a well-coached team as Bob Huggins has long been one of my favorite head coaches in the country.
West Virginia is playing its best ball at the right time as they’re the 19th-ranked team per Bart Torvik since February 1st and the 13th-best offense over that span. With the Mountaineers battle tested and on the right side of expected regression, bet on this group to make a run.
Arkansas To Win the SEC ()
Arkansas is a fascinating team this season. While they sit at just 8-10 in SEC play, they are well regarded by the analytics. Haslametrics has them as the 23rd-best team in the country. KenPom has them 19th.
The Razorbacks have been unlucky this season as they rank 333rd in KenPom luck ratings – five of their ten conference losses have come by six points or less and that late game variance could start to work in their favor in this setting.
Arkansas welcomed back freshman guard Nick Smith Jr. from injury on February 11th vs Mississippi State. It took him a few games to shake off his rust, but he’s averaging just under 22 points over his last four games despite facing Alabama and Tennessee, two top three KenPom defenses, over that span.
Smith’s scoring and passing in transition is huge as it boosts an already elite transition offense that ranks 10th in ShotQuality points per possession in the fast break. With a defense that ranks 17th in adjusted efficiency and 68th in turnover rate, the Hogs get plenty of chances to get out and run.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) February 25, 2023
The biggest issue for Arkansas on defense is their proclivity for fouls – they rank 326th in defensive foul rate. That’s an issue if they face Texas A&M, who averages the second-most free throws in the country, in the second round. However, the Hogs split with the Aggies this season.
Elsewhere in this tournament, you have some teams with issues. Tennessee and Florida are missing key starters in Zakai Zeigler and Colin Castleton, respectively. Kentucky is also dealing with injuries to CJ Frederick, Cason Wallace, and Sahvir Wheeler, prompting a Wildcats blog to post an article with the byline “everyone is hurt.”
Alabama, who Arkansas wouldn’t face until the final anyways, is also mired in off-court controversy stemming from star guard Brandon Miller’s involvement in the tragic fatal shooting of a 23-year old woman.
Similar to Providence, the fact that Arkansas lost its last three games of the season is buying us some value. Also similar to Providence, I trust Eric Musselman to rally the troops for this tournament. With teams in the SEC ailing and Arkansas returning key guard Nick Smith Jr., I like the value on the Hogs here.
Washington State to win the Pac-12 ()
If you’re looking for a team in good form, look no further than Washington State. The Cougars have won six straight games to close out the regular season and are trending up at the right time. For a team that had some bad fortune earlier in the year – they rank 320th in KenPom’s luck rating – that’s been a welcome sight.
Washington State is very comfortable in the half court offense, and I love their affinity for the three-pointer. They rank 47th in three-point frequency and 15th in spacing. Five of the six players on the team who get 20+ minutes on average shoot better than 35% from deep.
The Cougars also boast a tremendous defense that ranks 63rd in adjusted efficiency and is especially stout from range. Washington State ranks top 40 in 3-point attempt rate allowed, open 3 rate, and three-point shooting defense per ShotQuality.
The path is fairly strong for Washington State here. It starts with a layup against a Cal team that went just 3-28 during the regular season and the Cougars beat twice by a combined 21 points.
From there, the Cougars would face an Oregon team they beat just a couple of weeks ago. The Ducks play through the interior with N’Faly Dante, but the Cougars rank top 30 in near-proximity field goal percentage allowed and potential points off second chances per Haslametrics.
Credit Senegalese sophomore forward Mouhamed Gueye who is a stout defender and just crushed Oregon with 18 points and 12 rebounds in that win. Gueye averages 0.8 blocks and 0.8 steals per game. Gueye has also scored 15+ points in six straight games, directly coinciding with the Cougars’ recent win streak.
Mouhamed Gueye has scored 17, 21, 18, 15, and 20 over WSU's five-game win streak. Over that stretch, he is shooting 58.6% from the field and 4-6 from deep. His two-point shots are mostly self-created and he has gotten really comfortable getting buckets in a variety of ways pic.twitter.com/DQZmGtiTua
— Bryce Hendricks (@BryceHendrick14) February 26, 2023
If they can beat Oregon again, Washington State would have to face UCLA, the favorite in the conference. However, the Cougars’ women’s team just upset UCLA in their Pac-12 final – why can’t the men’s team do the same?
The Cougars have proven themselves against the class of this conference with wins over Arizona and USC as well as a narrow one-point loss against UCLA. Combine that with their current six-game win streak, and this team is very intriguing.
Kyle Smith is in his fourth year as the head coach for Washington State, and he led the Cougars to the NIT Semifinals last year. I believe this team is ready to make a jump, and they have a lot of the characteristics I look for in longshots in these conference tournaments. At 20-1 value, let’s take a shot on the Cougs.