College Basketball
Bookmakers discuss conference tournaments: 'Marquette winning is our worst result'
College Basketball

Bookmakers discuss conference tournaments: 'Marquette winning is our worst result'

Updated Mar. 14, 2024 11:36 a.m. ET

Generally speaking, the public betting masses like to wager on favorites. 

After all, who doesn’t like a winner?

But when it comes to betting on college basketball conference tournament odds — specifically which team will win each tournament — that generalization doesn’t always hold up. The public wants to bet a little to win a lot. 

And as always, the sharp bettors have a keen eye for underdogs, too.


"It’s March; everyone loves an upset," BetMGM trader Seamus Magee said. "Lots of bettors know that in this month, anything can happen."

Magee and college basketball betting aficionado Andy Molitor serve up some insights on conference tournament futures odds and action for the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big East and Big 12.

Oh Say Can USC?

The Pac-12 is definitely down in this, it’s final year. In fact, the conference might only get two bids to the NCAA Tournament.

No question, Arizona is a national championship contender. At BetMGM, the Wildcats are the +1000 fourth choice to win it all – a $100 bet would profit $1,000, for an $1,100 total payout. Arizona is behind only UConn, Houston and Purdue in national championship odds.

But the Pac-12’s second-best team, Washington State, is a distant +10000 (100/1) to win the national title.

Arizona is a -165 favorite in the Pac-12 Tournament, meaning it would take a $165 bet to win $100. Not terribly attractive. However, the Wildcats lost their regular-season finale at USC on Saturday, 78-65. And that’s getting the attention of both sharp and public bettors in Pac-12 Tourney futures odds.

"USC has to be the sharpest long shot we’ve seen this year. We opened at +4000, but kept taking action all the way until we landed at +1400," Magee said of a hefty odds move. "People are all over the Trojans. We’re gonna be rooting for Arizona or Washington State as realistic winners for us."

Arizona could wipe out that USC liability in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Wildcats face the Trojans for the second time in less than a week. BetMGM has Arizona an 8.5-point favorite over USC.

Related: 'Bear Bets': The Group Chat's thoughts on conference tourneys, March Madness

North by Northwestern

In the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue is the clear-cut favorite, sitting -110 at BetMGM. The Boilermakers are followed by Illinois (+300), Nebraska (+750) and Michigan State (+1000).

But Molitor has his sights on Northwestern, which he bet at +1600, meaning a $100 wager would pay out a solid $1,600 profit — for a $1,700 total payout — if the Wildcats win the tourney.

"I was a little puzzled by the prices for Northwestern and Wisconsin being so similar," Molitor said. "Northwestern is grading out slightly better for me, and at least has a few signature wins against the upper crust of the Big Ten."

Among those wins, Northwestern beat visiting Illinois 96-91 in overtime in January.

"Purdue would be a tough out eventually, but the Wildcats took the Boilermakers to OT back in January, in West Lafayette to boot," Molitor said. "The best 3-point shooting team in a league — and a bubble team needing to make some noise — is always dangerous."

At BetMGM, Magee said favorite Purdue is actually getting some attention. But in keeping with the trend, so are a couple of longer shots.

"Two teams keep coming through our bet ticker: Indiana and Ohio State," Magee said. "It appears a lot of bettors dubbed those teams as the potential dark horses for this tournament. Either one of those teams winning wouldn’t be good for the book."

Indiana is a true Big Ten Tourney long shot at +5000, meaning a $100 bet would net a healthy $5,000 if the Hoosiers win the conference title. Ohio State is +2500, which would provide a nice ROI as well: $2,500 profit on a $100 bet.

Beast of the Big East

Defending national champion UConn is BetMGM’s +500 favorite to win a second straight national title. So it’s no surprise that the Huskies are -165 favorites to win the Big East Tournament. Creighton is the +375 second choice, followed by Marquette at +650.

UConn is getting support, but Magee wouldn’t necessarily mind a Huskies Big East title.

"Lots of UConn money pouring in. But seeing UConn win isn’t a bad result. Marquette winning is our worst result. Lots of interest on the Golden Eagles."

Molitor would consider looking down the oddsboard a little further, to a St. John’s team with a coach quite familiar to many.

"UConn is so good, but for the price (+1400), I wouldn’t hate a small bet on Rick Pitino," Molitor said. "The win against Creighton [on Feb. 25] was big, and the offense is ascending at the perfect time. St. John’s offensive metrics over the past three weeks are dangerously close to UConn’s."

Taking the Tornadoes

In the Big 12, Houston is the favorite to win the conference tournament, in the -150 range. Iowa State is the second choice at a much more attractive +450 or so. And Molitor likes the Cyclones’ chances.

"It’s an absolute meat grinder of a schedule for all of these teams," Molitor said. "But with Kansas dealing with some missing players [due to injuries], and with Houston across the bracket, I don't mind looking at an Iowa State team that grades out as a two-seed in the Big Dance for me.

"Houston may be the best team in the country. But for this price, I can get behind the Cyclones, who went into Houston and won last month. With that win, they proved they have a defense that can keep anyone within arm’s reach. Iowa State may be a team that could end up in the Final Four."

Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and senior reporter for He is a distinguished journalist in the national sports betting space. He’s based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys golfing in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickE_Vegas.


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