Betting the conference tournaments

Every year some of the hardest things to predict are college basketball conference tournaments. Even teams that finished last during the regular season can put together a few wins and automatically qualify for the big 65-team NCAA tourney. March Madness has officially begun, which means anything can happen.

Here are some predictions anyway, for the bettable conferences that begin tourneys before next Thursday.

Big East - Ten different teams have a shot at making it to the Big Dance from what appears to be the country's strongest conference. Villanova, West Virginia and Connecticut are expected to go far. Prediction: Connecticut.

Pacific-10 - It looks like a down year for the Pac-10. The guess here is Washington will repeat in the tourney.

Atlantic 10 - Last year George Washington won the conference tourney and earned the A-10's only invitation to the NCAAs. In this season's league play, the Colonials have run the table, but an injury to their center makes them vulnerable. Prediction: The upset pick is for Xavier to win at home in Cincinnati.

USA - Being undefeated in conference and at home, Memphis is a cinch to take the title.

West Coast - Also without a loss in league play and playing at home, Gonzaga is everybody's choice. The Zags should at least reach the NCAA's Sweet 16, which they haven't done since 2001.

Missouri Valley - As many as six teams are receiving recognition from this very strong conference, but Creighton usually finds a way to win the tourney. In the NCAA tournament the last four years, MVC schools have covered or pushed all their first round games against the point spread.

Colonial - Any of the top four teams here would be a good choice, but the call is for NC-Wilmington to take it. Do not underestimate any CAA team come NCAA tournament time, as they consistently cover first round games.

Horizon - Last year's run to the Sweet 16 gives Wisconsin-Milwaukee the edge.

Mid-American - Kent is the best team from this underrated conference, and already deserves a NCAA bid.

Mountain West - Every MWC tourney has produced an upset, so the call here is for Air Force.

Big West - Pacific.

WAC - Nevada is on fire, at home, and eager to atone for last year's embarrassing quarter-final loss to Boise State.

As far as the smaller bettable conferences are concerned, the regular season champions and favorites to win so far are:

Big Sky - Northern Arizona.

Sun Belt - Western Kentucky.

Ohio Valley - Murray State.

Metro Atlantic - Manhattan.

Southern - Georgia Southern. Expect the Southern Conference representative to cover its first round NCAA tournament game.

In conferences you can't bet on until the NCAA tournament, the Patriot League, MEAC and Atlantic Sun schools should cover in the first round. The American East and Big South teams also look like they will be good bets.

The Ivy League has no conference tournament, and will be represented by regular season champ Pennsylvania. But the talent in the Ivy has dried up in recent years, so we'll most likely go against the Quakers in the first round.

The remaining four conference tourneys begin next Thursday.

Note - For the next three weeks this article will be appearing in Thursday's newspaper because of college basketball coverage.


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