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.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.