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Best Bets: 2019 college basketball conference tournament betting odds, values, futures

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These tournaments have not yet released brackets since their regular season has not yet finished:

Big Sky, MAC, SWAC, MEAC, Sun Belt, WAC, Southland, Conference USA, Big West, Ivy

All odds listed are courtesy of DraftKings SportsBook.

The cheat sheet: Illinois State, Jacksonville State, Charleston and LIU-Brooklyn are my favorite futures bets this week. Read on to find out why.

CONFERENCE TOURNEYS: 21 Mid-Major Stars | Best Bets | Bid Thieves | Schedule


AMERICA EAST

FAVORITE: It’s VERMONT (-670). It’s always Vermont. John Becker is currently the caretaker of the best program in the America East, and for the third straight year, he’s led them to a conference regular season title and a spot in KenPom’s top 100. Anthony Lamb is an absolute monster, there are three brothers that all play major minutes and T.J. Sorrentine still hit that one from the parking lot. The value, however, is wildly thin. Take them in the Jerome. Don’t invest in a future.

SLEEPER: Jeff Boals has won a bunch of road games with STONY BROOK (+300) this year and John Gallagher has done well to turn HARTFORD (+1400) around, but the value bets I like are UMBC (+2000) and Albany (+15000). UVM has lost just two league games this year, and both of those losses came at the hands of UMBC. Ryan Odom had a lot of turnover to deal with this year, but he has done a good job keeping the Retrievers relevant. They are the No. 3 seed, however, so they would likely end up playing on the road against Stony Brook in the semis, assuming seeds hold.

Albany is interesting for two reasons: 1. The Great Danes are young this year but they’ve played their best basketball of late. After an 0-5 start to league play, they won seven of their last 11. They’ll have to win three road games to get it done, but Will Brown has been to the NCAA tournament before and, weirdly enough, they’re probably been better on the road than at home of late.

ATLANTIC SUN

FAVORITE: We are already in the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun tournament, so LIPSCOMB (-455) is the heavy favorite. They were the best team in the league for most of the year, although they shared a regular season title with LIBERTY (+230) after losing to FGCU unexpectedly. The Bisons are led by one of the best mid-major players you haven’t heard of in Garrison Matthews, and their head coach is a disciple of Belmont’s Rick Byrd. They have an outside shot of getting an at-large bid, but that seems unlikely.

At these odds, I like Liberty significantly more than Lipscomb. There’s just no value in betting the Bisons when it takes $45 to win $10.

SLEEPERS: I do think that NORTH FLORIDA (+4000) is interesting. It’s a big ask for the Ospreys to win two games in a row against teams that lost two league games not to each other, but two notes: UNF has now won seven straight after beating North Alabama in the quarterfinals, and just two weeks ago, they beat Liberty. At 40:1, that interests me.

CAA

FAVORITE: HOFSTRA (+105) won the CAA regular season title and counts the best player in the conference — Justin Wright-Foreman — on their roster. The Pride don’t really guard all that well, however, which is what makes NORTHEASTERN (+150) interesting as well.

SLEEPER: All that said, I think the best bet in this tournament is CHARLESTON (+340). The Cougars not only finished third in the league this year, they not only have a terrific young coach in Earl Grant to go along with arguably the best 1-2 punch in the league in Grant Riller and Jarrell Brantley, but they are coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament last season.

The kicker?

The tournament is being played in Charleston. It won’t be in their home arena, but it sure will be a lot easier for Cougar fans to get there than it will be for Hofstra students on Long Island or Northeastern students in Boston.

MAAC

FAVORITE: That title probably has to be given to IONA (+230) seeing as they won the league regular season title and have won three straight MAAC tournament titles. That said, the Gaels finished the regular season at 12-6 and there were four teams tied for second at 11-7. It’s a down year in the MAAC with opens the door for a wild tournament.

SLEEPERS: It’s hard to call any of these teams sleepers given the fact that everyone in the top half of the conference is getting odds like they are a sleeper. I think my favorite bet here is SIENA (+265) simply because their head coach, Jamion Christian, has been to the NCAA tournament twice with Mount St. Mary’s despite being just 36 years old. They have the best young player in the league on their roster in Jalen Pickett as well.

