College Basketball Best Bets: Mid-Major Conference Tournament Picks, Sleepers

College Basketball Best Bets: Mid-Major Conference Tournament Picks, Sleepers

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

We've had a handful of teams already secure passage to the NCAA Tournament with automatic bids, and there are a handful of others smaller conferences and mid-major leagues deciding their championships later this week.

To quote Andy Williams around the holidays, "It's the most wonderful time of the year." Really, THIS is when that classic holiday favorite should be sung, because it really applies to March, and all of its mayhem.

We have a handful of exciting tournaments still left to be played, kicking off either Wednesday or Thursday, while wrapping up this weekend. Let's get started!


Big West Tournament Picks

The Big West Tournament technically begins Tuesday, March 7, but it is extremely unlikely the winner of the 8/9 game between Cal State Bakersfield-Cal State Northridge will challenge top-seed UC Irvine in the Quarterfinals on Thursday, March 9. It is also equally unlikely the winner of the 7/10 game between Long Beach State and Cal Poly will topple 2-seed UC Santa Barbara, so we'll proceed.

Irvine (22-10, 15-5) held off UCSB (24-7, 15-5) for the top seed in the tourney, thanks in large part to a 70-59 win in Santa Barbara on Feb. 15. The Anteaters won eight of the final 10 games, although UCI was a dismal 1-5 ATS in the final six games of the regular season. UCSB won and covered the final four, but a three-game losing skid from Feb. 15-20 proved too costly to overcome.

While UCSB and UC Irvine (both +225) are the co-favorites to win the tourney, I like Cal State Fullerton (+500) are a sleeper. The Titans were a force down the stretch, winning the final six games of the regular season, while going 4-1-1 ATS during the span. CSF also won eight of its final nine, including a 1-point win Jan. 26 over Irvine, a 1-point win at Hawaii (+500) on Feb. 11, and an impressive 14-point victory at Santa Barbara on Feb. 20. 

Nobody was playing better than Fullerton down the stretch, and it represents a tremendous value for a chance to multiply your initial wager by five times.

Big West Tournament Sleeper

  • Cal State-Fullerton (+500)


Conference USA Tournament Picks

Conference USA kicks off its tourney on Wednesday, March 8, with the lowest seeds battling it out. The top teams, including the Florida Atlantic Owls (28-3, 18-2), begin Thursday. 

FAU spent a handful of weeks in The Associated Press' Top 25 rankings, as well as the Coaches Poll. It was the first time EVER that FAU earned a ranking. Head coach Dusty May's Owls are looking for just the second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament, as FAU won the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament as a 3-seed back in 2002.

FAU went on to earn a 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and it was tied with 2-seed Alabama late into the second half at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, SC. Eventually, the Crimson Tide held on for an 86-78 win.

The Owls (+175 at BetMGM) are co-chalk with UAB (+175) to win the Conference USA Tournament at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. FAU and UAB get underway Thursday, March 9, and North Texas (+250) is also among the teams favored in the tourney.

FAU swept 2-seed North Texas (25-6, 16-4) in a pair of 4-point victories, but the Owls did lose once to UAB (23-8, 14-6). Going with the Owls to go wire-to-wire in the tourney is the best play, but if you're looking for a dark horse, consider UNT.

The Mean Green are super methodical on offense, going for just 63.7 PPG. If UNT gets into a close game, it is a good enough free-throw shooting team at 74.6% to hang. But defense is where its bread is buttered, as the Mean Green led the nation in scoring defense at just 55.4 PPG allowed. North Texas held the opposition to 40.1% (18th in the country) in defensive field-goal percentage, while limiting teams to 31.0% (39th) on 3-pointers. We all know, defense wins championships, and the Mean Green could really be an irritant in March.

C-USA Tournament Chalk & Sleeper Pick

  • Florida Atlantic (+175)
  • North Texas (+240)


MAC Tournament Picks

The Mid-American Conference (MAC) tips off its tourney Thursday, March 9 at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland. The league invites just the top eight teams from the league, meaning four teams (Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan) are the little piggies who stay home.

Toledo (25-6, 16-2) was sharp throughout the season, and it just held off a charge from Kent State (25-6, 15-3) to win the regular-season championship. Akron (21-10, 13-5) also had a strong season, and the Zips are the defending champions. In fact, Akron is vying to become the first team to win back-to-back MAC titles since Buffalo (2018-19). Ball State (20-11, 11-7) rounds out the 20-win group.

Ohio (18-13, 10-8) was also very dangerous at times, going for 78.6 PPG (32nd in the country), while going bombs away from behind the 3-point line at 37.2% (39th).

Going back to Akron, this is a team with several potent weapons. Xavier Castaneda (21.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.0 SPG) lead the conference in scoring, and Enrique Freeman (16.5 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.1 BPG) is a terror at both ends of the floor.

