North Carolina, Villanova among conference tournament betting favorites

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The college basketball postseason is in full effect this week with conference championship tournaments, which are always fun for bettors who have to gauge which likely top seeds for March Madness are motivated to keep bragging rights over their fiercest rivals.

With a multifaceted attack led by conference player of the year Justin Jackson, the North Carolina Tar Heels are the +190 betting favorite on the ACC champion futures board, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Tar Heels, who are one of the toughest teams around the rim with the likes of center Kennedy Meeks and power forward Isaiah Hicks supporting Jackson, have won seven of their last nine games.

The top of the ACC board includes the Louisville Cardinals (+400), Virginia Cavaliers (+400), Duke Blue Devils (+450) and Florida State Seminoles (+650). Florida State, led by Xavier Rathan-Mayes, is the No. 2 seed and has the easiest path to the final. It’s always possible that Louisville or Duke, who are the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds respectively, could beat the Heels in the semifinal only to lose in the final. Beating three nationally ranked opponents in as many days is a tall task.

The defending national champion Villanova Wildcats (-130) are the only better than even-money favorite in a major conference, as they are 27-3 on the season and expected to roll through the Big East tournament. However, the Butler Bulldogs (+450) are responsible for two of Villanova’s three losses this season and the move to have star scorer Kelan Martin become the sixth man seems to have re-energized their lineup at a good time of year.

Without Maurice Watson Jr., who tore his ACL and was then suspended after being charged with first-degree sexual assault, the Creighton Bluejays (+550) are a team to avoid.

The Big Ten Tournament odds are topped by the Purdue Boilermakers (+200) for exactly one reason: center Caleb Swanigan is a beastly big man, a 20-and-10 threat on any given night.  In what’s been a down year for the conference’s high-profile teams, the Wisconsin Badgers (+260) are high on the board thanks to their reputation but the roster is thin beyond stars such as Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig.

Anyone doubting Purdue, or wanting a better price, should consider the Minnesota Golden Gophers (+750), whose arsenal of Nate Mason, Dupree McBrayer and Jordan Murphy can outscore a lot of teams.

The Big 12 tournament is clearly a three-team derby, with the Kansas Jayhawks (+145) the chalk pick thanks in large part to the stability of their guards Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham.

The West Virginia Mountaineers (+190) have a better price, and with one of the country’s best defenses, led by point guard Jevon Carter, they could cause Kansas difficulty if they meet. Meanwhile, the Baylor Bears (+475) have been a .500 team over the past month and might have peaked too soon.