Update 3/13: The 2020 NCAA Tournament has been cancelled due to the spreading coronavirus. Please accept the content below as a “fantasy sports” preview of a while new sort. Hearts have broken across the nation, but there will be plenty of healing at the big dance in 2021.
Maybe they call it March Madness because it’s so maddening for the sports media. We’ve got to cover about 200 Division 1 conference tourneys, and then it’s on to the big dance (and the NIT for hopefuls who don’t quite get that far).
It’s a big world of college basketball. But at WagerBop we specialize in making the indigestible into the digestible, even if you’re not a (UC Irvine) Anteater or a (Michigan) Wolverine.
Scroll ahead for chronological primers, gambling lines, top seeds, and updates from every conference tournament in March, and keep going for futures odds and analysis on potential #1 NCAA Regional seeds and national-championship winners.
Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball Championship (March 3rd – March 8th)
Liberty is expected to take the #1 seed in the Atlantic Sun’s postseason tourney, a simple single-elimination bracket of 8 teams. North Florida is in hot pursuit with a lesser overall W/L mark but a comparable league record.
Update 3/4: Bovada Sportsbook has a lot of sports to worry about, and a big old March Madness event to offer hundreds of markets in. But conference-betting enthusiasts have to be frustrated by the site’s flaky behavior in offering postseason league odds, which have flashed on-site only to be taken down compulsively over the last 2 days. Apologies to readers who thought WagerBop had just forgotten about the 900-or-so brackets previewed on scroll. It’s hard to “handicap” a grey screen that says “check back later,” but our pals at Oddsshark have at least gotten their hands on some numbers that Bovada and other books may at least consider putting out today or tomorrow…if they want to try taking some action before the games are all completed, anyway.
Heck, we’ve already almost had our 1st big upset of the postseason! Atlantic Sun #2 seed North Florida ((+325) odds-to-win the conference tourney title) was challenged from bell to bell by unheralded Jacksonville on Tuesday, including Jacksonville Dolphin guard David Bell who notched a double-double. North Florida held on to win 91-88. Top seed Liberty (-450) didn’t fare all that well either, but the Flames survived an ugly low-scoring contest with NJIT to reach the semifinals.
Update March 7th: Underdog #3 seed Lipscomb will meet Liberty for the Atlantic Sun postseason title on Sunday. Sportsbooks are currently preoccupied with the 3/7 slate but we would suspect the Flames to be a double-digit opening consensus favorite.
Update 3/11: Liberty has won the “double” league title (regular season and postseason) and a likely-generous seed in the NCAA Tournament with a 73-57 win over Lipscomb. Ahsan Asadullah of the underdog Bisons out-paced everyone on the court in scoring and rebounds. But the Flames dominated the 1st half 45-26 and rendered much of Asadullah’s work academic. Not that the rousing result paid-off handsomely on futures betting slips at shorter than 1-to-4 odds.
Big South Men’s Basketball Championship (March 3rd – March 8th)
Winthrop and Radford will battle it out down the stretch for a #1 seed in the Big South, which holds a play-in round for seeds #6 through #11 followed by the quarterfinals.
Update 3/4: Broadly speaking, you can expect #1 seeds to get the plurality of futures bets and the shortest odds-to-win a conference tournament, unless it’s a top seed with reason to pull back on the throttle in later rounds while preparing for the big dance. In smaller conference tourneys in which schools are fighting for what is likely the conference’s only March Madness bid, the #1 seed + shortest odds pattern is more likely to be followed. But going into the Big South tournament, Las Vegas appears just as confident – perhaps even more confident – in the #2 seed. That’s probably because the team is a proven commodity despite not having competed in the NCAA Tournament last year or in 2018.
#2 seed Winthrop (+120) has been a consistent winner throughout much of the last decade. The Eagles won the Big South regular-season title in 2016 and swept the season and postseason titles in 2017, losing to #4 seed Butler in a closely-contested NCAA tourney match-up. Winthrop had a 19-win season in 2018 and an 18-win season in 2019. The #1-seeded Radford Highlanders (+120) matched Winthrop with a 15-3 Big South record in 2019-20, however, and won 9 games in a row from late January to the tail-end of February. Radford and Winthrop split a pair of games this season with Highlanders guard Carlik Jones netting 20 points and dishing-out 6 assists in an 81-77 victory over the Eagles on 2/10.
Popular underdog picks to win the Big South bracket include Gardner-Webb (+550) and Longwood (+3000) with all other schools at 40-to-1 or longer odds to claim the hardware and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Update March 7th: #5 seed Hampton’s upset of Radford has shaken things up in the early-going. No active odds-boards currently available to report.
Update 3/11: Winthrop out-lasted a red-hot Hampton team to win the Big South postseason title and futures bets for underdog-takers at (+120). We’ll keep track of how many outcomes pay-off for what were prohibitive-favorites’ futures lines vs everyone else – the Eagles don’t qualify in the former category as pre-tourney co-favorites with Radford.
Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship (March 3rd – March 10th)
The Horizon League’s 10-team bracket will take a 4-day break between the quarterfinals and semifinals, with the Wright State Raiders and Northern Kentucky Norsemen holding an inside track to the top 2 seeds.
Update 3/4: Top seed Wright State is a (-140) wager to win the Horizon League’s postseason title, well ahead of #2-seeded Northern Kentucky (+220). Wright State has beaten NKU twice this season. However, you can’t say the 2nd meeting between the Raiders and Norsemen wasn’t closer than the 1st. The meeting at Wright State’s bizarrely-named Nutter Center (isn’t that a dessert bar?) in January was a blow-out. 6 Raiders scored in double-digits and guard Tanner Holden grabbed 13 rebounds as the hosts romped 95-63. But on February 28th at NKU it was a different story. Small forward Jalen Tate scored 24 points for the Norsemen as the Raiders hung on to win 64-62 after taking a 7-point lead into the break.