RayJ Dennis (19.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.3 APG, 1.5 SPG) led the way for Toledo, and he was one of four players on the Rockets to go for 11.5 PPG or more this season. JT Shumate (16.5 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.2 SPG) is versatile, and Setric Millner Jr. (15.9 RPG, 4.7 RPG, 42.1% 3PT) can pick them both up, when needed.

Toledo ended up sweeping Akron this season, but the Zips have the experience of last season's postseason run. Akron (+350 at BetMGM) is a better value due to its experience over Toledo (+150) to win the league tourney. Kent State (+200) is a dangerous team, too, and it beat the Rockets by 12 in the only regular-season matchup on Jan. 10.

If you're looking for a sleeper, Ohio (+1000) is nearly a mirror image of Toledo offensively, and could really be a pain in someone's side if it gets hot. OU had consistency issues at times, but the Bobcats split with Akron in the regular season, won seven of nine down the stretch.

MAC Tournament Best Bets

  • Akron (+350)
  • Also Considered: Kent State (+200) 
  • Sleeper: Ohio (+1000)


MEAC Tournament Picks

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) starts its tourney on Wednesday, March 8 at the Norfolk Scope Arena, with top-seed Howard (19-12, 11-3) in action. Howard sputtered a little down the stretch, with consecutive losses at Morgan State and North Carolina Central, putting its regular-season title hopes in jeopardy. But it recovered late, including an emphatic 87-67 win over Norfolk State (20-10, 9-5) in the regular-season finale.

Oddly enough, the No. 1 seed Bison is NOT the favorite to win the league tourney. Howard (+300 at BetMGM) actually has the third-best odds to win. NC Central (+200) is the MEAC chalk thanks to a seven-game win streak to close out the regular season. The Eagles were knocking on the door, finishing just one-game back of the Bison, winning 68-60 against Howard in Durham on Feb. 25 as a 5.5-point favorite.

Justin Wright (16.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.4 SPG), Brendan Medley-Bacon (12.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 69.1% FG) and Kris Monroe (10.0 PPG, 5.6 RPG) gave NCCU three players to average at least 10.0 PPG and 5.0 RPG during the regular season, showing the versatility of the Eagles.

It wouldn't be surprising to see the Eagles fly away with the NCAA Tournament bid,= and a likely trip back to the First Four in Dayton. The Eagles have been to Dayton four times in the past, including three straight trips from 2017-19. It has never won in four tries in the Big Dance, but this team is talented enough to make some noise. I like the experience of NC Central to get it done in Norfolk this weekend.

MEAC Tournament Best Bet

  • NC Central (+200)


SWAC Tournament Picks

The Southwestern Atlantic Conference begins its tourney on Wednesday, March 8 at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Ala.

Grambling State (22-8, 15-3) was the class of the conference, and it is the only 20-win team in the league. Not only were the Tigers 13-2 at home, but it is the only team with a winning record away from home, going 9-6 in road and neutral-site games during the regular season. Grambling was also an impressive 17-11 against the spread (ATS), while cashing the Under 19 times in 28 games overall.

The Tigers have a three-headed scoring monster with Cam Christon (12.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 37.1% 3PT), Carte'Are Gordon (12.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG) and Shawndarius Cowart (11.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.9 SPG). In fact, the latter had a triple-double against Southern back on Jan. 14, going for 12 points, 14 boards and 10 dimes.

Grambling State (+110 at BetMGM) is easily the chalk, but Alcorn State (+400) and Southern (+400) are second, with Prairie View A&M (+450) also among the next-best betting options.

Alcorn State topped Grambling 63-60 at Willis Reed Court at the Fredrick C. Hobdy Center back on Jan. 30, stunning the Tigers at home in the only regular-season matchup, so Grambling is definitely weary of the Braves. 

Alcorn also streaks in with wins and covers in three straight to close out the regular season, while winning nine of the past 10 games outright. The money is still on Grambling to win it all, but Alcorn State is where the value is, for a chance to quadruple your initial wager.

Southern was swept by Grambling, although it did top Alcorn back on Jan. 28 in New Orleans. And one of the losses to the Tigers was in OT in the HBCU Classic at NBA All-Star weekend in Salt Lake City. Still, the Jaguars are a less attractive play than the Braves at the same price.

SWAC Tournament Futures Options

  • Grambling State (+110)
  • Alcorn State (+400)
  • Southern (+400)
  • Prairie View A&M (+450)


For up-to-date information on the latest college basketball odds and props from multiple sportsbooks, check out the College Basketball odds page on RotoWire.

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Daniel Dobish
Hockey writer, unskilled fourth liner, fantasy and gambling industry veteran, handicapper, FSWA's 2011 fantasy hockey writer of the year nominee and four-time FSWA award winner. Twitter: @danieledobish
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