College Basketball Odds, Picks & Futures | Stuckey’s 7 Non-Top Seeds to Bet in Conference Tournaments

College Basketball Odds, Picks & Futures | Stuckey’s 7 Non-Top Seeds to Bet in Conference Tournaments article feature image
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Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images. Pictured: Dieonte Miles (Morehead State)

It's conference tournament season — the most wonderful time of the year for college basketball bettors.

Over the next three days, seven league tourneys will tip off, so I thought I'd make a case for a non-top seed in each to help you better prepare for your daily viewing and wagering.

Before I start, I must stress how important it is to shop around for the best price. You should do that with every bet, but it's more crucial regarding conference championship futures, as the odds vary widely depending on the book. Don't leave potential free money on the table by taking a worse price than what's available.

Also, ensure you understand the tournament formats, which I'll touch on throughout this piece. Some leagues re-seed, which could significantly impact potential title paths if you're focused on specific matchups, which matters this time of the year.


ASUN

No. 2 Seed Stetson Hatters

To Win ASUN Tournament (+500)

  • Format: 10 teams. Top 6 seeds receive a bye. Re-seed after each round.
  • Location: Campus sites for higher seed, but play-in games on neutral courts at gym of top two seeds.
  • Dates: Monday, Mar. 4 — Sunday, Mar. 10

Eastern Kentucky (+145) is the deserved favorite, but the separation between the top and bottom of this field isn't that significant.

Naturally, that could lead to potential chaos and open up an opportunity for a longer shot, especially since many ASUN matchups profile as high-variance affairs in an offense-first league.

Jacksonville arguably has the top stop unit in the conference, but the Dolphins have an anemic offense.

I like the veteran backcourt of Stetson (+500), especially since the Hatters match up well with top-seeded EKU, as they can handle the press and throw a myriad of zone looks under head coach Donnie Jones, which plays well in a tournament setting.

I worry about the absence of big man Josh Smith, who recently went down with a season-ending injury. After missing the first 14 games of the season, Smith made his debut, and the Hatters were playing their best basketball before he went down again.

They will miss his physicality and rebounding prowess, but they can still get it done.

Lipscomb (+300) runs beautiful offense, but I don't trust its horrific defense that can't stop a nose bleed. And while the Bisons have played well since Derrin Boyd was injured, I still think his loss matters.

Meanwhile, Austin Peay (+900) surged late in the season to secure the No. 4 overall seed. The Governors also saw the return of DeMarcus Sharp to the lineup for their final two contests.

Still, I worry about shooting regression after hitting 45% from deep (No. 1 nationally) through February en route to a 7-1 record. Over that same span, they ranked 359th in defensive efficiency. I don't trust them to get enough stops at this price.

If you're looking for a longer shot, I'd look toward Florida Gulf Coast (20-1) or North Florida (18-1).

Due to some injuries early in the season, FGCU played awful to start the year but is peaking at the right time with Princeton transfer Keeshawn Kellman hitting his stride. Believe it or not, Dunk City ranks first in overall Adjusted Efficiency in February among ASUN squads, per Bar Torvik.

And unlike most teams in this league, the Eagles play some defense under coach Pat Chambers.

Plus, if they take care of business against Queens as a 4.5-point favorite, they'd play a Stetson squad they split with during the regular season, which included a blowout home win and a one-point road loss.

In regards to North Florida, it comes down to variance. The Ospreys lead the country by a wide margin with a whopping 55.5% 3-point attempt rate — almost five percentage points higher than second-ranked Chattanooga (50.8%).

If Chaz Lanier and company are hot from the outside, look out. The Ospreys will start their tournament on the road against Austin Peay in a gym where they lost in double overtime in their only meeting earlier this season.


Horizon League

No. 4 Seed Wright State Raiders

To Win Horizon League Tournament (+320)

  • Format: 11 teams. Top 5 seeds get a bye. Re-seed after each round.
  • Location: Campus sites for first two rounds then Indianapolis, IN for final two
  • Dates: Tuesday, Mar. 5 — Tuesday, Mar. 12

The Horizon tournament has always been one of my favorites, as there are so many different styles with various zones and presses sprinkled throughout the league.

