College Basketball Best Bets: 4 Top Picks for Monday’s Conference Tournament Games (March 7)
Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Logan Johnson (Saint Mary’s)
While we won’t touch on the title games in this file, we are offering four best bets for Monday’s conference tournament games in college basketball.
So, dive in below as the mid-major leagues take the stage with the regular season in the books.
Monday’s Conference Tournament Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from today’s slate of games. Click the team logos for one the matchups below to navigate to a specific bet discussed in this article.
|Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.|
South Dakota vs. South Dakota State (Summit Semifinal)
By Matt Cox
I’m in no hurry to fade a team that’s covered eight of its last nine games.
Despite money pushing South Dakota State from an 8-point to a 9-point favorite early this morning, in-state brethren South Dakota is on a roll.
The Yotes’ surgical offense, engineered by an offensive savant in head coach Todd Lee, was USD’s bellcow for most of the year.
However, the recent surge is largely defensive-driven. The return of lockdown defender Xavier Fuller has played a hand in this — though, the Coyotes were on a mini tear before his return, too.
Still, no defense in this conference, no matter how improved as of late, can slow down South Dakota State’s firepower. The endless cavalry of snipers can torch teams from all different directions, as it did to the Coyotes twice during the regular season.
The Jackrabbits beat South Dakota by 19 at home and 10 on the road, both of which were close-call covers — but covers nonetheless.
Tonight, the oddsmakers may have overreacted to USD’s recent explosion, manifesting in a short line relative to the regular season precedents.
Only a 1.5-point difference between the 7-point closing line at South Dakota, compared to an 8.5-point line on what’s effectively a neutral-site game? Even in the midst of South Dakota’s torrent run, that just doesn’t add up.
Pick: South Dakota State -8.5 (Play to -9)
Charleston vs. UNC Wilmington (CAA Semifinal)
By Doug Ziefel
If you read my preview for this tournament, you know how high I am on this UNCW team that was massively undervalued entering the postseason.
The Seahawks easily dispatched of Elon yesterday in the quarterfinals, and are still undervalued here in the semis.
However, the line is understandable given how well Charleston played yesterday. The second-fastest team in the country had one of its better shooting performances of the season, as it pulled off the upset by routing Hofstra, 92-76.
Now, it’s tasked with facing a UNCW team that beat it in both meetings this season.
It wasn’t Charleston’s offense that lacked in those matchups, but its defense certainly did. The Seahawks recorded effective field goal percentages of 53.7 and 60 against Charleston.
The line history is very telling of how good the market thinks this UNCW team is. First, UNCW was an eight-point underdog on the road. Then, it entered as a 1.5-point favorite at home. Now, on a neutral court, it opened as two-point underdogs.
However, the line has begun to come down from the opening number, and has even reached a pick’em at some books. Don’t fall for the hype. Back the better UNCW team to advance here.
Pick: UNC Wilmington +1 (Play to PK)
Northern Kentucky vs. Fort Wayne (Horizon Semifinal)
By Jim Root
Picking a side between the two hottest teams in the Horizon League is a challenge.
Northern Kentucky has not lost to a team not named Detroit since Jan. 15, winning 13 of its last 15 games. Meanwhile, Purdue Fort Wayne has not lost at all since Jan. 30, ripping off 10 straight victories.
As such, I will decline to take a side. Instead, the under is appealing considering the way these teams have been defending and how they match up with one another.
Under Darrin Horn, the Norse are one of the heaviest zone teams in the country. Per Synergy, they use some form of it on 77% of possessions, the fifth-highest rate nationally.
Fort Wayne’s offense struggles against such looks, grading out in the 50th percentile (compared to the 85th percentile vs. man-to-man).
Meanwhile, Purdue Fort Wayne’s surge has been fueled entirely by a resurgent defense.
With largely the same roster as last year, most expected the Mastodons to be similarly inept on that end. It started out that way, too. Fort Wayne ranked 290th nationally on defense in non-conference games, according to BartTorvik.
That flipped in league play, though. Filtered only for conference games, the Mastodons jumped to 145th in the same ratings. Fort Wayne’s defense was the best in the Horizon, per KenPom.
Its ability to force turnovers and dominate the defensive glass will be vital against NKU’s attack.
Coupled with expecting a slow pace in a high-stakes tournament setting, I’m in on the under.
Pick: Under 135 (Play to 133)
Santa Clara vs. Saint Mary’s (WCC Semifinal)
By D.J. James
Saint Mary’s and Santa Clara come together for their third matchup of the season in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals.
They split the series to start, but the Gaels of Saint Mary’s seem to be on the upswing, and this is something to anticipate going into Monday’s rematch.
This game will come down to defense. Santa Clara ranks 144th in adjusted defensive efficiency versus ninth for the Gaels, per KenPom. Santa Clara thrives behind the arc. It shoots over 38% collectively, but 55.7% of its total points have come from 3-point range on the season.
Saint Mary’s is elite when it comes to defending the arc. Yes, the Gaels have yielded 33.8% for opponents outside the arc, but looking more closely, they rank sixth in Open-3 Rate and 10th in Rim & 3 Rate, per ShotQuality.
These are two areas in which the Broncos will typically excel, but don’t expect the same in this game.
Santa Clara is not horrible in either category defensively, but it does rank 68th in Rim & 3 Rate. Saint Mary’s can exploit this by churning off more efficient shots with its slow tempo.
The Gaels also rank fifth in college basketball in defensive rebounding. Santa Clara ranks 315th on the offensive glass, so don’t expect many second chances for the Broncos.
Saint Mary’s should cover this line.