College Baseball Conference Tournament Preview

College baseball conference tournaments are starting, and that is a valuable late Spring addition to the futures betting menu.

For those who track this sport, the moment books post these tournament lines can be like when Navin Johnson witnesses the arrival of the new phonebooks (for those under 45 who don’t get the reference – Google it). 


Such is the case in late May when the NHL and NBA playoffs get the bulk of attention. 

Just like it is for the college basketball conference tournaments, bettors have plenty of action across multiple time zones, a board filled with plus numbers and payouts graded over a relatively short period of time. 

That doesn’t mean bettors should handicap these tournaments like they do for hoops, though.

Pitching rotations and the need for rest play a significant role in how the favorites approach these games after a 50-game regular season and the NCAA tournament starting on May 31st. 

One of the main factors to consider when contemplating a wager for this market is how motivated the favorites are to go all out to win the conference tournament. 

Last year’s national champion, Louisiana State, won its first game of the SEC tournament before dropping the next two for an early departure. The winner prior to that, Mississippi, was bounced from the tournament after just one game. The 2021 winner, Mississippi State, was 0-2 in the SEC tournament that season. 

The 2019 champs Vanderbilt did turn a dominant regular season into an SEC tournament title. Coastal Carolina did likewise in its national championship season of 2016. While there was no postseason in 2020, Oregon State didn’t have a conference tournament in 2018, and before that, the winners in 2017 (Florida), 2015 (Virginia), and Vanderbilt (2014) also didn’t win a conference championship. 

For more reference, here are how the eight teams that made the 2023 College World Series did during their conference tournaments.

LSU (did not win conference tournament)
Florida (did not win conference tournament)
Virginia (did not win conference tournament)
Wake Forest (did not win conference tournament)
Stanford (did not win conference tournament)
Tennessee (did not win conference tournament)
TCU (won Big 12 conference tournament)
Oral Roberts (won Summit League conference tournament)

The main takeaways from these results are the SEC and ACC dominate postseason college baseball (that shouldn’t be news to any bettor) and the teams with a national championship as a realistic goal likely don’t prioritize the conference tournament. 

Still, a tournament championship can help spur a run to Omaha for programs outside the top two conferences.

So for those looking to bet on these tournaments, consider the top teams in the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 not to be so much of a “favorite” as the odds board indicates. 

When looking at the conferences outside the power rankings, the top options there do need a good showing in the upcoming tournaments for seeding purposes or to lock in one of the 64 bids available. 

So let’s take a look at some of the upcoming conference tournaments with an emphasis on value and motivation. 

American Athletic Conference

Location and Date: BayCare Ballpark in Clearwater, FL, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: East Carolina (5th straight regular season title)
Favorite: ECU -150

The Pirates once again dominated the AAC regular season, solidifying the program as one of the best outside the power ranks. They were one of my favorite preseason plays for a national title at 50-1, and that number is now in the 22-1 range.

ECU has the best two pitchers in the conference, Trey Yesavage and Zach Root, along with a pair of elite bats in Carter Cunningham and Jacob Jenkins-Cowart. 

Even with its high national ranking and profile, this team has the motivation to win the tournament in order to secure a regional and possibly a super regional in Greenville. 

That doesn’t mean a futures bet is necessary in this case. ECU is thinking more Omaha than Clearwater and the minus number just isn’t attractive, even with all the talent.

Single-game wagers on ECU are a better option because the daily wager line isn’t likely to be dramatically higher than the -150 on the futures board. The Pirates open up against 8th seeded Rice (+800).

Value option:  Tulane (+500). The Green Wave ended the regular season winning five of their final six games including a series sweep of ECU in New Orleans. Second seeded UTSA (+350) also has a winning record against ECU during the regular season. 

Atlantic 10 Conference 

Location and Date: Capital One Park in Tysons, VA, May 21-25.
Regular Season Winner: Saint Louis 
Favorite: SLU +150  

This one-bid league has the Billikens, VCU (+200) and Dayton (+350) as the best clubs and top three seeds. 

Value option: The Rams could be the best futures wager here since the tournament is held in their home state and there isn’t much difference between them and the top seed. VCU played one less regular season game than SLU and came up short by just one win. The Rams and Billikens did not square off during the regular season. 

