Capping college basketball's major conference races
March wouldn't be so mad if February wasn't so frenzied, with plenty of major conference titles still up for grabs.
There are four or fewer games left on the regular season slate for most programs, which means contending teams will be going all out in the final days of the schedule.
Some will rise to the occasion, giving college basketball bettors some added value to their spreads. Others, however, may crumble under the pressure. We look at how to cap some of the tightest major conference races in college hoops:
Contending: Miami (13-1), Duke (2 games back)
What to watch for: The Hurricanes have lost their ATS magic, failing to cover in four straight including an upset loss to Wake Forest. Miami does have three of its final four coming in Coral Gables, where it is 9-1 ATS on the year.
Duke is the lone road game on the Canes’ slate. The Blue Devils have three tough games remaining out of their final four – at Virginia, Miami, at UNC – and may get Ryan Kelly back for their final two, at home to Virginia Tech and at Chapel Hill.
Contending: Georgetown (11-3), Marquette (.5 game back), Louisville (1 game back), Syracuse (1.5 games back). Notre Dame (1.5 games back)
What to watch for: Georgetown controls its own destiny but may have peaked with a win over Syracuse this weekend. The Hoyas have a dangerous game at UConn Wednesday and a rematch with Cuse in the season finale. The Orange are a sinking ship after losing to Marquette, which hosts Notre Dame this weekend.
Both the Irish and Louisville need to win out the stretch and get some help from the Hoyas and the other schools ahead of them. While a conference title may not be up for grabs in their matchup on March 9, seeding in the Big East tournament will be.
Contending: Kansas (12-3), Kansas State (12-3), Oklahoma State 1.5 games back)
What to watch for: The final two weeks of Big 12 play will not only decide the conference champion but perhaps tag the winner with a No. 1 seed in the NCAA.
Kansas has won SU and ATS in its last five – thanks to the refs versus ISU – and should continue to cover in its final three games with Bill Self revving the engines before the conference tournament. The Wildcats could have their party spoiled by OSU in the season finale. The Cowboys are 8-4 ATS in Stillwater.
Contending: Indiana (12-2). Michigan State (1.5 games back), Wisconsin (2 games back), Michigan (2 games back)
What to watch for: The Hoosiers are hitting their stride at the right time, winning four in a row SU and ATS heading into their final four outings. Tom Crean won’t take his foot off the gas as IU rolls into a season finale at Michigan. The Spartans seem destined to fall, losing two in a row with games against Michigan and Wisconsin on tap.
The Badgers have been hot but the two most important games of the final stretch are away from Madison, where they are just 3-5-1 ATS on the year. The Wolverines could be the comeback kids in the Big Ten. Their two toughest games – MSU and Indiana – are at home but beware the letdown at Penn State and Purdue.
Contending: Oregon (11-4), Arizona (11-4), UCLA (.5 game back), California (1 game back)
What to watch for: Oregon has the edge over Arizona with a win against the Wildcats acting as an insurance policy. But nothing is certain for the Ducks, who play their final two games at Colorado and Utah. Arizona could present some betting value with its back against the wall. The Wildcats need to win out at USC, at UCLA and hosting Arizona State but have the talent and pedigree to pull it off.
The Bruins will put all their chips on the March 2 game versus Arizona, which could open them up to a look-ahead spot versus ASU this week and letdown spots in the final two games. Cal is the hottest team in the Pac-12, winning five in a row while going 3-1-1 ATS. The Golden Bears’ remaining games – Utah, Colorado, Stanford – all come at home with the conference race acting as fuel for Mike Montgomery’s squad.
Contending: Florida (12-2), Alabama (2 games back), Kentucky (2 games back)
What to watch for: The Gators have the SEC regular season crown in their back pocket, barring an epic collapse, but the motivation of a No. 1 NCAA seed should still push UF in the final two weeks. Florida does have two important games versus Alabama and Kentucky.
The Crimson Tide must win in Gainesville to even sniff the SEC crown, so expect an all-out effort on March 2. Following that, Bama is at Ole Miss, which stinks of letdown spot. The Wildcats have struggled on the road, boasting a 3-6 ATS mark, and have trips to Arkansas and Georgia, before a finale with Florida in Lexington.