Some odds boards are saying “Wisconsin” is 3rd in Horizon League betting action at (+1000), but we assure you that the famed Wisconsin Badgers have not left the Big Ten for a smaller pond. The market refers to the Green Bay Phoenix, who come packin’ with a #3 seed despite going 7-10 on the road.
Update March 7th: You’ve got to do a little digging to find the Horizon’s updated bracket, but with a semifinal win over UIC, Wright State will meet the winner of a Green Bay vs Northern Kentucky grudge match in the final.
Update 3/11: Wright State did not make it past the University of Illinois-Chicago, but 2nd-seed Northern Kentucky did. Norsemen punched their ticket to the big dance with a 71-62 win over a UIC Flames squad which may sadly not even reach the NIT Tournament at 18-17. UIC posted a similar W/L record in 2017-18 and only received a 3rd-tier welcome to the national postseason.
Patriot League Men’s Basketball Championship (March 3rd – March 11th)
Colgate has a minty-fresh W/L record in 2019-20 and should earn a #1 seed in the 10-team Patriot League tournament.
Update 3/4: In case you’re wondering why we’re dishing-out these odds and previews so late in the game with 3 tournaments having begun already, a quick note of explanation. Las Vegas handicappers are notoriously late setting-out lines on conference tourneys, and many offshore betting books are still biding time despite some of the contests having tipped-off already. None of the favorites in any tournament have lost yet, despite North Florida’s aforementioned episode vs Jacksonville. Conference brackets are often set up to protect squads which have earned a handsome seed. It’s still early enough in the game that bookmakers are yawning – hopefully we’ll wake up to complete odds everywhere on March 4th.
Colgate (-225) will open with an “easy” game against #8 Lehigh in Thursday’s Patriot League quarterfinals. However, it’s always a possibility that a humble seed will build momentum through the early rounds and arrive as a hot challenger in the final. American is the #2 seed but can still be considered a relative long-shot underdog at (+500) odds. Boston University (+375) is a quite popular pick for a #3 seed, but keep your eye on 4th-seeded Army (+4000) which went 4-2 over the last 3 weeks of the regular season and gave Colgate and American tough battles at West Point.
Update March 7th: Colgate aced its initial test vs Lehigh and will face Lafayette on Sunday.
Update 3/11: Colgate has romped through a pair of opponents and is poised to win the hardware and a nice auto-bid with a victory over Boston. More’s the pity that Bovada Sportsbook isn’t offering any CBB basketball moneyline odds as of early Wednesday morning. Plenty of bettors would be drawn to what would/will become a fat underdog line-to-win for the Boston University Terriers, but the Raiders (-7) have been blowing-out rivals while Boston has had to escape close games to get this far.
Update 3/12: Wouldn’t you know the lack of close calls to-date worked against Colgate in the tournament final on Wednesday. Boston used its experience in hair-raising finishes to outlast Colgate 64-61 and score a win for underdog futures bettors at nearly 4-to-1 payoff.
Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship (March 4th – March 7th)
The unbeaten San Diego State Aztecs will earn a #1 seed in a grueling 4-day MWC postseason bracket.
Update 3/4: SDSU suffered an upset loss to UNLV on 2/22, but Sin City has been forgiving to schools which have lost games late in the season, and San Diego State is no exception.
The Aztecs are a (-175) favorite to win the postseason Mountain West title, which doesn’t exactly make them prohibitive favorites. There is no clear 2nd-best team for underdog gamblers to rely on however. Nevada (+1200) had a February winning streak going but lost to SDSU in the final regular-season game, leaving the gambling public more confident in Utah State (+450) and San Diego State nemesis Nevada-Las Vegas (+700).
The talented UNLV Rebels are seeded #4 and will face Boise State on Thursday.
Update March 7th: There were reported lines as of overnight Friday-Saturday on the MWC title bout between San Diego State and #2 seed Utah State. Aztecs will be favored by a handful of points as USU wasn’t a heavy favorite to advance to begin with.
Update 3/11: Utah State abides the 1st big underdog futures-payoff of tourney season with a 59-56 upset of San Diego State in the MWC final. 3rd-seeded Nevada fell victim to the early-postseason upset bug in a loss to #11 Wyoming, and may fall as far as 3rd-tier postseason play in the College Basketball Invitational.
Ohio Valley Conference Basketball Championships (March 4th – March 7th)
The always-exciting Ohio Valley tourney will commence following what should be a tight race for #1 seed between Belmont, Austin Peay, and 2-time-defending OVC champion Murray State, which upset Marquette in the Round of 64 at last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Update 3/4: Remember how they used to promote pro bowling on TV? Before ESPN tried to spice up the old game with stupid gimmicks and rock music, bowling was contested on ABC in a 5-person stepladder bracket. Seed #5 had to win, win, and win again just to face the #1 qualifier, who got to practice and prepare the whole time. Of course sometimes that worked to the top seed’s disadvantage when a #5 got grooved-in and bowled against an ice-cold opponent in Game 4.
The Ohio Valley Conference designs its bracket in a similar way. #7 seed Jacksonville State (+6000) would need to win, win again, and win again just to face #1 seed Belmont (-145) or a team lucky enough to beat Belmont in the only game the Bruins have to play and win prior to the final. Murray State is a (+210) wager as the #2 seed and may be a decent gamble at that price, since the Racers share the advantage of only needed to win twice to grab the hardware and a March Madness bid. Austin Peay’s (+750) odds as the 3rd seed have as much to do with the bracket system as any disparity in size or talent.