Atlantic Coast Conference

Location and Date: Truist Field in Charlotte, NC, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: Clemson 
Favorite: Clemson and North Carolina +400 

As an indication of how deep this year’s ACC pool is, Florida State (+850) is right in the middle of the odds board, even though the Seminoles are a Top 10 ranked team and one of this season’s biggest surprises. 

There really isn’t a bad bet to make here since this conference is filled with national contenders (Virginia +600, Wake Forest +700, Duke +750) who all have the talent to win any tournament. The key is to back the team willing to use its pitching enough to win prior to the beginning of the national tournament. 

That likely isn’t Clemson, who won last year’s tournament when it was in need of a seeding boost. 

UNC provides bettors the best pitching staff in the ACC.

Value option: North Carolina State (+800) is the first conference tournament wager I made once the numbers popped. 

The Wolfpack have been slighted in terms of national media attention compared to the other ACC big guns. NC State finished second in the regular season standings and is coming off a series win against Wake, which gives this hot club four series wins over top-10 teams. This team has the motivation to win the tournament. 

Atlantic Sun Conference 

Location and Date: Melching Field in DeLand, FL, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: Austin Peay  
Favorite: Austin Peay +200 

The Governors are statistically one of the best offenses in the country scoring more runs, having more hits and home runs than any other team in the nation. Still APU is not far and away the best ASUN squad as Florida Gulf Coast (+300) and Stetson (+325), like the Govs, finished with 20 regular-season conference wins. 

Value option: The Hatters are playing on their home turf and have the league’s best team ERA. However, that number is north of 5.00 in a conference where everyone scores and gives up a lot of runs.  Expect plenty of run totals eclipsing the overs here. 

Big 12 

Location and Date: Globe Life Field in Arlington, TX, May 21-25.
Regular Season Winner: Oklahoma 
Favorite: Oklahoma +350

The +350 is a very good number for a regular-season champ and a Top 10 team. Still, it is dangerous since the Big 12 is so deep, and even the last-seeded team, Texas Tech +1800, can beat any squad in the field. 

Both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (+400) have first-round byes. 

Oklahoma State has the best team ERA in the conference and that might come into play in a MLB stadium with a retractable roof. 

Value option: The Cowboys are another one of my early plays. They have won six straight to end the season, and with higher odds than Texas (+350) (based more on reputation), are a good value-centric play. There is a path for OSU to make the championship game and the 4-1 ticket in pocket can be monetized.

Big East Conference

Location and Date: Prasco Park in Mason, OH, May 22-25 
Regular Season Winner: Connecticut 
Favorite: UConn -110 

A great year for UConn sports should continue as the odds on favorite Huskies enter a four-team field. The Huskies, winners of five of its last six games, get host Xavier (+400) (6.33 conference ERA) in the opening game. 

Value option: St. John’s (+185), the conference’s top pitching staff, faces Georgetown (+275), the Big East’s best-hitting squad, in the other opening-round game. The problem grabbing either one of these teams is that one of them will immediately be placed in an elimination game.

UConn or pass here. 

Big South Conference

Location and Date: Truist Point in High Point, NC, May 23-25.
Regular Season Winner: Presbyterian
Favorite: Presbyterian +115

For the first time in program history, the Blue Hose won an outright regular-season Big South title. They did win the conference tournament in 2021.

With only four teams in the tournament, this creates the opportunity to look for other options, namely host High Point (+180) that plays USC Upstate (+225) in the first game while Charleston Southern (+225)  gets the champ. 

Only one game separated Presbyterian and High Point in the Big South standings, however the Blue Hose went 8-12 on the road. Also, High Point swept Presbyterian at home this season. 

Value option: This is a good number to get High Point, a host team, if not for just one game, would be the favorite. 

Big Ten Conference 

Location and Date: Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, NE, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: Illinois
Favorite: Nebraska +200

Illinois (+225) has a regular-season title to its credit, but Nebraska, based on a strong season and the tournament’s location, is recognized as the favorite. The Cornhuskers finished the regular season with two fewer wins than the Illini. 

One of the main reasons Illinois captured the title was its league-leading 103 HRs, 30 more than the next-highest team. Illinois’ success will largely hinge on the Omaha weather. When the wind blows out at Schwab Field, it becomes a dinger central.

Value option: Indiana (+450) is in the top half of the bracket, away from Illinois. The Hooisers’ ability to put up runs gives them a chance in what should all be high-scoring games. 

