March Madness betting: Best bets, teams to fade in Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC tournaments
Welcome to championship week.
While a few bids to the NCAA men's tournament have already been handed out, the rest of the automatic qualifiers will be decided in the next six days via conference tournaments before the full bracket is unveiled on Selection Sunday.
That includes the tournaments for the top six conferences in the country — the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC. To get you prepared for the action, Yahoo Sports’ Nick Bromberg, Sam Cooper and Frank Schwab have combed through the odds and chosen teams to fade, sleepers and their best bets for each of those conferences.
We started with the ACC, Big 12 and Big East on Monday. Now it's time to dive in on the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC.
(All odds via BetMGM)
Team to fade
Nick Bromberg: Michigan finished among the four teams that tied for fifth in the conference and is at +1800 to win the tournament. But the Wolverines have to beat Rutgers and then Purdue and potentially Michigan State just to get to the tournament final. I don’t think that’s going to happen, even if Michigan needs to go on a run to get into the NCAA tournament.
Sam Cooper: Maryland (+700) has one of the most dramatic home-road splits in the country. After blowing a big lead and losing at Penn State on Sunday, the Terps finished the season with a 2-9 record in road games. Couple that record with neutral-site games, and the Terps went 4-10 away from College Park and 16-1 at home. Jahmir Young has been great and sophomore big man Julian Reese closed the season strong, but Maryland’s secondary scoring options are so inconsistent. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maryland loses to Nebraska in the second round.
Frank Schwab: I’m willing to let Purdue beat me this month, in bets and brackets. I’m fully fading them as a +150 favorite in this tournament, and as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Purdue is a good team that is 4-4 in its last eight games, and I’m going to buy that trend. Purdue could win this tournament, but I want no part of them at their odds.
Nick Bromberg: Maybe Illinois at +1000 is worth a shot? The Illini get Penn State in the first round before a potential game against Northwestern in the quarterfinals. That’s two winnable contests to get to a possible third game against Indiana. The Hoosiers have beaten Illinois both times they’ve met this season, but it feels like this Big Ten tournament is wide open.
Sam Cooper: I’ll be a homer and pick Penn State here, especially at +2500. The Nittany Lions have won five of six and drew Illinois in the second round. PSU already has posted two wins over Illinois this season, and if PSU makes it a third win, Northwestern is next. PSU beat Northwestern in Evanston and matches up well with the Wildcats. That could set up a semifinal matchup with Indiana, another team Penn State knocked off during the regular season. PSU has Jalen Pickett, one of the best guards in the country, and surrounds him with a bunch of good 3-point shooters. If the Nittany Lions get hot from the outside, they’re tough to beat.
Frank Schwab: This feels like the most random of all the conference tournaments. You could make a case for just about anyone but Northwestern and Nebraska. I don’t mind Illinois at +1000. They don’t have a bad draw to the semis (Penn State, then Northwestern). Illinois is probably the most volatile team in the league, and perhaps the variance hits a hot streak.
Sam Cooper: I don’t trust Purdue’s freshmen guards, so Indiana (+500) is the team I’d ultimately land on to win this tournament. However, I think Iowa is a better value bet at +1600. The Hawkeyes had a volatile close to the regular season, but they can beat anybody when they’re clicking. Iowa has five players who average double figures. Kris Murray is the best and most consistent of the bunch, but any of the others can explode for a huge night. Keep an eye on Payton Sandfort. He can get hot in a hurry and carry Iowa to a win or two with his outside shooting.
Frank Schwab: I’m going with Maryland (+700). The Terps are an experienced team that doesn’t have many obvious holes. But I’ll be honest: I’m not taking any futures on this tournament. I don’t trust any of these teams, and definitely will be fading most of them when the NCAA tournament starts next week.
Nick Bromberg: Even though I mentioned a possible Illinois upset of the Hoosiers above, I’m taking Indiana to win the tournament at +500. Indiana is 3-3 over its last six games but won eight of its previous nine before losses to Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa in that 3-3 stretch. I think Indiana is a better team than Northwestern and both Michigan State and Iowa are on the other side of the bracket. And this team beat Purdue twice as well.
Team to fade
Nick Bromberg: Utah finished 10-10 in the conference and look like good value at +3000. But the Utes enter the Pac-12 tournament on a five-game losing streak. Yeah, all but one of those losses came to teams ahead of the Utes in the Pac-12 standings, but Utah is going to have to pull an upset or two to win the tournament. I just don’t see it.
Sam Cooper: Arizona State (+1800) made waves when it knocked off rival Arizona with a buzzer-beater from beyond half-court back on Feb. 25. That win vaulted ASU onto the bubble, but I don’t think the Sun Devils can realistically make a run to a Pac-12 tournament championship. ASU is a strong defensive team, but is not very good on offense and shoots just 31.3% from 3. Only Cal, a team with a 3-28 record, is worse from long distance in the Pac-12. Additionally, ASU shoots below 70% from the free-throw line. That’s not a good recipe in March.
Frank Schwab: I hate to do it, but UCLA. There hasn’t been anything definitive reported about Jaylen Clark’s injury, but I’m figuring he’s out for the Pac-12 tournament at least. He’s extremely valuable to UCLA, especially on defense. It will take time for the Bruins to adjust, meaning +120 is a pass for me.
Nick Bromberg: It’s Washington State (+2000) by default for me. The Cougars have been much better over the past month and there’s really no other mid-pack team in the conference to back. Colorado is at +4000 and finished four games under .500 in Pac-12 play. Washington was also 8-12. And Cal is at +35000 for a reason after winning just three games all season long.