Update March 7th: Belmont and Murray State are meeting for the title as expected, with no odds available from offshore sportsbooks as of early Saturday morning. Each school cruised in the semifinals and so the moneylines may look a lot like the OVC’s futures did.
Update 3/11: Score another one for the minus-odds favorites. Belmont prevailed over Murray State in a thrilling 76-75 outcome, earning a bid in the NCAA Tournament and leaving the Racers to hope for a better postseason fate than Nevada’s.
Northeast Conference Men’s Basketball Championship (March 4th – March 10th)
Update 3/4: The NEC does it the old-fashioned way with an 8-school elimination bracket. Everyone plays in the quarterfinals, but the semifinals are re-seeded so as to reward regular-season W/L records in some small way.
Robert Morris and St. Francis of Pennsylvania are sharing short betting odds of (+160) as the 1st and 2nd seeds respectively.
WagerBop apologizes for the “Merrimack” snafu – the Warriors are new to Division 1 and won the league’s regular-season title but are not allowed to play in the conference postseason. Yes, the NCAA is just that stupid sometimes. If you’re wondering why Sacred Heart (+300) has joined the 2 aforementioned tourney seeds as a gambling favorite despite all 3 teams getting out-played by Merrimack this year, it’s because the Warriors are not allowed to come out and play.
Update March 7th: The tournament is down to 4 teams in the semifinals, but favorites’ odds haven’t changed that much, with St. Francis clearly the most-popular bet at (+130) on Bovada Sportsbook.
Update 3/11: Robert Morris romped over St. Francis 77-67 in the tournament final, and will take part in March Madness despite losing 14 games on the season.
MVC Tournament (March 5th – March 8th)
Known as “Arch Madness,” the Missouri Valley Conference will host another 4-round tournament for an auto-NCAA Tournament bid in St. Louis from 3/5 to 3/8, with Northern Iowa currently unbeaten at home and standing 2-3 wins away from a #1 seed. Not that there’s a huge advantage to getting a #1 seed for a league tourney that gives top seeds a mere single bye into the quarterfinals.
There is little hard info on the web delineating 2020’s “Arch Madness” format, but with only 4 days booked on the calendar, we’re pretty sure the MVC will stick to its tradition.
Update 3/4: Hooray! Someone at the MVC finally crawled to a computer and posted a real bracket instead of generic promo material. We’ve got Northern Iowa at (-110) favorite’s odds to lift the hardware, recent March Madness darling Loyola-Chicago in the #2 seed at 4-to-1 (+400) futures odds, and 3rd-seeded Indiana State is getting action at (+650).
Bradley (+700) may be a 4th seed to look out for. The squad posted a 20-win regular season that included a victory over Kansas State. Bradley won’t have to win any more games than any of the top 3 seeds to prevail in the tournament, and the Braves are well-balanced on offense with guards Darrell Brown and Nate Kennell and forward Elijah Childs all averaging double-figures.
Missouri State students may still “Wear Bear Hair” on occasion, but the Springfield cagers are bear-ly south of 10-to-1 odds at (+900) as the #6 seed.
Update March 7th: Pandemonium. Chaos. An opposite-sketch. Arch Madness has seen plenty of surprises and Cinderellas in the past but nothing quite like this. How to possibly explain the 3 top seeds falling in the opening round? Loyalo-Chicago put up a noble fight but was eliminated 74-73 by Valparaiso and must now wait for a call from the National Invitation Tournament. The Missouri State Bears destroyed Indiana State 78-51, causing social media to go bonkers over a team that was highly-touted early in the season. Most stunning of all was Northern Iowa’s blow-out loss to #8 seeded Drake, in which the proud Panthers were beaten on the glass and unable to make any key stops vs a 13-loss opponent. Northern Iowa will lobby the NCAA for a First Four bid based on its 25-win regular season, but it’s hard to imagine a worse final impression to have given the March Madness selection committee.
Update 3/11: 4th-seeded Bradley emerges with an Arch Madness title at 7-to-1 odds. It helps to be the top-rated team left standing after a surreal beginning to the tournament, but the balanced Braves were impressive in an 80-66 final-round whipping of Valparaiso, putting 2 bench players and 5 players overall in double-figures.
West Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 5th – March 10th)
Popular NCAA-title pick Gonzaga, which suffered a bitter-but-survivable loss to Brigham Young on Saturday, has already clinched a top seed for the WCC tourney, and the clout Mark Few’s program holds in the conference is undeniable. The Zags will enjoy a rare “triple bye” straight into the semifinals in a 10-team field.
Update 3/4: Gonzaga (-400) appears to have bounced-back in fine form after tripping against BYU. The Bulldogs took their frustrations out on San Diego (not San Diego State, mind you, but the 9-win San Diego Toreros) with a 94-59 beatdown, then whipped #3 WCC seed St. Mary’s (+1000) 86-76 as Serbian power forward Filip Petrušev scored 27 points to lead the way.
Still, it’s worth questioning whether the Zags are a solid pick at 1-to-4 payoff odds, even though they’ll only need to win twice to escape the tournament with a #1 March Madness seed intact. Perhaps it’s the loss at BYU which has ironically made Gonzaga’s odds shorter in the WCC tourney, since without the surprise late-season loss to worry about, coach Mark Few may have been more willing to spread minutes around in the semifinals and finals, trusting than a close-shave loss to a solid team wouldn’t cause anything drastic to happen to the likely NCAA Tournament bracket under those circumstances. As it stands the Zags may be well-motivated to leave no doubt with a strong showing.
