College Basketball's Conference Showdowns Leading to the Big Dance

BSW Writer noneContributor IMarch 10, 2009

There's no better time of year for gamblers than March Madness. Although the NCAA Tournament is still a week away, the mayhem starts this week with games galore in the conference tournaments.

The Big East and MAC Tournaments started Tuesday, while the Big 12, Atlantic 10 and Conference USA tip off Wednesday. On Thursday, the Pac-10, SEC and ACC will join the fray.

No matter what happens in Atlanta this weekend, North Carolina has a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance locked up. The Tar Heels captured the ACC regular-season title and are the 4/5 'chalk' to cut the nets down at the Georgia Dome.

Duke is listed with 5/2 odds, followed by Wake Forest (11/2), Clemson (10/1) and FSU (15/1). A trio of bubble teams that need at least one victory in Atlanta are Boston College, Maryland, and Miami, who each have 50/1 odds.

"If anyone is going to beat UNC in the ACC Tourney, I think it'll be Wake Forest or FSU," said handicapper Bill Marzano. "Wake Forest beat the Tar Heels during the regular season and they needed a buzzer beater from Ty Lawson to win in Tallahassee. The 'Noles have excellent interior defense and a number of big bodies to put on Tyler Hansbrough."

In the Big East, Pitt is in the same boat as UNC. That means the Panthers are the favorites and even if they lose at Madison Square Garden, they will be still be a top seed in the NCAA Tourney. Jamie Dixon's squad has been tabbed as the 2/1 'chalk.'

UConn, which could face Pitt for a third time this year in the semifinals, has 12/5 odds. Louisville's number is 14/5, while Villanova (8/1), West Virginia (18/1), and Syracuse (18/1) are considered the other viable threats. The Orange bring a four-game winning streak to the Big Apple both straight up and against the spread.

The SEC Tournament will be played at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. In a down year for the league, only two schools—Tennessee and LSU—are locks to hear their named called on Selection Sunday. South Carolina, Florida, and Auburn are on the bubble, while Kentucky is most likely out of the mix and fighting to keep its coach off the unemployment line.

Tennessee is the 3/1 favorite even though it hasn't won the SEC Tournament since 1979. UF and LSU have 7/2 odds, followed by South Carolina (5/1), Auburn (6/1), and UK (8/1) in what is clearly a wide-open field.

Jeff Lebo's team comes to Tampa on a tear. The Tigers have covered the spread in nine consecutive games, winning eight of those games outright. They will face the UF-Arkansas winner late Friday night. If the Gators advance, The UF-Auburn game will probably serve as a play-in game for an at-large berth.

Billy Gillispie's squad has lost four in a row and is mired in a 2-9 ATS slide. The Wildcats will face Ole Miss on Thursday afternoon, seeking to avenge an 85-80 loss in Oxford on Jan. 27.

"Even though LSU lost its last two regular-season games, I still think Trent Johnson's team is the class of the SEC," Marzano said. "At better than 3/1 odds, the Tigers are the play to win the tournament. Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell will be too much for the rest of the field."

Check out BetSportsWeb's NCAA Men's Basketball betting lines.

Oklahoma was once thought to be a lock for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Sooners aren't even the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 Tourney after losing three of their last five games. Even worse, they are in the midst of a 3-6-1 ATS slump.

Kansas is the 2/1 'chalk' to celebrate Sunday in Oklahoma City. OU has 11/5 odds, followed by Missouri (7/2), Texas (6/1), and Kansas St. (12/1).

Marzano said, "With Blake Griffin back at full speed and OU hungry to impress the selection committee, I think the Sooners win the Big 12 Tournament in their home state."

The Big Ten Tournament is in Indianapolis, featuring six teams that are legitimately on the bubble. Michigan St. (17/10), Purdue (10/1), and Illinois (9/2) are in the Big Dance field, but schools like Wisconsin (5/1), Ohio St. (10/1), Penn St. (50/1), Minnesota (50/1), Michigan (50/1), and Northwestern (50/1) need to bolster their respective resumes in order to feel comfortable.

Memphis is such an overwhelming favorite (1/8) in the Conference USA Tournament that no odds are listed for the rest of the conference's teams. Bettors have only two options—backing the Tigers at the expensive price or taking the field for a 6/1 return (risk $100 to win $600).

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By Brian Edwards
Managing Editor of