Nothing's for sure in college tourneys

Joe Ellison

Every year some of the hardest things to predict are college basketball conference tournaments. Even teams that finished last in their leagues can put together a few wins and automatically qualify for the 65-team NCAA tourney. March Madness has officially begun, and if one thing's for sure, it's that nothing's for sure.

When trying to predict conference tournament champions, I pick teams with the best coaches who hopefully have their clubs peaking right now. Good player talent is great to have, of course, but you would especially like to choose squads with strong senior leadership, NCAA tourney experience and a solid basketball tradition. Also, owning a home court advantage is a huge bonus, but if a team isn't at home, it must play well on the road to be considered an able candidate for the league title.

Here are predictions for the bettable college basketball conference tourneys that begin between now and next Thursday:

Big East - Pittsburgh made a huge statement Tuesday by dominating at Providence 88-61, and Connecticut's player of the year candidate Omeka Okafor is not healthy enough to compete at his highest level three days in a row. Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Atlantic 10 - Even though Dayton is at home and won in 2003 there with not the best team in the conference, St. Joseph's is undefeated and my pick.

Conference USA - Any one of six schools can win this tourney, but Louisville won at home last season with the third-best team, so I'll take the host Cincinnati.

West Coast - Gonzaga had won three consecutive conference tournaments before losing to San Diego in the title game last year. The Zags are undefeated in league, and no one will sneak up on them this time. The choice is Gonzaga.

Mid-American - The last two MAC tourneys have finished true to form, and Western Michigan is the best team.

Missouri Valley - Southern Illinois is 17-1 in conference and virtually assured of an NCAA berth, which could open things up for a hungry squad like Creighton who has won four of five MVC tourneys. Still, I like Southern Illinois.

Colonial - Virginia Commonwealth owns the best record, and if my memory serves me right, the Rams are at home in Richmond.

Metro Atlantic - Well-coached Manhattan won in 2003 as the No. 1 seed, and the Jaspers carry with them a 16-2 conference mark.

Sun Belt - Western Kentucky won on its home court the last two years, but the Hilltoppers entered as the best team in those instances. Louisiana-Lafayette is the finest club now and my choice.

Big Sky - I would love to pick my alma mater Cal State-Sacramento, but Eastern Washington is head and shoulders above the rest here. As regular season champion, Eastern Washington gets a big advantage by hosting the tourney, and should prevail.

Big West - Utah State is nationally ranked and should be invited to the NCAA tournament regardless of what happens. The team that is getting no respect is Pacific, even though the Tigers are tied atop the standings. This tourney has produced upsets two consecutive times, so I'll take Pacific.

Western Athletic - Tulsa has won three of four WAC tournaments, but it won't be at home this year. UTEP currently holds the best record, but there's no way I'm picking against Nevada.

- Here's a look at which teams have been the best moneymakers so far in the NBA going into Wednesday night's action.

Best teams against the spread - Indiana, Miami, Utah, Minnesota, San Antonio and Sacramento.

The worst - Orlando, the Los Angeles Lakers, Washington, Phoenix and New Orleans.

Most powerful home teams - Dallas, Golden State, Miami, Utah and Denver.

Most feeble at home - Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Phoenix.

Strongest road warriors - Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, Toronto and San Antonio.

Weakest when visitors - The LA Lakers, Washington, Dallas, Orlando and Atlanta.

Hottest teams currently - Dallas, Utah, Minnesota and Portland.

Coldest clubs - Houston, Golden State, New Orleans, New York, Seattle and New Jersey.

Team spread records as favorites or underdogs can be found in the Pointwise Information Service, and over/under total records are in the Gold Sheet.

Note - Because of the remaining college hoops conference tourneys and the subsequent NCAA Tournament, this article will be printed in the Thursday edition of the Nevada Appeal for the next three weeks.

Joe Ellison is the Nevada Appeal Betting Columnist. Contact him at editor@nevadaappeal.com.

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