Brigham Young is an intriguing market as the #2 seed at (+300).
Update March 7th: The WCC bracket is clicking-along with all favored seeds prevailing so far. Late Saturday night viewers will get a treat with 2 intriguing match-ups, #4 Pacific vs #6 San Francisco and #3 Saint Mary’s vs #6 Pepperdine to follow.
Update 3/11: Gonzaga prevails 84-66 over long-time rival St. Mary’s in the WCC final. It’s worth noting, however, that the Bulldogs were exposed for a weakness – free-throw shooting – in the semifinal vs San Francisco before escaping with a 4-point win.
Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Championships (March 6th – March 9th)
“SoCon” is Twitter short-hand for “social conservative” in addition to being CBB lingo, but those of all political persuasions will enjoy a compact Southern Conference tourney featuring Men’s and Women’s teams from strong hoops programs like Furman and North Carolina-Greensboro.
Update 3/4: East Tennessee State has closed extremely strong, winning 9 games in a row to earn a regular-season Southern championship and a #1 seed in the bracket. ETSU’s Buccaneers are a (-120) wager to prevail and reach March Madness.
Furman (+250) and UNC-Greensboro (+350) are the #2 and #3 seeds respectively as anticipated. Mercer is 33-to-1 as a 4th seed that gamblers don’t have much confidence in. But some interesting things are happening to futures lines elsewhere on the totem pole. Las Vegas consensus had pegged #7-seeded Wofford as a 24-to-1 wager while casting #5 Western Carolina in a much more optimistic light. Gamblers are impressed enough with the Terriers to move #7 to just (+1300) however, while abandoning WCU’s line to blow up to (+2200). That’s strange because Western Carolina only needs to win 3 games while Wofford must win 4. Chevez Goodwin is a talented forward for the Terriers, the kind of player who handicappers get excited about going into the postseason. The gold-rush to Wofford’s market still appears somewhat dodgy as the school suffered a losing streak to close the regular season.
Update March 7th: Among the earliest tourneys to tip off, the Southern has hosted 1 minor surprise already – #9 seed VMI roaring over #8 Samford 96-78 in a game that appeared to be closely-matched between a pair of league also-rans.
Update 3/11: The surprises continued for a while, with Chattanooga knocking-off #3 seed UNC Greensboro and #7 seed Wofford catching fire with a 3-game run into the final. But the favorites from ETSU shut down all speculation with a 14-point dismissal of the Terriers on Monday.
CAA Men’s Basketball Championship (March 7th – March 10th)
The Colonial Conference will probably wind up seeding Hofstra #1 with William & Mary, Delaware, and Towson getting the next 3 slots. The #1 – thru – #6 seeds are granted byes into the quarterfinals.
Update 3/4: Hofstra is indeed the top seed in the Colonial tournament, with a (+200) futures betting line to win the event. Judging merely from the Las Vegas and London numbers, however, we can see that the CAA is expected to have a much more-competitive tourney than a lot of its rivals.
William & Mary is a (+600) pick as the #2 seed. #3 seed Charleston is a (+500) wager and #5 Delaware is at (+700). The truly eye-popping line on the odds board is Northeastern (+275) at shorter than 3-to-1 odds despite a #6 seed and a quarterfinal bout with Towson. It’s hard to cross-reference all of the numbers at once without the right software, but I’m not seeing a lot of 3-to-1 lines on #6 seeds to win their league titles! What is it about the Northeastern Huskies that makes a lowly seed so dangerous?
The Huskies slipped below .500 at Delaware on February 20th, but have been playing well since then, beating Drexel and James Madison by a combined 29 points before just falling short in a comeback bid vs Towson. Sharpshooting senior guard Justin Roland is another reason bettors are taking a chance. Roland is hitting 40% of his 3-point attempts and has averaged more than 20 points-per-game this season.
Update March 7th: Hofstra remains a 2-to-1 pick, while Northeastern’s odds have leveled-off at (+300).
Update 3/11: Hofstra Pride was bolstered (see what we did there?) when #6 seed Northeastern managed to climb all the way to the title tilt. But it was no great advantage for the #1 – Hofstra had to fight through a 70-61 win to claim the “double” conference crown and await a healthy NCAA seeding.
Summit League Men’s Basketball Championship (March 7th – March 10th)
A straightforward 3-round tourney with 8 schools playing in the quarterfinals, the event will feature South Dakota State or its rival North Dakota State as #1 seed.
Update 3/4: North Dakota State is best-known for having an FBS football team which is allowed to compete in the FCS for some reason, leading to 99 championships in the last 100 years. NDSU basketball has no such superlative record, but then the Bison cagers don’t get to play smaller and slower athletes in every game. That hasn’t stopped the squad from earning the #1 seed in the Summit League postseason tourney and (+200) betting line to raise the hardware.
South Dakota State is right there at (+200) as the #2 seed, and should have an easy time in the Q-finals against Purdue-Fort Wayne…which we assume gets out-recruited by just plain Purdue on an annual basis.
“Just plain” South Dakota and Oral Roberts are matching (+350) futures bets as the 3rd and 4th seeds respectively.
Update March 7th: As we’ll address in more detail below, it’s almost as if bookmakers are more-comfortable handicapping tourneys already in progress or set to tip-off in 12 hours. There’s certainly no precise calendar-element to how Las Vegas is doling-out its lines, except that the bookies are very hesitant to offer odds when brackets aren’t officially set even when they’re stitched-in.
