Conference tournaments are a unique handicapping challenge in college basketball. They are games like any other, yet there are things that make them different as well – a compact schedule, high pressure, and so on. As a foundation you need to handicap these games just like you would any other game. You need to go deeper than that, though. Here are five of the biggest additional considerations you need to keep in mind to be successful as a college basketball handicapper in conference tournament season:
Location – The location of the tournaments can have a huge impact on how they turn out – or at least they can give teams an edge. Some NCAA basketball tournaments are played in neutral sites, while others are hosted by teams, or are played in the market of a particular team. Needless to say, a team that gets to play at home could get a boost over how they would otherwise be expected. One clear example here is UNLV. The Mountain West tournament is in Las Vegas every year, and the Rebels are a strong betting team in that tournament as a result. Even if the tournament is played at a true neutral site there can be an edge for some teams over others. If the site is closer to some teams than others then the closer teams could have somewhat of an advantage because of easier travel and stronger crowd support. It would be easy to overstate that advantage, though, so you probably don’t want to make that a deciding factor in the teams you choose to bet on.
Health – NCAA basketball teams often have to play on consecutive days in conference tournaments, or at least three games in four or five days if they go all the way. That’s more than college teams are used to, and it can be absolutely grueling – especially because games are played with the added intensity of the postseason. In order for a team to hold up under that pressure they need to be healthy. That means that their best players need to be ready to perform, but it also means that they need to have the depth required to take the pressure off of those best players. College teams that are missing from action are obviously worth noting. It’s even more important, though, to know if players are active but not at their best. Local newspapers and fan websites are the best sources for accurate information about who the walking wounded are and what impact that could have on whether or not you bet on that team.
Motivation – Every team would like to win their conference tournament. Realistically, though, some teams are a whole lot more motivated by that than others. For example, a team that needs to win the tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament is likely to play a whole lot harder than one which already has a high seeding secured regardless of how they perform in the conference tournament. A basketball team that has no hopes of securing an at-large bid and no realistic shot at winning the conference tournament probably isn’t going to be that fired up, or that excited at the prospect of yet another loss. You can’t say that the more motivated team will win or cover – it’s not that easy – but you can definitely say that the more motivated team will have more of an edge than they otherwise would.
Season history – All teams that play each other in conference tournaments have played each other at least once before during the season, and in many cases they have played twice already. Previous meetings are a great way to get a sense of how teams match up and how they can exploit each others weaknesses. It’s important not to overthink these situations, though. For example, a lot of people will tell you that double revenge is a major factor – that a team that has lost to an opponent twice in the regular season will be particularly motivated to avoid the sweep. The truth is, though, that the teams that have won the first two games win slightly more of the third games as well.
Be picky – NCAA conference tournaments offer some unique challenges. Those challenges can represent opportunities if you are more aware of them than the betting public are. Sometimes. Often times, though, those challenges just eliminate whatever edge there might be in a game. It’s also a crucial skill to be able to pass on a game if it doesn’t offer strong value. During conference tournaments, though, that skill is even more important. If a game doesn’t offer very strong value for you as college basketball handicapper then the best place for your money is in your pocket until a better game comes along.