Coastal Athletic Conference

Location and Date: Brooks Field in Wilmington, NC, May 22-25.
Regular Season Winner: Charleston
Favorite: UNC Wilmington +150

Value option: Charleston (+225) is the regular season champ but third on the odds board behind host Wilmington and Northeastern (+200). The Cougars are worth a ticket based on the tournament format. They, along with UNCW, get a first-round bye, but the Seahawks will likely get Northeastern (the top RPI team in the conference) in round two and be in a position to then move to the loser’s bracket. 

Connor Campbell and Jake Brink give the Cougars the best top two starters in the tournament. 

These three top teams are extremely close, so I am backing Charleston based on the pitching, odds, and how the first few rounds of the tournament could play out. If Charleston does make the final game, there is room also to play the other side. 

Conference USA

Location and Date: Pat Paterson Park in Ruston, LA, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: Louisiana Tech
Favorite: Dallas Baptist +100 

Even with a regular season title and home-field advantage, LA Tech (+300) is second on the odds board to the Patriots. Dallas Baptist has what bettors are looking for in a tourney winner – league-leading numbers in HRs (91) and the only sub-4.00 ERA in CUSA. 

Dallas Baptist also needs to win to secure an NCAA tournament bid, which seemed like a lock only a month ago.

Value option: The Bulldogs, with their odds and home field advantage, are a good addition to a college baseball futures portfolio. An opening-round game against a weak Middle Tennessee State (+3000) team is a good way to start a tournament.

I backed Dallas Baptist early in the season at 90-1 with the hope of cashing the ticket out early once they make the NCAA tournament and the odds adjust. I am sticking with that plan. 

Horizon League

Location and Date: Nischwitz Stadium (Wright State) in Dayton, OH, May 22-25 
Regular Season Winner: Wright State 
Favorite: Wright State -110

The Raiders are the best team in the conference, playing on their home field. Northern Kentucky (+150) and Oakland (+200) don’t offer enough odds to bet on an upset.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference 

Location and Date: Clover Stadium in Pomona, NY, May 22-25 
Regular Season Winner: Fairfield
Favorite: Fairfield +150 and Niagara +150

The Stags and Purple Eagles (both 20-4 in conference) shared a regular season title and now the favorite status.  Niagara comes in the hotter of the two, winning five straight. Both squads hit as a team over .300. 

Value option: Last year’s winner Rider (+300) at one time was atop the standings before struggling during the last month of play.

Fairfield is one of my top tournament plays. The Stags hit home runs (82 to lead the MAAC), play solid defense and have the best staff in the tournament. Last year with a very similar team, Fairfield lost to Rider in the final game after it ran out of viable pitchers. I don’t think Fairfield gets pushed to that position this year. 

Missouri Valley Conference 

Location and Date: German American Bank Field in Evansville, IN, May 21-25.
Regular Season Winner: Indiana State (second consecutive regular season title)
Favorite: ISU -155

The Sycamores have been a consistent Top 20 team all season and in the fight for the honor of being one of the best non-power conference programs. Based on their regular season work, a Terre Haute regional is a strong possibility, but that would first need an MVC conference title to happen.

Value option: Evansville (+400) is playing on its home field and Murray State (+450) finished with the second seed. Still, this would be ISU or no bet at all. The bracket sets up very well for the top seed and the motivation to host a regional makes any bet against ISU a tough one. 

Mountain West Conference 

Location and Date: Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego, CA, May 23-26
Regular Season Winner: Air Force
Favorite: Air Force +160

The Falcons have been the best Mountain West club all season and come into the four-team tourney with seven wins over their final 10 games. Three of those wins were a home series sweep against Fresno State (+205), their first-round opponent. 

The other opening game is an evenly matched contest between New Mexico (+215) and San Jose State (+220).  

Value option: It is the favorite in this case because Air Force can utilize two of the best arms (Seungmin Shim and Doyle Gehring) in what should be a tournament with plenty of runs scored. 

Pac-12 Conference 

Location and Date: Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, AZ, May 21-25.
Regular Season Winner: Arizona
Favorite: Oregon State +120

The Beavers have one of the best players in the country in Travis Bazzana, plenty of early season buzz and wins, but ultimately the Wildcats (+400) took home the final Pac-12 regular season crown. Arizona had one more game and win to its credit compared to the Beavers. The oddsmaker clearly feel OSU will be the top team in Scottsdale. Somewhat expected since the Beavers have the best pitching and hitting in the conference.