There are, in fact, odds on the Summit League tourney, and NDSU has shrunk to a (+180) wager, still infinitely-longer than it would be if the football squads were playing.
Update 3/11: North Dakota State wins the title in a blow-out, notching 700+ combined rushing and passing yards against Athletically Inferior U in the 1st half alone…oh? Whoops, thought this was football for a moment. NDSU has also won the Summit League basketball tournament.
Sun Belt Men’s Basketball Championship (March 7th – March 15th)
Much like the West Coast Conference tourney, the Sun Belt bracket grants a “triple bye” to its #1 and #2 seeds, which will most-likely be Little Rock and Texas State respectively in 2020.
Update 3/4: The Sun Belt has not yet officially seeded its bracket, though Little Rock appears to have garnered the top slot.
Update March 7th: Bovada’s offering a futures board on the Sun Belt that may actually remain up through Saturday night because there are only a couple of preliminary tournament games on 3/7. Texas State (+225) is an unlikely futures favorite despite being seeded just #3 in the bracket. #1 seed Little Rock isn’t far behind at (+280).
Update 3/12: Except for a teeny-tiny upset of #4 seed Georgia State by #5 Georgia Southern, all is going as planned in the Sun Belt tourney. Little Rock bet slip-holders are feeling good since the Trojans get to face a 5th seed in Saturday’s semifinals while South Alabama and Texas State have to square-off in a grudge match. But the GaSo Eagles have scored 162 points in 2 postseason games and may not be a weak underdog this weekend.
Mid-American Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 9th – March 14th)
#5 through #12 seeds from the MAC will face play-in games to get to the quarterfinals, followed by a 2-day break for all teams, and then a rapid-fire elimination bracket for the remaining 8 programs.
Update March 7th: We try to keep our promises at all times, dear reader, but many online sportsbooks are being extremely selective when it comes to futures odds on the conference tourneys. Your reporter feels almost amateurish saying so, but apart from certain legally/geographically-blocked odds out of London here and there, there just aren’t a lot of championship futures lines available as of the 1st weekend of play.
It’s not about timing. There are just as many odds being held-out on by bookmakers on an equal-opportunity basis. Many events which are already set-in-stone have no gambling numbers, while there are also short-term odds springing up on brackets already in action.
The caution out of Sin City (and Costa Rica) is understandable. Handicappers on this side of the pond are observing a less-predictable landscape than ever. There have already been many upsets and Cinderella bids at conference-tourney time on a yearly basis, but often involving the top leagues in the NCAA. Schools like Duke and Kansas know they are likely to receive a dominant seeding at March Madness whether or not they happen to beat some tiny squad on a hot shooting streak in the preliminary “tournament” finals. The tournament final is what the Blue Devils and Jayhawks are obsessed with winning. They’ll already face enough small-ball and FIBA-style teams for a career along the way. In 2020, however, teams that have every reason to play hard are battling to outcomes that simply do not compute.
A new decade has been heralded by a round of mind-numbing surprises in league play. “Arch Madness” has already seen its 1st, 2nd, and 3rd seeds fall as underdogs like Drake and Valparaiso advance in the opening weekend. #5 seeded Hampton upset Longwood and Radford in the Big South tournament, and will face #2 Winthrop for a seed in the big dance. Even favored #1 seed Robert Morris gave Colonial alumni a scare in an early round, eke-ing out a 1-point win over #8 St. Francis of Brooklyn.
So the bookies could be just a little bit rattled. We’ll report on what lines are available as of Saturday 3/7, and otherwise update NCAAM readers with key seeding developments. Scroll up and down for updates on tournaments which are already underway.
Update 3/12: MAC Men’s Basketball Tournament games are being held in a restricted, almost-empty Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland due to the coronavirus outbreak. The only silver lining to a huge bummer is that the tourney becomes a beta-test for what is likely to be an NCAA Tournament played under the same strange circumstances.
Top MAC seed Akron is only a (-4.5) point spread favorite over #8 Ohio in Thursday’s quarterfinals. #12 seed Miami of Ohio upset the Buffalo Bulls in the preliminary round and is only a (+2.5) underdog vs #4 seed NIU.
ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 10th – March 14th)
A marquee postseason title will be decided on 3/14 following an ACC tourney featuring some of the biggest and best-known programs in college hoops, including Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, and the defending D1 national champion Virginia Cavaliers.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Fans await an event that is considered among the gems of the conference-tourney slate. ACC powerhouses are jockeying for position atop the standings and will engage in Senior Night shoot-outs to determine #1 and #2 conference seeds. Louisville visits Virginia in a promising afternoon game, Duke faces rival North Carolina, and a 5-loss Florida State squad hosts Boston College with an opportunity to win the regular-season ACC crown with a victory.
Update 3/12: The ACC tourney is still allowing arenas to fill, for better or worse. Unlikely regular-season champion Florida State is a (-7.5) favorite over #8 Clemson in today’s quarterfinal round.
MAAC Men’s Basketball Championship (March 10th – March 14th)
Atlantic City will host every game in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and is expecting a pair of saintly favorites in the Siena Saints and St. Peter’s Peacocks.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Siena has sealed the top seed (say that 5 times fast) and a season trophy with a 9-game active winning streak in late winter.
Update 3/12: MAAC games are now attendance-restricted, but not entirely closed to the public. Siena passed its maiden test of the postseason with a 63-49 win over the 9th-seeded Manhattan Jaspers as guard Manny Camper and forward Sammy Friday combined for 27 points and 15 boards.
