One common thread that ties together two of the most tightly bunched futures boards for conference championship week is that – to update an old adage – offense fills highlight reels but defense is what really matters in March.
As conference titles are decided this week ahead of the NCAA tournament, the Oregon Ducks are +160 betting favorites on the Pac-12 tournament champion board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The UCLA Bruins, with freshman point guard Lonzo Ball, are more of a media darling and draw in at +170.
Another tight board is that of the AAC, with the SMU Mustangs (+125) just ahead of the Cincinnati Bearcats (+135).
The Ducks play inside-the-shirt defense – not something commonly associated with West Coast teams – and have two seasoned scorers in PF Dillon Brooks and SG Dylan Ennis. The Bruins can score and shoot threes like no one’s business, but they do have the defensively stout Arizona Wildcats (+265) lurking on their side of the draw.
Arizona is capable of keeping a game in the 60s and 70s and has two go-to scorers with PF Lauri Markkanen and SG Allonzo Trier.
In the American, SMU is on a 13-win streak and is 17-1 straight-up across its last 18 games. Forward Semi Ojeleye is also the best player in the conference. Cincinnati accounted for that loss and the Bearcats, with Kyle Washington as the main man in an attack that will often feature five guards, can be a headache to match up against.
One AAC team that could fulfill a craving for a longshot is the third-seeded Houston Cougars (+850). While they won’t make anyone forget the Phi Slama Jamma of yore, PG Galen Robinson Jr. is an excellent playmaker who can set up SG Rob Gray and SF Damyean Dotson.
The Kentucky Wildcats (+100) are set as the betting favorite to win their third consecutive SEC tournament title. They are 8-1-1 against the spread in their last 10 games at the event, and De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are a great 1-2 scoring punch.
Kentucky is often driven by one-and-done freshmen and it could get interesting if the physical Florida Gators (+165) get through to the final in Nashville on Sunday.
And for the first time the Ivy League is holding a tournament, albeit just a four-team affair at Philadelphia’s historic Palestra. The Princeton Tigers (-135) are better than even money to win after going undefeated in the conference.
Their semifinal foe, the Penn Quakers (+475), might just be happy to be there after squeaking in with a sub-.500 record. The Harvard Crimson (+350), who play the Yale Bulldogs (+475) in the other semifinal, are a legit threat to Princeton. Harvard’s two losses to Princeton were by a combined five points.