NCAA Basketball: Best Bets For Conference Champions With Month Left
The conclusion of the 2022-23 NCAA basketball season is fast approaching, but there is still a lot left to be decided over the last month of the season. Twenty-nine of the 32 conference crowns are still up for grabs, with the Big Ten, Patriot, and Summitt being the leagues that are theoretically over.
Purdue, one of the best teams in the nation, holds a three-game lead over Northwestern in the Big Ten. Colgate is undefeated in the Patriot and has a 2.5-game edge over Lehigh. Oral Roberts is also unbeaten in the Summitt League, holding a four-game advantage over Western Illinois and South Dakota State.
The following looks at the best bets for conference champions in the major conferences. The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic 10, Mountain West, West Coast Conference SEC, PAC 12, American, and Missouri Valley are the conferences sportsbooks are offering league title odds. Things may change, and I may place a bet once things get less murky in some leagues, but here are my betting choices for now.
The Atlantic 10 has been one of the most volatile college basketball conferences over the last several years. One of the top mid-major conferences in the nation, there have been six regular-season champions in the previous six years. St. Bonaventure is the only team during this stretch to capture both the regular season and tournament titles in the same campaign (2020-21).
Davidson won the 2021-22 regular season title, marking their first conference crown since 2014-15. Dayton (2), St. Bonaventure, VCU, and Rhode Island joins Davidson as teams over the last six years to raise conference banners.
Things have been tight in the conference race the past two seasons, with one game being the difference between first and second place. This year is shaping up to be the same as VCU (8-2) holds a one-half game lead over Saint Louis (7-2) and one and one-half game over Dayton (6-3) and Fordham (6-3). There are five teams within one game of the Billikens, with most teams having eight to nine conference games left.
St. Louis is the clubhouse leader to capture the 2022-23 regular season crown at +140. VCU (+180) and Dayton (+220) are next in line. George Washington (+5000), St. Bonaventure (+8000), and Fordham (+25000) are the other top contenders as the calendar changes to February.
Best Bet: VCU (+125)
VCU plays a unique brand of basketball for the A-10. The Rams like to play uptempo and create turnovers. They are also willing to defend, which most conference teams don’t do.
While there is still plenty of time left in the regular season, VCU has to play St. Louis (twice) and Dayton once more. I like the Rams at plus money, and those odds could go down, particularly if they beat the Billikens on Friday. They also have a chance to sweep the Flyers as they host Dayton on Feb. 7.
West Coast Conference
The West Coast Conference has possibly finally submitted itself as a high-major conference. Six of the conference’s teams own a winning record, and its collective .591 winning percentage is a league-best. They are also poised to get three teams into the NCAA Tournament for a second consecutive year for the first time, with Loyola Marymount joining Big Dance locks Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
Gonzaga has owned the WCC this century. The Bulldogs have claimed at least a share of 10 straight regular season championships and 21 titles since 2000. Saint Mary’s, which has raised a WCC banner three times in the past 20-plus years, is the only other team to win the league outright this century (2010-11).
The Gaels, ranked in both the AP and Coaches Poll, are 8-0 in the conference and are the betting favorites to win the league at -165. The Bulldogs, who are ahead of the Gaels in both polls, are 7-1 in WCC and have +105 odds of winning the league. LMU (6-3 WCC) is a long shot (+12000) but the only team with a legitimate shot at securing at least a share of the title.
Pick Gonzaga +110
Saint Mary’s (-170) is a solid team, but it is a surprise that they are the favorite to win the WCC. But the teams still have to play twice, with this Saturday being the first meeting. The Gaels and the Zags will conclude the regular season against each other in Spokane.
I am going with Gonzaga. The Bulldogs are battle-tested, and while the club’s split last season’s regular season clashes,
Gonzaga has won eight of the last nine meetings against St. Mary’s, including an 82-69 victory in the WCC Tournament Finals last season. More importantly, the Bulldogs are deeper and have the conference’s best player in Drew Timme.
American Athletic Conference
Houston, like Purdue, has been one of the best teams in the nation all season long. The defending AAC champs have lost seven league games since the start of the 2021 campaign. Houston holds a one-half-game lead over Temple and a one-game advantage over Memphis.
Houston is a significant favorite to win the conference at -1600. So, unless you believe that Temple (+4000) or Memphis (+750) can overtake the champs – or claim a share of the title –there is no value here. So, it is a hard pass as the Cougars should cruise to a fourth crown in the past five years.
ACC: Virginia (-220)
Clemson leads the conference by a one-half game at 10-2. But the Tigers suffered a bad loss to Boston College on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Virginia (9-2) has reeled off seven straight wins, and they are a veteran team whose three total losses are by a combined 13 points.
Big 12: Pass
The Big 12 is the best league in the country. Texas (-+160) is the leader at 7-2, but there are five teams within two games of the Longhorns. Someone could separate themselves down the stretch, or this could be a shared title.
Big East: Pass
Marquette (-125) is the favorite, although the Golden Eagles are tied with Xavier (+280) and Providence (+650) atop the conference at 9-2. Creighton (+450) is just one and one-half games back.
Missouri Valley: Pass
There is some value here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the MVC title is shared. Southern Illinois (+230) and Belmont (+250) are tied atop the standings at 9-3. Drake (+300), on a league-best three-game winning streak, is among six teams within two games of the league leaders.
Mountain West: Pass
San Diego State (-120) fell back into a tie with Boise State (+220), which has won three straight, for the conference’s best record at 8-2 with their loss at Nevada Tuesday night. The Aztecs and the Broncs square off on Friday night and on Feb. 28, so there is plenty of time left for the conference to be decided.
While I lean towards going with SDSU, the conference has five solid teams. Utah State (+600), New Mexico (+1500), and Nevada (+1100) also have a legitimate shot of winning the conference. Pass for now.
Arizona and UCLA are the cream of the crop. The Wildcats (+200) are the value pick and are one-half games in back of the first-place Bruins (-195). There is too much time left to put money here as USC (+900) and Utah (+3400) are right behind the leaders.
The conference is Alabama’s (-290) to lose as they are 9-0 in league play and hold a one-and-a-half game lead over Tennessee (+210). But the Volunteers may be the best team in the SEC, although the Crimson Tide are coming off a dominating victory over Vanderbilt (Tuesday) after suffering a terrible loss to Oklahoma in the SEC/Big 12 challenge on Saturday.
There is no value in rolling with the Tide, and they face the Vols in Knoxville in two weeks. Before placing a wager on the conference champion, I would wait until Feb. 15 to see where the value lies.