(Warning: Three Stooges reference in 3…2…1…)
Say, Jasper, what comes after 63-49? Why, a berth in the semifinals on (Sammy) Friday. That’s the spirit. Heh heh, ah heh heh. Heh.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 10th – March 14th)
Scope Arena in Norfolk, VA will host all games in the MEAC championship tourney, featuring excellent squads North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T alongside a “host” bid from Norfolk State.
Update March 7th: Home-court advantage is a pretty big deal in college hoops, and Norfolk State is a (+170) betting favorite to handle all-comers at Norfolk Scope Arena despite a 3rd seed in the event. #1 seed North Carolina Central is getting action at (+270) at MyBookie while North Carolina A&T is a less-popular choice at (+350).
Update 3/12: NC Central and North Carolina A&T are off to roaring starts and into the semifinals. Not sure I’m feeling great if I’m holding a Norfolk State futures slip, since the Spartans will need to beat 3 opponents in 3 days beginning with pesky Coppin State.
SWAC Basketball Tournament (March 10th – March 14th)
The Southwestern Athletic Conference tourney is likely to give its #1 seed to Prairie View A&M, a program which received a First Four bid in 2019 (only the 2nd March Madness appearance in the school’s history) but lost to fellow #16 seed Farleigh-Dickinson before reaching the Round of 64.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Prairie View’s regular season is not over, but the Panthers have a 2-game lead in the league and a #1 postseason seed sewn-up.
Update 3/12: All 4 top seeds have advanced to the semifinals. Strangely, there hasn’t been a close game in the SWAC postseason yet. #2 seed Southern sleep-walked through the 1st half of a quarterfinal with Alabama State before rolling the hapless Hornets 67-53, and Grambling State did hang around for a while against Texas Southern before losing 75-62, but organizers are hoping for something a little more re-watchable in the next round.
Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 11th – March 14th)
The Big 12 conference boasts national-championship contenders like Kansas and Texas Tech, but its postseason tournament will take place in a hurry, with 4 days of non-stop basketball at the Spring Center in Kansas City, MO.
Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 11th – March 14th)
Yet another premier hoops conference – featuring 2018 national champs Villanova – is squeezing its tourney into the shortest time frame possible so that contending squads can spend less than half a week on the court before gearing-up for the NCAA Tournament. Sensing a pattern yet?
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Like the ACC, the Big East standings are log-jammed at the top with key Senior Night match-ups helping to determine the bracket. Creighton and Seton Hall will clash while Villanova visits potential-spoiler Georgetown.
Update 3/12: We’re sad to say WagerBop’s sentimental favorite Georgetown Hoyas are out of the Big East tourney, and so are live spectators as of Thursday’s games. The pandemic of cold-like symptoms claims another live sports victim.
The Big East bracket becomes an even more high-profile beta test for what the NCAA Tournament without public attendance will be like.
Allow this reporter to offer a few words of consolation to those newbies who have never witnessed world-class athletes playing without fanfare in the stands. It won’t be a dead or unexciting atmosphere. We don’t give the student-athletes themselves – or their coaches or team employees – enough credit for creating the rousing vibe of a big win or an epic comeback. I have seen teams gather momentum like snowballs in the Alps without so many as 10 supporters in the seats, just as teams with massive crowds cheering them on call fall flat in the 2nd half or the final 5:00. The former is still more fun to watch in an empty gymnasium than the latter is enjoyable from a packed house.
An interesting angle is whether cheerleaders will be allowed to perform. Cheerleaders are athletes after all – it could be a national scandal if other college athletes are allowed to perform in March while their female counterparts are banned. Of course, the NCAA has every right to ask mascots and bullhorn-squads to stay home – without a crowd they’re all but useless anyway and we definitely don’t need them sweating around the players.
The overriding question is whether there will be something, anything for NCAA ballers to look to for motivation other than themselves, their parents, and their coaches during March Madness games. If we’re truly destined to see (and hear) a few morning-practice scenes on the road to the Final Four, then handicappers should start considering which NCAAM squads are the best self-motivators. Who has flourished with little fan support on the road? Will small-conference teams enjoy the advantage of mad experience in sparsely-attended games?
Scroll down to the March Madness update section for 1 particular school which might benefit from a quiet, tense battle for NCAA hardware.
Big Sky Conference Men’s Basketball Championship (March 11th – March 14th)
The Big Sky’s postseason tourney will include at least a couple of likely 20-win squads including the Eastern Washington Eagles and Northern Colorado Bears.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Eastern Washington must defeat Weber State in a final regular-season game to clinch 1st place and top seed.
Update 3/12: #11 seed Idaho State pulled-off a minor upset of #6 Northern Arizona on Wednesday, riding a sizable halftime lead and a double-double from forward Chier Maker to a 64-62 1st-round victory. (We’re not sure about cheer-leaders in the Big East tournament, but Chier Makers are evidently allowed to perform in the Big Sky.)
C-USA Men’s Basketball Championship (March 11th – March 14th)
North Texas is currently the front-runner in Conference USA, but the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs are on a winning streak as of 2/24 and could still attain the #1 seed with a hot regular-season finish.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. UNT has held on for a season trophy and #1 seed.
Update 3/12: The postseason hasn’t been kind to a whole lot of #8 seeds. #9 C-USA bid Florida Atlantic beat #8 Old Dominion in the opening round on Wednesday, though you can’t call it an upset since FAU brought a superior W/L record to the court and had only been out-scored < 15 points by the Monarchs in 2 conference games.
Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 11th – March 14th)
Arizona State is holding a slender lead in the Pac-12’s regular-season race, but would have to win 3 games in a row to claim a postseason conference title due to the lack of a “triple-bye” system. The entire Pac-12 tourney will be held at the iconic T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Southland Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 11th – March 14th)
Stephen F. Austin packs a pretty mean game of basketball for just a lone guy out there. Just kidding – the SFA Lumberjacks are currently 15-1 in the Southland Conference and will receive a double-bye in the postseason tourney.
Update March 7th: Southland is 1 of the leagues for which Oddsshark isn’t even reporting old lines. Perhaps there still haven’t been any. But the only seed up for grabs is #2 – SFA sewed-up the #1 long ago.
Update 3/12: “Southland” sounds like a TV crime show, but there’s no mystery about how the opening rounds of the staggered bracket are going. The Northwestern State Demons (oh yeah) and the Lamar Cardinals are into the 2nd round following breezy wins over Texas A&M Corpus Christi and McNeese State respectively. Attendance has been restricted due to the coronavirus. Yep…just about like you’d have predicted…so far.
SEC Men’s Basketball Championship (March 11th – March 15th)
John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats appear to have an inside track to a #1 postseason seed in the Southeastern Conference, but the bracket will also include LSU, Florida, and 2019 Final Four representative Auburn.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. No one knows who the #2 will be due to an epic logjam in the SEC standings, but UK appears to have it figured out this season.
Update 3/12: Already a small surprise in the SEC bracket – or maybe just a casualty of diminishing returns. #12 seed Ole Miss looked uninterested and unprepared in an 81-63 preliminary beat-down from #13 Georgia, a team with an optimistic (+5.5) underdog line vs #6 Florida this afternoon.
Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 11th – March 15th)
All tip-offs in the Big Ten bracket will take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, where schools like Michigan, Wisconsin, and the conference front-running Maryland Terrapins hope to cash-in with a postseason title.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. We’d love to publish a stand-alone Big Ten preview, but there are only so many slots for NCAAM articles at once on an international sports site, and the previews must go to the conferences most-interesting from a gambler’s perspective. That includes saving room for late-starting tourneys. The schools are still finishing-up the season anyway, and odds are sure to arrive once seeds have been puzzled-out among the iconic programs.
Update 3/12: The Big Ten is yet another conference moving toward restricted game attendance as the tournament gets rolling.
Bovada is has put out a smattering of moneylines late on Thursday morning, and the Iowa Hawkeyes are an interesting (-120) favorite to beat Minnesota, a #12 seed that Iowa has beaten twice this season.
Atlantic-10 Basketball Championship (March 11th – March 15th)
The Dayton Flyers are unbeaten in A10 play and should enjoy the #1 seed in a tourney also featuring Richmond and St. Bonaventure, the latter of which has come a long way since existing only to lose to Notre Dame in the 1990s.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Speaking of iconic basketball locales, the once-professional hoops hotbed St. Louis has been given an “honorary” 500-to-1 national championship line from Bovada Sportsbook. That’s not to imply that the NCAA’s Billikens would have that slim of a shot at an actual Cinderella run on the national stage – the team’s fast break is uncannily good. But the Gateway City cagers are a likely 4th seed in the A10 tourney, losing in which would doom the program to an NIT bid in 2020.
Update 3/12: Limited attendance is the word at the A10 tourney, which tips-off in earnest today following a preliminary round for double-digit seeds. #5 seed St. Bonnies is only a (-220) favorite over #12 seed George Mason in a tightly-contested and deep basketball league.
WAC Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 12th – March 14th)
New Mexico State has put together a marvelous late-season winning streak, and stand unbeaten in the WAC with only 3 games left. The #1-seeded Aggies will compete at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas beginning with the quarterfinals on 3/12.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. #1 seed New Mexico State is the type of small-fry team that could actually earn an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament…were it not for a disappointing 4-loss road record acquired before the Aggies got things rolling. California Baptist backed-into the postseason with a crushing loss to NMSU, and thus ironically wouldn’t be considered a “quality” #2 seed to lose to in a final. WagerBop College Sports Rule #1: Outstanding teams make their own conference look weaker than it really is.
Update 3/12: A coronavirus scare caused the postponement of a women’s WAC quarterfinal, but the men’s event is soldiering ahead in Sin City.
American Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship (March 12th – March 15th)
Cincinnati, Houston, and Tulsa will contest for a #1 seed in the AAC tourney over the final 2 weeks of the season. Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas will host all of the games, so Houston and Tulsa (theoretically) should have some sort of “home court” advantage over the Bearcats. Memphis may contend to win the event but has weakened by the loss of James Wiseman in 2019-20.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Tulsa fell far short of sweeping Cincinnati and Tulsa, and despite a 1-game lead in the AAC standings, must prevail over pesky Wichita State in its own building to earn a conference belt and #1 bracket position.
Update 3/12: Bovada is offering futures on the AAC winner as of Thursday AM (and hopefully until the games begin this afternoon). Bookmakers think Houston is a (+175) favorite with the nearest choice Cincinnati at (+375) futures odds. It’s worth mentioning that Houston is not the tourney’s #1 seed – Cincinnati is. Wichita State is a popular Cinderella pick as usual at (+450).
Big West Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 12th – March 15th)
UC Irvine has the #1 seed in the Big West tourney, in which only the top 8 teams in the regular-season standings are entered, just about locked up. The Anteaters will not receive a bye in the quarterfinals.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. This conference is nothing but California-Irvine and a “B-flight,” though it’s worth noting that the Anteaters are just .500 on the road this season.