I also think QUINNIPIAC (+260) is interesting, given the presence of Cameron Young, who had 55 points in a game this year. CANISIUS (+375) is also worth a look, but they are playing without the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, who was dismissed in February. I’m probably staying away from this tournament.

MISSOURI VALLEY

FAVORITE: Are you ready for another year of Sister Jean? LOYOLA-CHICAGO (+160) won the Missouri Valley regular season title for the second straight season and will enter Arch Madness as the favorite to return to the dance out of the conference. They are a grind-it-out defensive team that returns three starters from last year’s Final Four team — Cameron Krutwig, Clayton Custer and MVC Player of the Year Marques Townes — and they also return Lucas Williamson, who was out with an injury for the better part of six weeks.

I don’t love the odds, but it’s hard to bet against the team that has been there before.

SLEEPER: Stay away from DRAKE (+350), as the Bulldogs finished tied for first in the league standings but have been decimated by injuries. There just isn’t enough value there. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (+400) entered the season as one of the favorites to win the league title, and the Salukis will enter Arch Madness having won three in a row.

But for my money, the best longshot bet here is ILLINOIS STATE (+1600). The Redbirds were picked second in the preseason poll but finished seventh in the league, meaning they get stuck in one of the MVC play-in games. No one has ever played in a play-in game in the MVC tournament and reached the final, and only one team has gone on to upset the No. 1 or No 2 seed in the quarterfinals. Those are long odds. But ISU is arguably the most talented team in the league this side of Loyola, headlined by the enigmatic Milik Yarbrough. They swept Evansville, who they played in the first round, and then they draw Drake — who just lost D.J. Wilkins to a broken ankle — in the quarters. They’ve played in the last two MVC title games.

If someone is going to snap that streak, this is the team to do it.

NEC

FAVORITE: ST.FRANCIS (PA) (+120) caught a break, winning a tiebreaker that gave them the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and thus homecourt advantage throughout. That said, the Red Flash have lost two of their last three games and currently rank 325th in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. I don’t love that value, but I do like the value for FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON (+220), the No. 2 seed, slightly more. FDU is the best shooting team in the league, which would create an interesting strength-on-weakness matchup if these two get to the title game.

FDU started league play 1-4, but they’ve won 11 of 13 since, including their last five games. They also won at St. Francis (PA).

SLEEPER: In a wide-open NEC, I like LIU-BROOKLYN (+1800). They have a veteran backcourt, led by senior guard Raiquan Clark, who might be the best player in the league. They’ve won three in a row and four of their last five — which includes a win over their first round opponent and a win at St. Francis (PA), who they would likely face in the semifinals if they advance.

OHIO VALLEY

FAVORITES: Both BELMONT (-112) and MURRAY STATE (+100) have to be considered heavy favorites for the OVC tournament title because of the way that the bracket is set up — the top two seeds get a bye all the way to the semifinals, and Belmont is the No. 1 seed while the Racers are the No. 2 seed.

Everyone should know about the Bruins at this point. Rick Byrd has built a mid-major powerhouse in the heart of Nashville, and this year’s team is about what you expect: They have a star with NBA potential in Dylan Windler, they are one of the most efficient offenses in the country and they haven’t lost in six weeks. If Belmont loses to Murray State and only Murray State in the title game, they’ll have an argument to be an at-large bid thanks to a sweep of Lipscomb and a win at UCLA.

The Racers, on the other hand, have a soon-to-be top three pick on their roster in Ja Morant, and he can take over any game against any opponent. He’s averaging 24.1 points and 10.4 assists. It’s worth noting that the only time these two teams played this season, Belmont won by double-figures in Murray, Ky., but that it came in a game where Morant rolled his ankle in the first two minutes of the game. I tend to lean towards Belmont here, but that has a lot to do with the team that the Racers seem destined to play in the semifinals.

SLEEPER: I think my favorite sleeper bet this week is JACKSONVILLE STATE (+900), who is currently getting 9:1 odds to win the automatic bid out of the OVC. The Gamecocks finished 15-3 in the OVC this season, one game behind both Belmont and Murray State, but they swept both of them during the regular season, going 3-0 with a win at Belmont and a 20 point win at home over the Racers.