It's also historically bred plenty of chaos. Over the past 10 tournaments, the winner of the 4/5 game has cut down the nets as many times (five) as the top two seeds (five). Believe it or not, the top overall seed has only won twice over that span, while the No. 4 seed did it four times.

I'm targeting another No. 4 seed to take this tourney down in Wright State (+320), which has the best offense in the league by a wide margin, ranking second nationally in effective field goal percentage, which includes top-10 marks in both 2-point and 3-point shooting.

The Raiders play no defense whatsoever (349th in effective field goal percentage allowed).

Still, they can outscore everybody en route to a championship, including top overall seed Oakland (+250), which is a fairly vulnerable top seed since the Grizzlies have a jump-shot-reliant offense (4% rim rate) and zone-based defense that leads to plenty of opponent 3-point attempts.

Only 11 other teams have allowed a higher unguarded catch-and-shoot jumper rate this year, per Synergy.

Admittedly, I'm a bit worried about Youngstown State (+250), which swept post-heavy Wright State, winning both meetings by double digits largely due to its elite rim defense (91st percentile, per Synergy). That's even more concerning since the Horizon re-seeds, meaning the Raiders could face the Penguins in the semifinals.

Conversely, I'm not too worried about their first opponent, Northern Kentucky (+2500), which isn't the same team without two of its most important players, the injured Sam Vinson and Keeyan Itejere, who were critical at the top and bottom of the Norse's extended matchup zone.

If you're looking for a super long shot, I'd target Milwaukee (+3000) since I don't believe in Green Bay (+1000), which stumbled down the stretch, losing four of five to close the regular season.

That streak coincided with an injury to leading scorer Noah Reynolds, who averages just under 20 points per game. I'm unsure about his status but haven't heard good things from the locker room.

That gives the Panthers a very manageable path to the semis of lowly Detroit and down-trending Green Bay. And while they did get swept by the top two seeds, three of their four losses came in overtime, and they split with Wright State.

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Patriot League

No. 6 Seed Lehigh Mountain Hawks

To Win Patriot League Tournament (+1200)

  • Format: 10 teams. Top 6 seeds receive a bye.
  • Location: Campus sites hosted by higher seeds
  • Dates: Tuesday, Mar. 5 — Wednesday, Mar. 13

Unlike the Horizon, the Patriot League has been dominated by chalk, with the top two seeds winning an incredible 30 of the past 33 tournaments.

The only three exceptions include:

  • 2015: No. 4 seed Lafayette
  • 2016 No. 9 seed Holy Cross
  • 2020: No. 3 seed Boston

That's not surprising since there has usually been one clear top team and a format where the higher seed hosts games on campus.

That said, I think there's a chance this could be one of those anomalous years where the chalk doesn't cut down the nets. I personally like Lehigh (+1200).

Why?

For starters, the Mountain Hawks are on the opposite side of the bracket from heavy favorite Colgate (-250).

The Raiders, seeking their fourth straight conference tournament championship, are the class of the league. However, they're not as potent on offense as last year.

They have a savvy point guard in Braeden Smith, a pair of centers who can dominate on the low block against fellow Patriot clubs and stretch-four Ryan Moffatt, who can stroke it from the outside at a nearly 40% clip.

However, they miss Tucker Richardson and Oliver Lynch-Daniels on the wings, where the inexperienced Jalen Cox and Brady Cummins don't bring the same consistent firepower.

That mainly explains why Colgate — which suffered both league losses at home — dropped from 43rd last season in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency to 207th this year.

Despite its seed, I have Lehigh power-rated as the second-best team in the league. It went through a brutal stretch without guard Keith Higgins Jr., who missed nine games in which Lehigh rated outside the top 300 nationally in overall efficiency.

Since his return, the Hawks rank 182nd, going 5-2 over that span, with the only losses coming against Boston University (in overtime) and Colgate (by three).

If the Mountain Hawks get to the final, they'll surely struggle to stop Colgate inside, but they still did stay within one possession in both regular season defeats.