The Pac-12 uses three different pools for the opening rounds of the tournament. 

OSU was one of my top early-season plays for a national championship, and they are still worth betting on at +2000 because they didn’t win a regular-season title. 

Value option: Oregon (+400), which won last year’s Pac-12 tournament, is once again in play this season. The Ducks compare favorably to both OSU and Arizona in both hitting and pitching. USC (+1000) is another option deeper down the board. 

Southeastern Conference

Location and Date: Hoover Metropolitan Complex in Hoover, AL, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: Tennessee and Kentucky 
Favorite: Tennessee +350

Throw a dart at this odds board and you will hit a team that could not only win the SEC tournament but a national championship as well. Perennial contenders LSU (+1300) and Florida (+1500) are longshots. 

Handicapping this elite field is so difficult because the motivation to win in Hoover, possibly at the expense of doing well towards the start of the regionals, is a concern for every team in the field. 

Texas A&M (+360)Arkansas (+500) and Kentucky (+650) have spent most of the season near or as the No.1 ranked team in the country. 

Of this trio, Kentucky likely has the most motivation during the SEC tournament to solidify its elite status. 

From a betting standpoint, just because this is the top conference in the country, don’t be compelled to bet it if you are without an angle.

The conference is using the tournament to experiment with a double first base in which the fielder uses the white portion of the bag, and the batter runs toward the colored bag. 

Value option: Georgia and Mississippi State (+900) are both playing well at this juncture, have the depth to win the title and need a boost for regional seeding. 

The Bulldogs feature a power laden lineup (a program record 140 HRs) led by conference player of the year Charlie Condon, who will be a top pick come MLB Draft day. I made a small play on them. 

Sun Belt Conference 

Location and Date: Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery, AL, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: Louisiana 
Favorite: Louisiana +250 

This is perhaps the most underrated conference in the country. The Sun Belt currently has the fifth-best RPI in the nation and has sent four teams to the NCAA tournament the past two years. This season, Louisiana is the top choice, but that distinction could have easily gone to Southern Mississippi (+300), with Troy (+450) also keeping pace. The Ragin’ Cajuns were conference leaders in both batting average and ERA and won 40 games this season. 

Value option: If you are not going to play one of the top three teams, don’t just jump on Coastal Carolina (+800) because of the brand name recognition and the middle-of-the-pack odds. The Chanticleers first must play a single elimination opening round game against Georgia State (+2000)James Madison (+700) is a better option at that price range since they begin play against Georgia Southern (+800), a team it swept during the regular season.  

I played Southern Mississippi primarily because the Golden Eagles are on the other side of the bracket from Louisiana. 

Summit League

Location and Date: J.L. Johnson Stadium in Tulsa, OK, May 22-25 
Regular Season Winner: St. Thomas 
Favorite: Omaha +100 

Only four teams make this tournament and regular season champ St. Thomas isn’t one of them because of its recent move up to D1. That leaves Omaha as the top seed with a 16-13 conference record. There is nothing special about the Mavericks pitching or hitting wise so there is value here.

Value option: Oral Roberts (+200) doesn’t have the same roster from last year’s squad that made a trip to Omaha but does have home field advantage and the best ERA (5.69) in the Summitt. Neither Omaha nor North Dakota State (+150) scream favorite so the team with higher odds is worth a shot for those itching to get some Summitt action.

West Coast Conference 

Location and Date: Las Vegas Ballpark in Las Vegas, NV, May 22-25.
Regular Season Winner: San Diego
Favorite: San Diego -121

WCC tournament action is back in Vegas. The odds on favorite Toreros hit their way to a regular season title, but Portland (+250)  wasn’t that far behind. This location definitely is a hitter-friendly venue.

Value option: I want to go deeper down the board and consider Saint Mary’s (+375), but I won’t because the Gaels play an extra game compared to the top two seeds. Instead, I will save my units for the WCC basketball season. 

Western Athletic Conference 

Location and Date: Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, AZ, May 21-26.
Regular Season Winner: Grand Canyon
Favorite: GCU -167

If there was a situation to wager on a minus favorite during a conference tournament it would be Grand Canyon. The Antelopes are by far the best team in the conference, play close to home, and get a bye, alongside second-seeded Abilene Christian (+350), to the quarterfinals. 
Value option: The Lopes could be favored even more than the current -167. In preparation for the postseason, they played a strong non-conference schedule filled with Pac-12 teams.