The Gamecocks are also coached by Ray Harper, who is the best tournament coach you’ve never heard of. He won the OVC tournament in 2017 with a Jacksonville State team that went 9-7 in league play. He won the Sun Belt tournament in back-to-back seasons with Western Kentucky with teams that went a combined 17-19 in league play. He won back-to-back NAIA Division I national titles in 2007 and 2008 and has also won two NCAA Division II national titles. Is this the year he does it again?

PATRIOT LEAGUE

FAVORITE: The best team in the league is probably COLGATE (+100), who will have home court advantage throughout the tournament and has won their last eight games. If it’s not Colgate, then BUCKNELL (+160) is probably the team to keep an eye on, as they shared the regular season title and are coming off a trip to the NCAA tournament of their own. That said, in a league where the race is so wide open, it’s hard to justify such thin value on a futures bet.

SLEEPER: I think that the best value in the Patriot tournament is AMERICAN (+800). I don’t love it, because they lost four of their last six to close out the regular season, but they have Sa’eed Nelson — who KenPom rates as the Patriot Player of the Year — and of their 14 losses, six of them came by two points or less, two more came in overtime and a ninth came by four at Colgate. A loss is a loss is a loss, but they are a dozen or so possessions away from being a five-loss team.

SOCON

FAVORITE: There are just two teams in college basketball this season that ran through their league undefeated. One of them is Gonzaga. The other is WOFFORD (-167). The Terriers are very, very legit this year. They are top 15 in the NET. They are top 20 in KenPom. Fletcher Magee is probably going to end up setting the record for career three-pointers made, and he isn’t even the best player on the roster based on efficiency numbers. Big man Cameron Jackson is. Throw in the fact that their starting point guard is named Storm Murphy — seriously, Wofford starts Fletcher and Storm in their backcourt — and there’s no reason not to love this group.

I actually think this is pretty good value, maybe the best value bet in the field.

SLEEPERS: There are three that we are going to have to discuss: FURMAN (+300), UNC GREENSBORO (+575) and EAST TENNESSEE STATE (+450). I think they are the only three worth discussing because there was only one team that was not a part of the top four that landed a win over any of them in league play.

ETSU is the No. 4 seed, which means they draw Wofford in the semifinals, assuming they get there. That’s actually unlucky for the conference as a whole, because had either Furman or UNCG beaten Wofford in the semis and lost in the title game, they would have had a shot at getting an at-large bid. Of the three, Furman is the best defensively, ETSU is the best offensively and UNCG had the best league record, sweeping ETSU and splitting with Furman. Of the four, UNCG is the furthest away from Asheville, N.C. — almost a three hour drive vs. a roughly one hour drive for the other three schools. I’d probably lean UNCG because of the odds, but I think the best bet in this tournament is Wofford.

SUMMIT

FAVORITE: For the last three years, the Summit League tournament has produced the exact same thing: SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (-286) winning the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and Mike Daum winning tournament MOP. This year, the Jackrabbits enter March having won 13 of their last 14 games, the regular season champs and the No. 1 seed in the event. Take them in the Jerome. Fade the futures bet at thin value.

SLEEPERS: I like FORT WAYNE (+750) as they are one of the two teams to beat SDSU this season, but they have lost four straight games and play a true road game in the first round against No. 6 seed SOUTH DAKOTA (+1100). Hosting the event does make the Coyotes interesting, especially since the title game would be the final rivalry game they get against the Dauminator. I also like OMAHA (+525) as they are the only team to beat SDSU in the last two months, they finished second in the conference and they have won 16 of their last 19 games over all.

WCC

FAVORITE: It’s GONZAGA (-1250). Not only did they go undefeated in WCC play, they didn’t win a game by single digits.

SLEEPER: I think that SAINT MARY’S (+1100) is interesting because they have a future pro at the point in Jordan Ford and, like the OVC, they get a bye in to the semifinals as the No. 2 seed. The Gaels hung with the Zags in Moraga last weekend and don’t matchup terribly with Gonzaga. That said, I think I like SAN FRANCISCO (+2400) a little bit more. There’s an argument to be made that this is the second-best team in the conference, they have one of the best young coaches on the west coast in Kyle Smith and they are a veteran-laden team with a point guard named Frankie Ferrari that will be playing in a tournament in Vegas.

All the dots connect.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.