With the return of Higgins — who might get ramped up to a full workload now — and Tyler Whitney-Sidney's scoring prowess, I have Lehigh at about 9-10% to win the tourney. Make sure you shop around with prices as high as 12-1 and as low as 8-1 out there.

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Braeden Smith (Colgate)

Elsewhere, Lehigh's first opponent, Lafayette (+1600), finished as the No. 3 seed but lost six of seven down the stretch, including a pair of losses at the hands of the Mountain Hawks.

I have no interest in the Leopards nor No. 2 seed Boston University (+600). The Terriers did close out the season on a high note with five straight wins, but two came in overtime. And while they have a fairly effortless path to the semis, I'd need a better price to back their insipid offense.

The No. 4 seed American (+750) offers more intrigue, especially if the Eagles are healthier, as injuries hurt them during league play.

More importantly, they play very slow (bottom-10 nationally in Adjusted Tempo), and their games involve high-shooting variance, as they attempt and allow 3-point tries at top-50 rates nationally.

They also recently won on the road at Colgate, which they would face in the semis if they get by Bucknell.

I can't make a case for any of the super long shots, but I think the aforementioned Bucknell (+2500) is worth a look. While American's low-possession, high-variance style could work in its favor as an underdog against Colgate, it could hurt against Bucknell, which also plays extremely slow while taking and allowing a high-volume of 3-point attempts.

Plus, despite going 0-3 in overtime league games, the Bison still finished in a four-way tie for second place but fell to the fifth seed due to tiebreakers. They did get swept by their first opponent — American — but the road loss came in overtime.

If forced to choose between American and Bucknell, I'd certainly side with the much better price on Bucknell, especially with American's injury uncertainty.

Also, remember that the Patriot League has some of the lowest-rated home-court advantages in college basketball, so going on the road isn't a big deal, especially with the usually short travel time and this particular format.


Sun Belt

No. 4 Seed Arkansas State Red Wolves

To Win Sun Belt Tournament (+1000)

  • Format: 14 teams. Top 10 seeds receive a bye, with top 4 getting a double bye
  • Location: Pensacola, FL
  • Dates: Tuesday, Mar. 5 — Monday, Mar. 11

This tournament format really rewards the top four seeds, which is how it should be. The bottom 10 teams would have to win at least one game to get to Friday, where they'd have to win three games in three days to secure the Sun Belt's automatic bid.

I'm uninterested in that group since Southern Miss (+7000) isn't fully healthy unless you want to throw some couch change on a Powerball ticket with Georgia Southern (250-1) that has almost no chance of cashing.

The Eagles are at least playing their best basketball of the season, with some of their freshmen trending up, as evidenced by a ranking of 14th in Haslametrics' Momentum Rating. They also do at least have a deep bench — which is ideal in this format — and they shoot a lot of 3s — which is what you want for a complete dart throw.

You would have to hope for chaos in the bracket and need Tyren Moore to go nuclear for a week.

I'm more interested in Arkansas State (+1000), one of the four clubs that benefit from the double bye.

While the Red Wolves are step below in class than the top two seeds — James Madison (+140) and Appalachian State (+210) — they're a high-variance team due to the sheer volume of 3-pointers they attempt (32nd nationally) and make at a respectable clip.

Think of them as a mini-Alabama under head coach Bryan Hodgson, a Nate Oats disciple. If they get hot from deep, they can beat anybody in this league, and they'll need to do so against likely semifinal opponent App State, which allows nothing at the rim.

They would be underdogs in that game and lost their only meeting by 21 in Boone, but their high-variance style gives them a chance.

I will admit Arkansas State's first game will likely come against Louisiana (+1200), and that scares me. The Ragin' Cajuns have an elite perimeter defense that led the country in 3-point shooting allowed, which was the primary reason they swept the Red Wolves in the regular season, holding them to a combined 10-for-48 (20.8%) from beyond the arc.

Plus, they're always dangerous in a tournament setting under head coach Bob Marlin. However, I didn't consider backing them at this price due to their lack of depth (324th Bench Minutes) as the No. 5 seed, which would require them to win four games in five days.

Marlin also said he wasn't sure if starting point guard Themus Fulks — who missed the regular season finale with an illness — would be available.

