College Basketball Betting: Sun Belt Conference Tournament Preview
The Sun Belt Conference altered its tournament format last year giving the one and two seeds a bye to the semifinals. The early rounds will be played at the home arena of the highest seed. The seven through ten seeds begin play in round one with the winners moving on to the next set of teams with a bye. Each team can only play one game at home because when you win you move on to play a higher seed at their home arena. The rounds are about three to four days apart until the semifinals which take place on Saturday, March 14 and then the finals on Sunday, March 15 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. While the Sun Belt is a one-bid conference, there are seven teams with winning records that hope to be invited to minor postseason tournaments as a consolation prize. Since 2015, Georgia State has won three of the last five tournaments including each of the last two seasons.
Favorite – Arkansas-Little Rock won the regular season title by a comfortable two-game margin with a 15-5 record. However, at 129th in KenPom’s ratings, they are the fourth-ranked Sun Belt team behind Texas State, Georgia State, and UT-Arlington. Little Rock’s specialty is getting to the free throw line. The Trojans are second in the nation in FTA/FGA rate. Additionally, they lead the conference offensively in both 2P% and 3P%. However, two main weaknesses could prevent Daryl Walker’s squad from winning the tournament championship. The defense is the primary problem with the main shortcoming being 3P% defense (11th in the Sun Belt). Road games have also been a struggle for Little Rock recently. Losing three of their last four away games is a concern for a team that will play all their games in New Orleans.
Darkhorse – My model has Texas State in the best current form in the league. After a 1-4 start to the conference schedule, the Bobcats caught fire. Danny Kaspar’s team ended the regular season on an 11-3 run. The Bobcats hang their hat on the top ranked defense in the conference. In fact, in Kaspar’s seven years as head coach, his teams have finished every season ranked higher defensively than offensively. One accomplishment that has been lacking for TSU is a conference tournament championship and a bid to the NCAA tournament. This could be the year that Texas State finally breaks through and gets their first Big Dance appearance since 1997.
What to Bet – Overs. The Sun Belt has a combined over/under record of 170-164 this season. Finding spots to play overs in this conference has been really easy of late. The conference average is 144, which is about six points higher than the national average of 138. I have four teams with an individual total of 157 or higher: Coastal Carolina (163), Louisiana (160), Georgia State (158) and Little Rock (157). When these teams play each other there will be value on the over. Also, don’t forget about second half overs. Teams in one-bid conference tournaments tend to foul earlier and more often than they do in the regular season. Second half overs can be played profitably as long as the second half spread puts the game result in fouling range or a chance of overtime. Avoid playing second half overs when the favorite has a big halftime lead.