NCAAB Conference Tournament Best Bets, Odds: Thursday Evening’s 6 Top Picks, Including SIU Edwardsville vs. UT Martin (March 2)
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We already touched on the Thursday afternoon conference tournament games, so now we’re moving to Thursday evening’s slate.
Five leagues are in action (Patriot League, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, ASUN, Horizon League, WCC) and our staff has six total best bets to cover each conference.
Dive in below and get the top NCAAB conference tournament best bets and odds for Thursday evening’s games.
Thursday Evening’s 6 NCAAB Conference Tournament Best Bets
The team logos in the table below represent each of the matchups that our college basketball staff is targeting from Thursday evening’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.|
Eastern Kentucky vs. Liberty (ASUN)
By Ky McKeon
Liberty has been the class of the ASUN all season and is no doubt a frightening fade. But a double-digit spread in a conference tournament semifinal is an enormous hurdle to overcome — even for the Flames.
EKU is no slouch and is one of just three teams who have defeated Liberty in league play all season. Liberty got its revenge at home in game two — downing the Colonels by 10 — but EKU held strong throughout despite missing the services of one of its best guards, 6-foot-1 fifth-year guard Cooper Robb.
Now fully healthy and in a win-or-go-home matchup, EKU should be able to keep this one within single digits.
On paper, this is a challenging matchup for EKU. Liberty is an excellent defensive rebounding team, and the Colonels rely heavily on the offensive glass to score.
The Flames pack the paint and force opponents to beat them from the perimeter, and EKU is the ASUN’s worst 3-point shooting team.
Lastly, Liberty has done well defending in transition this season, an avenue EKU looks to exploit frequently on the offensive end.
But those on-paper matchup edges existed in the first two games, as well. EKU has shot 17-for-41 (41.5%) from deep against Liberty in two games this season.
The Colonels have gotten clean looks, and despite their numbers, have several players capable of knocking down outside shots.
EKU also has a distinct athleticism edge over the Flames. The Colonels are longer, quicker and more physical than the Flames and will need to lean on those advantages throughout to keep this one close.
Take EKU and the generous amount of points the market is providing.
Pick: Eastern Kentucky +13 (Play to +12)
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Lafayette vs. Lehigh (Patriot League)
With one of the best small school rivalries in college sports firing up for some conference tournament action, Lafayette is not the kind of program you want to be betting on right now.
First-year head coach Mike Jordan was put on paid administrative leave, with little detail provided about the complaint or issue that led to his leave of absence.
In the two games without Jordan on the sidelines, the Leopards have been a mixed bag, scaring league-champ Colgate in a close loss before losing to last-place Bucknell.
In total, those two losses added to what is now a four-game losing streak, with the Leopards having dropped seven of nine games to close the season. Lehigh won both regular season meetings, soundly dominating the meeting at home in Bethlehem.
You have a higher seed, playing better recent basketball and hosting their rival from 15 miles down the road in front of a raucous crowd.
That’s a perfect storm for taking the Mountain Hawks to cover a modest spread and move onto the next round of the Patriot League Tournament.
Pick: Lehigh -3.5
Detroit vs. Youngstown State (Horizon League)
By Matt Cox
The prevailing headline in tonight’s Horizon League quarterfinal tilt between Detroit and Youngstown is Antoine Davis’ historic chase for the all-time points record.
That alone offers value on the over in this matchup, especially if Youngstown is able to build and sustain a lead deep into the second half. If the Titans’ chances of winning erode, look for Davis to attack early in the shot clock in hot pursuit of the record.
If this game plays tighter, there’s still plenty of momentum swinging towards the over.
The first meeting between these two is a strong precedent as to how tonight’s tilt should play out. Youngstown won in shootout fashion, 84-79 final (163 points), despite only clocking 66 possessions.
The pace slowed down in the rematch a few weeks later, but that was dictated by Detroit’s tired legs and depleted bench.
Granted, the Titans are likely shorthanded tonight, with up to four reserves potentially out. However, Detroit showed no hesitation to attack in transition in its opening-round victory over Purdue Fort Wayne, a game which clocked 70 possessions.
The Penguins are lethal in transition themselves and should generate a healthy number of easy baskets off misses and turnovers.
Here’s the cherry on top: in the last three seasons, Horizon Tournament overs are 6-0 when the spread is greater than eight points. In this offensive-centric league, defense is non-existent once the lead balloons to multiple possessions.
