College Basketball Betting: 4 Potential NCAA Tournament Bid Stealers

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Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images. Pictured: Justyn Mutts (Virginia Tech)

It may seem hard to believe, but the final weekend in February is the last full weekend of the college basketball regular season without any postseason action.

The ASUN begins its league tournament on Feb. 27, and after March 5, the entire country will be entirely focused on the postseason.

Everyone knows about the March Madness NCAA tournament Cinderellas, but some of the best drama comes during the two frantic weeks of conference tournaments.

The big favorites look to add a trophy and improve their seeds for the big tournament, while the major conference underachievers and bubble teams look to salvage their season.

In the small leagues, it's win the conference tourney or go home.

Here's four potential bid stealers that have underachieved expectations this year but could make a surprise conference tournament run and reach the NCAA tournament by winning their league title.



UAB Blazers

If you look at efficiency ratings, there's a clear top three teams in the Conference USA this year.

Florida Atlantic has the best resume in the league and is currently viewed as an eight or nine seed by most bracketologists. The idea is that the Owls will be in the Big Dance regardless of what happens in the conference tournament.

North Texas is on the outside of the bubble looking in and could probably play its way into the NCAA tournament picture if it made the C-USA final.

UAB is the potential bid stealer and likely No. 3 seed in the tournament. The Blazers have one of the most electric scorers in the entire country, Jordan "Jelly" Walker.

UAB didn't have Walker for its overtime loss to Middle Tennessee or its loss to North Texas. He missed five games, and the Blazers went 3-2 without him.

When the Blazers did have Walker, they had four losses in conference by a combined 10 points. Two of those four losses went to overtime, including their coin-flip defeat at FAU.

The Blazers don't have an at-large case, so their entire season comes down to winning three games and the tournament.

Andy Kennedy's Blazers are one of the oldest teams in Division I (fifth in experience) and they have the depth (77th in bench minutes) to play their up-tempo style without running out of gas with three games in three days.

UAB is one of the most efficient shooting teams from beyond the arc in the entire country, but it prefers to get to the rim and crash the offensive glass.

The Blazers likely need to beat both North Texas and FAU to win the league, but they won't be more than a two-point underdog in either game.

The NCAA tournament would be better off with Jelly Walker in it, and the Blazers have a real chance of stealing a bid and making the C-USA a multi-bid league.


Virginia Tech Hokies

The Hokies showed last season in Brooklyn that they could catch fire, win four games in four days and make the NCAA tournament.

This season's task will be even tougher because they are going to have to win five games in five days to capture the ACC and return to the Big Dance.

But given the current state of the ACC field, who couldn't the Hokies beat?

Virginia Tech just handled Pittsburgh at home last weekend. The Hokies beat Virginia two weeks ago, and took down North Carolina and Duke before that.

The game-to-game consistency and defense hasn't been there at all, but Virginia Tech has the coaching, the experience and the 3-point shooting ability to get hot for a week.

Sean Pedulla, Hunter Cattoor and Justyn Mutts were all on the team that won the ACC last year, beating Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke en route to the title.

Pedulla is lagging well behind the elite shooting numbers he posted last year, and this team has room to improve its efficiency from beyond the arc.

The Hokies generate a ton of open 3s and haven't been making them at the same elite rate this year. The Hokies are shooting 35% from 3 this season in the ACC, much worse than last season's 37.7%.

They will close league play with games against Louisville and Florida State, which presents a chance to get the ball rolling before going to Greensboro to save their season.

If they can get Darius Maddox back into the rotation — he has missed eight straight games — I would not be surprised to see Mike Young's Hokies in the mix for the ACC Tournament title.

Given the lack of quality at the top of the league, the ACC is primed for a wild conference tournament full of potential upsets and sleepers.

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Villanova Wildcats

Another NCAA tournament regular is on the ropes and needs the conference tournament to save its season.

Villanova is as healthy as it has been all year thanks to Justin Moore being fully back from his Achilles injury.

The Wildcats just won at the Cintas Center on Tuesday against Xavier and took Providence down to the wire in two losses in the last three weeks.

Like Virginia Tech, Villanova also hasn't been shooting at the rate you'd expect from beyond the arc.

Also like the Hokies, the Wildcats take a ton of 3s and have the returning experience from last year's Big East Championship and Final Four appearance.

The 3-point shooting makes the Wildcats a high variance team that could make a run. Plus, Moore, Eric Dixon, Brandon Slater and Caleb Daniels are all returnees from last year's squad.

The Wildcats play at a really slow pace, they don't turn the ball over and they don't miss free throws. Those are all ingredients for a team built to compete as an underdog and win close games.

Despite that, the Wildcats have been quite poor in close games this season. They are 4-6 in close games and 1-9 in games against high-quality opponents.

Since Justin Moore's return for Villanova, the Wildcats have recorded six positive game efficiency ratings over their last eight contests. They've also climbed 13 spots to #53 in our performance rankings during that period. Villanova is currently our #6 team in the #BigEast. pic.twitter.com/AfdAIouyI7

— Erik Haslam (@haslametrics) February 22, 2023

The Wildcats are also looking at a potential seven seed in the Big East Tournament, which would set them up for a potential run that consisted of DePaul, Xavier and Creighton to get to the Big East final.

They would avoid what I think is their worst matchup in the conference — Connecticut — and the Wildcats will absolutely be live in Madison Square Garden.

They have made just 32% from 3 in Big East play this season, but a few ticks added to that and they are right there with the top of the league.


Washington State Cougars

The Cougars might be the best under .500 team in the entire country.

Washington State has had a ton of close defeats this season, including tight losses at home to both UCLA and Arizona, the two best teams in the conference.

They had final possession losses to Utah and Colorado, but they have the profile of a team that could make a run in the Pac-12 Tournament.

You'll notice a pattern in teams I like to target. The Cougars play slow and limit the number of possessions. They compete on the glass at both ends and they shoot a ton of 3s.

The Cougars have attempted more 3s than anyone in the Pac-12 and are second in efficiency from deep.

It's not just that Washington State fits the profile of a decent conference tournament Cinderella, but it's shown it can compete with the top of the league.

Washington State won at Arizona in January. It's beaten Oregon, Arizona State and USC, too.

When you have an excellent and improving big in Mouhamed Gueye and you can surround him with three 39% or better 3-point shooters, you have a chance to get hot for a week.

Turnovers are likely to be the Cougars' downfall, but there is no one in this league that Kyle Smith's team couldn't beat.

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