Conference Tournament Best Bets from Matt Youmans

As tempting as it is to pick long shots to win conference tournaments, it’s tough to pinpoint the upsets and no fun to lose numerous futures bets. So it’s important to practice money management and be very selective this week when betting on college basketball.

It’s also important to consider the moneyline-rollover strategy from game to game and plan for a better potential payout. For example, when USC opened as high as 50-1 odds to win the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, that was worth a bet. Now, with lower odds in the 20-1 range, it’s better to do mechanical parlay bets on the Trojans from game to game. I have decided not to bet any Pac-12 futures at the current prices.


I bet two tournament favorites this week, including Gonzaga at -115 to win the West Coast Conference, and a few longer shots. Here are my best bets, listed with the best odds available at Circa Sports and DraftKings:

Big East

With the way Connecticut coasted through the NCAA Tournament last year, winning each of its six games by double figures, it’s easy to forget the Huskies did not win the Big East tournament. That is probably going to change this time at Madison Square Garden in New York, where UConn basically has home-court advantage and revenge as a motivating factor.

The Huskies, the No. 1 team in my power ratings, are 17-1 since Jan. 1 with an 85-66 loss at Creighton on Feb. 20. You can bet coach Danny Hurley wants to avenge that loss if the second-seeded Bluejays get through the bottom half of the bracket. UConn needs to win three games and will be a big favorite in all three, so lay the price with the odds-on favorite.

Best Bet: UConn -125

Big Ten

DraftKings posted Purdue as the even-money favorite, but because the Boilermakers will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field no matter what happens in the conference tournament, their sense of urgency to win in Minneapolis is not high. Winning three tough games in three days takes a toll and might not be in Purdue’s best interest anyway. This team will be judged on what it does or does not do in the NCAA Tournament, so I’m not playing the favorite.

It’s March, when Tom Izzo’s teams typically get hot, so Michigan State is intriguing at double-digit odds. The Spartans must beat Minnesota on Thursday to earn a shot at Purdue in the quarterfinal round. Michigan State has dropped four of its last five games, yet all of the losses were close, including 80-74 to the Boilermakers on March 2. Senior guard Tyson Walker is heating up, coming off a 30-point outing at Indiana, and the Spartans are worth a shot in the top half of the bracket.

Ohio State is the most attractive long shot in the bottom half of the bracket. The Buckeyes need to beat Iowa and Illinois to reach the semifinals, and they can do it. The switch to Jake Diebler as interim coach has worked wonders for Ohio State, which has cranked up its intensity and defensive pressure. The Buckeyes are 5-1 under Diebler, allowing only 61.4 points per game in the five wins.

Best Bets: Michigan State 14-1 and Ohio State 35-1 (half-unit each)

Big West

UC Irvine is priced too high as the odds-on favorite (-200). Second-seeded UC Davis offers odds value and has two dynamic scoring guards — Elijah Pepper and Ty Johnson — who can shoot the team to the tournament title in Las Vegas this weekend. Pepper (20.5 ppg) scored 26 points in an overtime loss at Irvine in early January, and Johnson (17.6 ppg) hit the winning 3-pointer as the Aggies got revenge against the Anteaters two weeks later.

Best Bet: UC Davis +450

Mountain West

Any one of seven teams could win this tournament in Las Vegas and it would not be a surprise. San Diego State is the favorite (+250), but the Aztecs went 3-6 on the road in conference play and appear to be fading. The team to follow is Boise State, which won its toughest road games against San Diego State, Nevada and New Mexico. The Broncos, 6-1 in their last seven games, are led by veteran guards Tyson Degenhart and Max Rice. In tournament settings in March, look to bet on teams that have numerous big wins away from home.

Best Bet: Boise State +600