Pick: Over 158
San Diego vs. Portland (WCC)
By D.J. James
The West Coast Conference Tournament kicks off Thursday with a duel between two of the worst defenses in the league. The Portland Pilots rank 271st in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, per KenPom, while the San Diego Toreros rank 337th.
The Pilots are a 3-point shooting team. They rank 38th in the country in 3-point shooting at nearly 37% and shoot 3s 44.5% of the time.
They also get to the line at the fifth-best in the country at 43.7%.
They do not necessarily have the strongest defense on 3s. Teams are shooting 38% from deep on them. However, they restrict an opponent’s ability to get to the foul line, with a 26.9% free-throw attempt mark.
San Diego shoots 35.3% from outside, but it only holds a 36.1% 3-point attempt rate while yielding a 3-point percentage of 40.4% defensively.
Since the Toreros have a slightly worse defense and the Pilots launch way more 3-pointers and can draw contact, this should be a wider gap than the spread tells.
Back the Pilots, as they have already defeated San Diego twice on the year.
Pick: Portland -3 (Play to -5)
Illinois Chicago vs. Missouri State (MVC)
UIC and Missouri State will square off in the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in what will be the second matchup between the two teams.
In the first matchup, Illinois Chicago was able to put together a respectable performance, only losing by four points as a 13-point underdog. The Flames had three players in double figures, including a 19-point performance from sophomore Jace Carter.
On the offensive end, Illinois Chicago has relied heavily on its success from the perimeter in order to drive its offense. The Flames take the third-most 3-point attempts in the MVC, resulting in 37.5% of their total points, the highest percentage in the conference.
This perimeter shooting will be on full display against a Missouri State defense that allows its opponents to attempt 40.2% of their total shots from the perimeter.
Although Illinois Chicago had a rather unsuccessful campaign in the MVC, it ended its season winning two of its final three contests, much in part to its offensive success.
The Flames averaged 73.6 points in their final three MVC games.
Look for Illinois Chicago to keep things interesting if it’s able to connect from beyond the arc.
On the other end, the Flames will look to use their defensive pressure in order to disorient a Missouri State offense that has struggled with turnovers.
The Bears rank 242nd nationally in turnover percentage at 19.1%, while Illinois Chicago is forcing turnovers on 19.9% of its possessions, the 85th-highest rate in college basketball.
These turnovers will be crucial, as Missouri State ranks 355th nationally in Adjusted Tempo, with an average of just 62.5 possessions per game.
Although this Illinois Chicago team has been streaky, I expect its best performance in St. Louis on Thursday night.
Pick: UIC +8.5 (Play to +7.5)
SIU Edwardsville vs. UT Martin (OVC)
After an impressive win against Southern Indiana on Wednesday night, No. 6 seed SIU Edwardsville rolls on to take on the No. 3 seed, UT Martin.
This will be a third time these two teams have met this season, with each winning on their home floor.
The most recent meeting between these two came on Feb. 16 in a game that saw UT Martin guard Jordan Sears explode for 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting to carry the Skyhawks to a six-point victory.
For SIU Edwardsville, this will be another game in which it looks to limit turnovers and get to the free-throw line.
Luckily for the Cougars, UT Martin ranks last in the OVC in turnovers forced per game at just 15.4%. This will be critical for an SIU offense that has turned the ball over on 18.3% of its possessions in conference play.
Additionally, the Cougars will look to continue to catalyze their offense at the charity stripe. On Wednesday night, SIU Edwardsville was able to attempt 35 total free throws in order to outlast Southern Indiana.
Look for this free-throw rate to continue against a UT Martin team that ranks 252nd nationally in free throws allowed at 33.9%.
On the other end, look for the Cougars to be able to limit a UT Martin offense that ranks 237th nationally in Adjusted Efficiency.
In particular SIU Edwardsville should be able to limit the Skyhawks from the perimeter, as it ranks second in the conference in points allowed from 3-point range at just 27.8%.
This perimeter defense will make life miserable for a UT Martin offense that ranks last in the OVC in 3-point percentage at just 30.4%.
Overall, I expect SIU Edwardsville to build on its momentum from Wednesday night on both ends of the floor.
Pick: SIU Edwardsville +1.5 (Play to +1)
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