Update 3/12: To heck with matching odds to the same sportsbook in a post when possible, during March in college basketball, it’s not always possible! Not all bookmakers are as stingy as Bovada has been with futures odds on conference victors, and MyBookie is serving-up some Pacific Time Zone-oriented odds for late-starting brackets. The offshore sportsbook is offering bets on UC Irvine at (-110) to win the Big West Basketball Tournament, while #3 seed UC Santa Barbara is the consensus-underdog futures pick at (+325).
It’s easy to see why #2 seed Cal State Northridge (+950) is such an unpopular choice. Not only do the Matadors play a high-tempo running game that can wear on a squad physically by the postseason, the Big West tournament will be held without spectators. That means there’ll be no electricity and chaos in the building when CSNU starts vying for steals and easy buckets. Still, gamblers may be over-thinking the empty arena’s effect, and you don’t spot a lot of #2 postseason seeds at close to 10-to-1 futures odds.
Ivy League Men’s Basketball Tournament (March 14th – March 15th)
Remember those short little “tournaments” of 4 local teams that dot the prep basketball calendar across the Midwest? The Ivy League is doing something similar on March 14th and March 15th, except that 1 of the teams will qualify with an auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. Alumni of Harvard, Yale, and other schools will be pleased that their alma maters must only win 2 games to prevail. But with only 4 seeds in the tourney, it’s less likely that anyone will be served-up a weak opponent.
Update March 7th: No current odds due to bookmaker’s preference. Many score ago, it was “Harvard Beats Yale, 29 to 29.” Now the headline is “Yale Beats Harvard Before Tip-Off.” Even if the Crimson crush Yale by a million points in the season-ending classic on Saturday, the Bulldogs have already clinched an important top seed in a very short tournament.
Yale has also consistently impressed against big-deal schools like North Carolina, Clemson, and even Penn State in 2020, giving the Bulldogs somewhat of a case for an at-large March Madness bid should rivals take revenge in the short term.
Update 3/12: The Ivy League postseason has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yale will advance to the NCAA Tournament.
2020 NCAA Tournament: Futures Odds and Likely #1 Seeds
Update 3/12: Kansas (+450) in ’20 is as safe an NCAA Tournament championship futures bet is ever going to feel in this hoops landscape, but WagerBop has an eye on Gonzaga (+900) at half the price (or twice the payoff on a winner).
Gonzaga’s weakness, its Achilles Heel in 2020, has been free-throw shooting. Top 25 teams have struggled to win on the road due to a variety of factors – distractions, hostile crowd tactics, failure to convert open looks. But there is direct evidence that the ‘Zags have gotten worse from the foul line in the thunderous din of enemy crowd noise, as misses and mocking cheers ramp-up the anxiety.
Yes, the Bulldogs actually shot well from the charity stripe in the late-season loss at BYU. But in Gonzaga’s early slip-up vs Michigan on neutral hardwood, the ‘Zags dinged free throw after free throw off the rim as the Wolverines’ eyes gleamed. Filip Petrušev was terrible from the charity stripe when Gonzaga got into trouble at Arizona this season, prevailing 84-80 over the Wildcats despite shooting just over 50% on free throws. In the West Coast Conference postseason semifinals the St. Marys Gaels dared the Bulldogs to hit free throws and kept the game close the entire 2nd half. That’s a blueprint for how underdogs will try to handle Gonzaga later this month.
Empty (or almost-empty) venues are a mediocre free-throw shooting team’s dream come true, allowing the squad to recreate the conditions of practice during a game. It’s got me thinking hard about Gonzaga at 9-to-1 odds, a program for which an Achilles Heel might have just been fitted in a warm boot in the unlikeliest of ways.
Update March 7th: ALL KINDS OF CURRENT ODDS on potential NCAA Tournament champions – due to “bookmakers’ preference” in booking action once in a while.
Kansas is a (+550) BetOnline wager to cut down the nets in Atlanta and also the closest thing to a proven commodity that you’ll find in the college game. KU simply does not lose often against anybody, whether the #1 AP-ranked Jayhawks are facing #25 or #5 or #3 or #1. They all fall before the tall powerhouse.
There’s only 1 thing probably holding Kansas back from taking even more action to-win, and that’s that the Jayhawks are more of a 1-man show in 2020. Devon Dotson and Isaiah Moss are terrific guards no doubt, but Udoka Azubuike stirs the drink, a physically awesome player who would be punishing NBA defenses in the paint if he had chosen to turn pro already. Azubuike just dominated the game with TCU on Senior Night in Lawrence, scoring 31 points to almost out-pace the other 4 starters combined in a 9-point win. (As Charles Barkley once said of Stephen Curry after a brilliant 1st quarter, “He’s winnin’.”)
It’s not that there’s a limit on what the Jayhawks can do with Udoba, it’s what the ceiling would be without him. Any lone key component can suffer an injury and thus become a missing key component. Without their center for much of the penultimate Big 12 tilt vs rival Kansas State, the Jayhawks were unable to hold a comfortable lead and only beat the 9-20 Wildcats 62-58.
Bettors have been kind and faithful to big-time programs who’ve slipped up in late February. Gonzaga is an 8-to-1 futures bet despite late-season episodes. Duke may be a strange sleeper pick at (+1200) after pacing through much of the season so far.
On previously-reported gambling lines, there is no movement with the Baylor Bears (+900) but Louisville (+1600) and Maryland (+2000) have each seen decreasing action at betting books. In fact Louisville may be the weakest 16-to-1 national title pick seen in a long time if recent outcomes are any indication – the Cardinals have gone 3-3 in 6 games with ugly losses to Clemson and Georgia Tech. Meanwhile the Terrapins are on an icy 1-3 stretch and could face any number of challenges in the Big Ten before stepping into the big dance.
Check back soon for March Madness updates!
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.