Then, they would hope for either chaos or Troy (+600) to emerge out of the bottom half of the bracket, as they swept the Trojans in the regular season.

Interestingly enough, James Madison didn't face Troy during the regular season.


Northeast Conference

No. 6 Seed Wagner Seahawks

To Win Northeast Conference Tournament (+3000)

  • Format: Eight teams. No byes. Re-seed after each round.
  • Location: Campus sites for higher seed
  • Dates: Wednesday, Mar. 6 — Tuesday, Mar. 12
  • Note: Le Moyne is not eligible for NCAA Tournament. If it wins, the runner-up gets the bid.

This is my annual dart throw of conference tournament season.

Wagner (+3000), known for its extended pressure defense, is not a good team by any stretch, especially on the offensive end of the floor. However, the Seahawks excel on the glass and don't turn it over, ranking second in the league in both categories.

And while their style leads to plenty of opponent transition opportunities, they do a tremendous job defending in those possessions, ranking in the 94th percentile, per Synergy.

That's especially important against their three most likely opponents, as Sacred Heart (+850), CCSU (+120) and Merrimack (+120) rank in the 96th, 91st and 79th percentile in transition frequency, respectively.

Most importantly, Wagner is a snail, ranking 360th out of 362 D-I teams in Adjusted Tempo. It wants to grind the game to a halt with the third-slowest Adjusted Tempo in the country, ideal for a dart throw in a tourney setting.

For what it's worth, the Seahawks split with No. 2 seed Merrimack, with each team winning on the other's home court. They lost twice to top-seed CCSU by a combined two points, with the road loss coming in overtime without starting shooting guard Julian Brown.

The Seahawks match up especially well with Merrimack since they take care of the ball (Merrimack ranks fifth nationally in defensive turnover rate) and can dominate the Warriors on the glass, where they're highly vulnerable.

Lastly, Wagner doesn't have a bench and would almost certainly have to win three road games. However, that's not as problematic in this particular format, with no byes and the winner having to win three games over six days.

Plus, Wagner has one of the worst home-court advantages in college basketball.

I did consider Sacred Heart, but I don't trust its defense to get key stops when it matters most. The only other team I could make a case for is Le Moyne (+1400) — which isn't eligible for the NCAA tournament — since the Dolphins usually play in high-variance games with an abundance of 3-point attempts.

On the season, they rank 16th in 3-point attempt rate and 340th in 3-point attempt rate allowed.

They'll start at home against an FDU team they match up well with and then would face a CCSU club (if the chalk holds) that they swept during the regular season.

If I had to pick a winner for a pool, I'd go with Merrimack. The Warriors have the best overall unit in the conference, with their ultra-aggressive extended 2-3 matchup zone that they run almost exclusively.

They also match up fairly well with CCSU — which wants to attack the rim at all costs — in a title matchup if the chalk holds.

Plus, I think they'll have an extra chip on their shoulder after winning the title last year but not being eligible for the dance and not even being allowed to compete in the conference tournament after winning the regular season title in 2020.

However, I'm not rushing to bet +120 with a flawed offense that can go through extended droughts.


Ohio Valley Conference

No. 3 Seed Morehead State Eagles

To Win Ohio Valley Conference Tournament (+135)

  • Format: 8 teams. Top 4 seeds get a bye with top 2 receiving a double bye.
  • Location: Evansville, IN
  • Dates: Wednesday, Mar. 6 — Saturday, Mar. 9

I'm rolling with Morehead State (+135) — the odds-on favorite — despite holding the No. 3 seed.

The Eagles had a three-game slide earlier this month that ultimately cost them an outright regular season title and a double bye, as they lost the tiebreaker to both Little Rock (+225) and UT Martin (+380), with all three teams finishing 14-4 in league play.

Note that two of those three losses came on the road against Little Rock (by one) and UT Martin without the services of fifth-year senior starting guard Jordan Lathon, whose shot-making was sorely missed.

With Lathon in the lineup, Morehead boasts a bevy of long wings that create matchup problems for opposing defenses, led by Riley Minix.

Dominant seven-foot rim protector Dieonte Miles — a Xavier transfer — anchors a solid drop defense.