Sam Cooper: Yeah, Washington State could surprise. WSU is on a six-game winning streak and faces lowly Cal in the first round, setting up a meeting with Oregon. The Ducks are fighting to sneak into the NCAA tournament, but WSU beat Oregon in Pullman last month. It could happen again. A WSU win there would likely lead to a semifinal matchup with UCLA. The Bruins will likely be without Jaylen Clark, so maybe WSU could spring an upset? WSU lost by just one point to UCLA back on Dec. 30. The Cougars also have wins over USC and Arizona this season.
Frank Schwab: Let’s go three for three and make it Washington State, for all the reasons Sam and Nick mentioned.
Nick Bromberg: I still think UCLA (+120) is the team to beat with or without Jaylen Clark. He’s going to be massive to replace if he can’t play, but UCLA has shown it’s one of the best teams in the country. If USC can take out Arizona in the semifinals, the path to the Pac-12 title could be slightly easier for the Bruins.
Sam Cooper: With Jaylen Clark seemingly sidelined for UCLA, I’m going to go with Arizona at +200 for my best bet. The injury for Clark is a big blow for the Bruins, who may need a bit of time to adjust to playing without him. The Pac-12 tournament could serve as that brief adjustment period before the Big Dance and allow Arizona to capitalize and win the conference tournament.
Frank Schwab: I don’t love the odds on Arizona, though if I’m fading UCLA then they’re probably the right answer. I’m just going to ride with this WSU longshot at +2000. Hey, it’s March Madness and something crazy is going to happen this week, right?
Team to fade
Nick Bromberg: Missouri looks tantalizing at +2500 but buyer beware. The Tigers are the No. 7 favorite as the No. 4 seed in the tournament for a reason. Mizzou is 8-0 in games decided by five points or less and isn’t a very good rebounding team. The Tigers are also incapable of winning slugfests; all seven of their SEC losses came when they scored fewer than 65 points and didn’t score fewer than 66 in a conference win all season. Mizzou could beat Tennessee in the quarterfinals but that would just mean a matchup against an Alabama team that won by 21 in Columbia.
Sam Cooper: Santiago Vescovi is one of my favorite players in the country but he’s being asked to carry a heavier load than usual for Tennessee now that Zakai Zeigler, his backcourt mate, is out with a knee injury. The Vols got a fairly favorable draw in the tournament bracket, but I would need much better odds than +300 to pick them to win this tournament — especially when they’re on the same side of the bracket as Alabama. UT is great on defense, but this team is too inconsistent on offense.
Frank Schwab: It’s strange for a good league, but I can find reasons to fade all of the top teams. Alabama (+150) hasn’t been the same since the Brandon Miller news, though the Tide has mostly squeezed out wins. Tennessee (+300) lost productive point guard Zakai Zeigler to injury, which is a big blow. Kentucky (+400) has been painfully mediocre all season. I don’t trust any of them at their odds.
Nick Bromberg: Vanderbilt at +5000 is my obvious answer here. The Commodores are one of the hottest teams in the country after starting SEC play at 3-6. Vanderbilt has won eight of its last nine games to finish sixth in the conference and is set to play a Kentucky team it just took down at Rupp Arena if it wins on Thursday. If Vandy does get to the final, it will hope that someone has taken out Alabama — the Crimson Tide beat the Commodores 101-44 earlier in the season.
Sam Cooper: I like Mississippi State at +5000 quite a bit. The Bulldogs are on the NCAA tournament bubble but have a favorable second-round matchup against a Florida team that is without star big man Colin Castleton. MSU has a star big man of its own, Tolu Smith. He often gets overshadowed by other players in the SEC, but Smith has been excellent for the past three seasons in Starkville. He’s averaging 15.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this season. With Alabama scuffling a bit, I wouldn’t be shocked if MSU pulled off the upset over the top-seeded Crimson Tide in the quarterfinals.
Frank Schwab: I like that Vanderbilt call, but I’ll add Arkansas at +1200. It’s a fool’s errand to think a talented team that has underachieved will simply “turn it on” in the postseason, but the Razorbacks do have a pretty high ceiling still. It just has rarely been on display.
Nick Bromberg: Alabama is at +150 for a reason. The Crimson Tide ran away with the regular-season SEC title and has a clear path to the final. Tennessee beat Alabama during the regular season but would play the Tide on Saturday without Zakai Zeigler if it beats Missouri. Alabama should also take care of either Kentucky or Texas A&M on a neutral court in the final if one of those top-three seeds get to the final from the other side of the bracket.
Sam Cooper: I’ll go with Kentucky at +400. After all of the consternation about this team early in the year, the Wildcats have gotten into a groove lately by winning five of their final six. Antonio Reeves has been on fire and Oscar Tshiebwe continues to play at a high level. The fact that UK will likely draw Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals is a positive for me. UK’s only recent loss came at home to Vandy, so there’s a good revenge angle. Kentucky can make a run in Nashville before the inevitable bad loss in the NCAA tournament.
Frank Schwab: I’m going with Buzz Williams and Texas A&M at +500. The Aggies were really bad in non-conference play, but that is ancient history. Since Dec. 20, they’re 17-3. They have recent wins over Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn. They’ve been on a heater against the spread, covering eight of their last nine. I’ll go against the top three favorites and take the Aggies.