Southland Basketball Tournament Betting Preview, Bracket & Odds: Where Does the Value Lie?
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured: Ty Gordon (Nicholls)
This year’s Southland Tournament feels like a completely different event from past editions. The league hemorrhaged members this offseason, going from 13 teams down to eight as realignment gobbled up several key contenders.
The WAC swiped Stephen F. Austin, Abilene Christian, Lamar and Sam Houston State — the “Texas Four.” The ASUN also scooped up Central Arkansas, further dwindling the Southland’s membership.
Those departures robbed the Southland of its traditional powerhouses. Stephen F. Austin and Abilene Christian alternated winning the previous four tourneys. If you add in Lamar, the departed squads account for eight of the past 10 Southland NCAA bids.
That opens the door for some new blood. New Orleans won the league’s bid in 2017, while Northwestern State went dancing in 2013.
The rest of the league has extended NCAA Tournament droughts. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (last bid in 2007), Southeastern Louisiana (2005) and McNeese State (2002) have at least gone this century. Nicholls State (1998), Houston Baptist (1984) and Incarnate Word (never at the D-I level) all haven’t.
Considering the Southland’s standing nationally, Abilene Christian and SFA both found impressive degrees of success in the Big Dance. The two notched a combined three Round of 64 victories since 2014 — not bad for being double-digit seeds every time.
Replicating that success looks dubious, however. The league seems destined for a 16-seed — even if regular-season champion Nicholls earns the bid. That makes for a daunting path to a first-round victory.
Curiously, the Southland implemented a “pre-conference” tournament in early January for the first time this season. SE Louisiana caught fire from deep — 40-of-79 (50.6%) from 3 over three games — and won that one.
Jim Root of Three Man Weave dives into this conference tournament, but first, here’s the bracket, schedule and odds.
Southland Tournament Bracket & Schedule
2022 Southland Tournament Odds
It’s not quite the super ladder that the Southland had in the past, but the format does still give a clear edge to regular season success.
The top two seeds (Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana) earn byes to the semifinals. New Orleans and Texas A&M-CC, the No. 3 and 4 seeds, are automatically in the quarterfinals.
The bottom four teams, meanwhile, must play an opening-round affair and need to win four games in four days to punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
The tournament is played in Katy, Texas, a relatively central neutral site for the eight member schools. Notably, the aforementioned January tournament was played here as well, so every team is familiar with the environment.
The clear favorite is Nicholls, the regular season champion. The Colonels are loaded with down-transfer talent, and they were the runner-up in the January tournament despite missing star guard Ty Gordon.
Gordon, a transfer from Troy, is almost unfair in this conference. In the title-clinching win over New Orleans in the season finale, he racked up an absurd 36 points on 12-of-24 from the field. His combination of strength and lethal shooting is absurdly difficult to defend.
The Colonels have the No. 2 offense and the No. 2 defense in the league, and they excel most in turnover margin. Along with Gordon, Devante Carter (Norfolk State transfer) and Pierce Spencer give Nicholls a trio of capable playmakers.
On the opposite side of the bracket, SELA lurks. The Lions swept Nicholls in three meetings this season, using their deadly perimeter shooting to thwart the league champs.
The Lions play all wings in lieu of any big men, and their horrendous defense reflects that. SELA is 350th nationally in 2P% defense and 345th in defensive rebound rate.
Clearly, they can be bullied, but few Southland teams have the personnel to do so.
New Orleans nearly won the regular season title, but the Privateers faltered down the stretch, losing three of their final four games. That dropped them to the No. 3 seed, increasing the difficulty of a potential run to the dance.
The Privateers lack shooting entirely. They barrel their way to the rim in an effort to get to the free throw line. It’s no surprise that they rank first nationally in free throw rate and dead last in 3P attempt rate.
Foes that pack the paint defensively and keep the athletic Privateers out on the perimeter can have plenty of success against them.
The other team with a bye to the quarterfinals is Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (+500).
Under first-year coach Steve Lutz, the Islanders were a feisty underdog in non-conference play and rose well above expectations.
However, their ceiling feels limited, considering they went 1-6 against the top-three teams in the league.
Like New Orleans, the Islanders are rim-focused. Junior forward Isaac Mushila is an animal in the paint, as he ranks 22nd nationally with 12 double-doubles this year. He also lives at the charity stripe.
Dark Horses and Long Shots
Given the format and the ability of the opening round teams, it’s hard to pick out a dark horse in this field.
McNeese State (+1700) is the best of the bunch, but those odds to win four games in four days do not offer any real value.
Like Nicholls, the Cowboys are loaded with down-transfer talent. The roster features imports from Tulsa, Duquesne, VCU, Florida Gulf Coast and Southern Illinois. Unfortunately, it has not come together the same way Nicholls has.
Houston Baptist (+2300), Incarnate Word (+8500) and Northwestern State (+2700) all qualify as Hail Marys, but they are on a lower tier than the rest of the conference.
If you’re feeling like lighting money on fire, Northwestern State would be my pick of that bunch. The Demons beat New Orleans in late February, and their two best players are COVID freshmen — they have every right to improve late in the year.
Nicholls is the best team in the league, but I am not overly enthused by its odds. It helps that the Colonels only have to win two games, and if they avoid SELA entirely, they may breathe a sigh of relief.
As with any bet, line shopping is crucial. The best value is probably New Orleans +390 at FanDuel. Still, the Privateers have to win three games in three days, so there’s reason for caution there, as well.
I’m more intrigued by some potential matchups as the tournament unfolds.
In the opening round, McNeese takes on Northwestern State, and the Cowboys swept the Demons this year. McNeese’s athleticism really gives NW State problems, and the Cowboys should be plenty rested after their 4OT marathon on Saturday.
Elsewhere, I am also eyeing Texas A&M-CC against the winner of Houston Baptist and Incarnate Word. The Islanders are in a different class than those two squads, and they beat both of them on the road in the final eight days of the regular season.
Coupled with HBU or UIW playing a back-to-back, I am looking to lay the points with the Islanders.
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