And outside of that aforementioned three-game skid, the Eagles have only lost twice since Nov. 18, by one at Indiana and at SIUE, when they shot 3-for-27 (11.1%).

There's a reason the Eagles lead the conference in Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Efficiency in league play. They also viciously deny 3-point attempts and dominate the glass both ways.

Their one primary weakness is the turnover department, but that shouldn't be an issue against No. 2 seed UT Martin, which ranks 352nd nationally in defensive turnover rate. Morehead can also slow speedy UT Martin down and limit their outside shooting prowess.

Little Rock has been much better defensively since the debut of Arkansas transfer Makhel Mitchell in January. The Trojans are also the hottest team in the league. Still, it's beat up on many of the league's dregs (also have one of the nation's weakest overall strengths of schedule) in addition to a shorthanded Morehead squad during a nine-game wining steak.

Plus, Morehead can contain them on the offensive glass while taking advantage of that area on the other end.

Ultimately, I don't trust Little Rock's half-court defense, and Morehead should effectively keep the Trojans out of transition. While they'd certainly be a much tougher matchup with their ability to finish at the rim and perimeter length, Morehead should win that potential title matchup.

Unfortunately, due to the tiebreaker, the Eagles have to win three games in three days without ample depth (343rd in bench minutes), which is concerning. However, they do at least play at a languid pace (343rd in Adjusted Tempo), which should help limit potential fatigue.

I think Morehead is the best team in the league and is more than battle-tested after playing a grueling non-conference schedule that included road games at Penn State, Alabama and Purdue.

Plus, it'll benefit from a slight home-crowd advantage in Evansville.

If you're looking for a long shot, I can't make a case for any here.


Big South Conference

No. 3 Seed Gardner-Webb Bulldogs

To Win Big South Conference Tournament (+800)

  • Format: 9 teams. Top 7 get a bye.
  • Location: High Point, NC
  • Dates: Wednesday, Mar. 6 — Sunday, Mar. 10

I can't wait for the usually chaotic Big South tournament

There's no value in High Point (-125), but the Panthers have the best team and will play the entire tournament on their home court. That said, it won't be an easy road.

They should win a quarterfinal matchup against either Radford (+3500) or USC Upstate (+25000). Still, the former could be rejuvenated after underperforming for most of the season, and the latter was the only team to win at High Point all season.

While Radford has talent, the Highlanders are dealing with injuries (Bryan Antoine, their best player, didn't play in the regular season finale), and they lack depth, which could loom large in a format that would require them to win three games in three days to cut down the nets.

Assuming High Point advances to the semis, it would face either Longwood (+1300) or Winthrop (+750).

Longwood has a ton of talent and also underperformed for much of the season, but is peaking at the right time, including a buzzer-beater win over High Point on the last play of the Big South regular season, which amazingly helped Longwood jump from the No. 9 seed to the No. 5 seed.

Meanwhile, Winthrop was swept by High Point but lost by two at home and in overtime on the road.

There's a shot High Point gets picked off before the title game, which would certainly be a welcome development for the teams in the bottom half of the bracket.

In that half, you could trust the best player in the league in Tennessee transfer, Drew Pember, who is a walking free-throw attempt. He leads a defending champion UNC Asheville (+350) squad that finished first in effective field goal percentage on offense and defense during conference play.

The Bulldogs feature a plethora of deadly outside shooters, who benefit from plenty of open looks due to the attention that Pember draws.

However, they would likely have to get through No. 3 seed Gardner-Webb (+800), which swept the season series by effectively containing Pember, who averages over 20 points per game but only scored 19 combined points in both meetings against the Bulldogs.

From a purely numerical perspective, I show slight value on Gardner-Webb, but I'm not sure I trust the Bulldogs to maintain their 38.1% 3-point shooting clip from league play.

They also have to start with a pesky Presbyterian (+3500) club — although starting wing Marquis Barnett didn't play in the regular season finale for some reason.

If I had to pick a longer shot, I'd go with Longwood, but I'd need a slightly better price than the best available 13-1.

Ultimately, I have no idea what will happen in this tournament, which could end up being just as wild as last season when No. 7 seed Campbell made an improbable run to the championship game.


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