College Basketball Betting: Teams Jockey for Postseason Position
Less than a month away from the Ides of March, the regular season is now on the final turn. Though shorter in duration relative to years past, the COVID constraints have taken its toll on coaches and players alike. The light at the end of the tunnel is now clear. So, how will teams react and adapt as the end of their journey is within grasp? It all comes down to conference championships, the last hoorah for teams to make their push for a trip to the Big Dance in Indy. Each league holds a distinct conference tournament format, and those bylaws create unique motivational circumstances for the latter stretch of the regular season. Below, we highlight the land mines — and potential gold mines — to watch out for:
Note: Beware of last second conference tournament format alterations, as the threat of many programs withdrawing completely from conference championships continues to gain steam.
All Teams Qualify for Conference Tournament
It’s hard to glean any motivational edge in late regular season games for conferences adhering to this format – after all, their invitation to their respective conference tournament is already in the mail. While the Power 6 follow this blueprint, three are a number of ‘all-inclusive’ mid major leagues who follow suit, including the Southern Conference, MAAC, Big Sky and Big South. While significant situational edges are limited, keep an eye on teams near the bottom of the barrel in their league standings, particularly ones dealing with personnel constraints (e.g, injuries). With no incentive to pile up wins, coaches may be tempted to rest key players. The rationale? Conserve gas in the tank now for when it’s truly needed in championship week.
Top-X Teams Qualify
Many mid and low majors set a threshold for inclusion into their championship field. The NEC’s top-4 standard is among the most ruthless but the OVC, the MAC, the Southland and the SWAC limit their participants to eight teams. The handicapping edge to extrapolate here are fading teams already eliminated from contention. While there are a few exceptions (bad team wants to play spoiler). Recently, Central Connecticut State shines as a premier example of a team already eliminated from postseason contention, who appears to be waiving the white flag.
Double Byes for Top Seeds
The WCC and the Southland are examples of this format, which strongly incentives the top teams in their leagues to keep the pedal to the medal until the very end. This year, the Southland shapes up to be an airtight race, with four teams all within a game of each other at the top of the totem pole. Abilene Christian and Sam Houston State are tied at 10-1 atop the leaderboard but have zero margin for error with Stephen F. Austin and Nicholls State right on their tail. Do not expect any let up from the Southland’s heavy hitters, even as larger favorites on the road. The Horizon had adopted the double bye format in the past, but an expanded field now forces the top two seeds to win three games to cut down the nets, giving them a minimal edge over the 3 and 4 seeds.
All Games at Neutral Sites
The Missouri Valley Conference, notorious for ‘Arch Madness’, gives little credit to its top regular season performers. This year, Loyola and Drake will still have to win three games on a neutral floor to feel secure about their dancing prognosis. Despite misaligned incentives to continue beating teams to a pulp from a conference tournament placement lens, the Ramblers and Bulldogs are exceptions – they are still chasing at-large berths. Thus, both will be all-in on every game from here on out.
On the other end of the spectrum, the bottom four teams are slotted into a doomsday scenario of having to play their way in to the eight-team bracket. Avoiding this pit is of the utmost importance for teams like Evansville, Valparaiso, Bradley, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Illinois State, who make up the fifth through 10th ranked teams in the current standings, in that order. Southern Illinois and Illinois State are two teams dealing with key injuries at the moment and have the most ground to make up to stay out of the bottom four. If they fall out of top six contention over the next week, expect the cellar dwellers to pack it in and play it safe until the stakes are raised in St. Louis.
Follow BettorIQ contributor Matt Cox @matty_cox.