LAS VEGAS — A shooting star with a hot hand can be the difference-maker in March. Senior guard Myles Powell might be that player for Seton Hall in this week’s Big East tournament.
After more than two months of conference play, there is no separation atop the standings. Powell and the Pirates finished in a three-way tie for first with Creighton and Villanova. The tournament at Madison Square Garden will determine the league’s automatic NCAA bid, and it also could serve as a big stage for a surprise champion to emerge.
“So many of these league tournaments are wide open,” said Bruce Marshall, editor of The Gold Sheet. “Providence looks as good as any team in the country right now, so that’s the team I would look at in the Big East.”
Top-seeded Creighton is the 3/1 co-favorite on the William Hill odds board in Nevada. But Bluejays star Marcus Zegarowski is questionable for the tournament with a knee injury.
Villanova won the Big East tournament in each of the past three seasons. The second-seeded Wildcats (3/1) and third-seeded Pirates (7/2) are in the same half of the bracket.
Fourth-seeded Providence takes a six-game winning streak into Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup with Butler. The Bulldogs follow the lead of senior guard Kamar Baldwin, who scored 36 points and hit a dramatic 3-pointer with one second remaining Saturday in a 72-71 win at Xavier.
It’s possible the Big East sends seven teams to the NCAA tournament. The Musketeers sit on the bubble with Marquette, which is ice cold after losing six of seven but features the nation’s leading scorer in Markus Howard. It’s a tournament with a surplus of star power.
Best Bet: Seton Hall (7/2). It’s payback time for Powell, who scored 78 points in three games to propel the Pirates to last year’s Big East final, where they fell to Villanova.
With 16 tournaments tipping off from Tuesday to Thursday, this week excites some basketball bettors even more than the NCAA tournament’s first week. A look at the other five major conference tournaments (William Hill odds):
Duke is the 3/2 favorite despite being the fourth seed in Greensboro. Regular-season champ Florida State (3/1), Louisville (14/5) and Virginia (13/2) are the other teams posted at single-digit odds, and the Cavaliers are streaking with eight straight wins.
Bubble teams in desperation situations are usually popular with bettors. North Carolina State (28/1), Notre Dame and Syracuse (both 30/1) are a few of those teams. North Carolina (40/1) needs an unlikely title run to get into the NCAA field.
Best Bet: Duke (3/2). The Blue Devils are flawed, but they are in their backyard and Tre Jones is the conference’s top point guard.
March is the prime time to ride Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, and the Spartans (11/5) are tournament favorites after sharing the regular-season title with Maryland (4/1) and Wisconsin (6/1). Twelve teams are power-rated in the Kenpom.com top 40 and as many as 11 could reach the NCAA field, though the likely number is 10.
Best Bet: Michigan State (11/5). Expect upsets in Indianapolis, yet Izzo is the most reliable moneymaker. He’s also got a senior point guard, Cassius Winston, who finally has found his groove.
Win or lose this week, Kansas seems set as the NCAA’s No. 1 overall seed. The Jayhawks are odds-on favorites (-150) in Kansas City. Baylor (13/5) and West Virginia (7/1) are safely in the NCAA field. The Bears are slumping, and the Mountaineers rarely win away from home.
Best Bet: Texas Tech (8/1). It’s too easy to pick the favorite, so here’s an upset. The Red Raiders are 0-2 against the Jayhawks this season, with the losses by three and four points, and the teams could meet again Friday in a semifinal. Chris Beard is a bet-on coach.
It all starts with senior point guard Payton Pritchard and Oregon, the outright regular-season champion. Seven teams have legitimate shots to make the NCAA field. Three teams with some odds value are USC (10/1), UCLA (10/1) and Washington (20/1).
“Obviously, the Pac-12 is wide open,” said Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill director of trading. “But I think the teams are all just a little above average. I don’t see any team that frightens me.”
Best Bet: Oregon (2/1). The Ducks are 6-1 straight up and ATS in their past seven games behind the leadership and playmaking of Pritchard, who led the way to last year’s conference tournament title in Las Vegas.
John Calipari’s teams tend to peak at this time, and Kentucky (12/5) is the tournament favorite in Nashville, Tenn. Auburn (7/2), LSU (9/2) and Florida (7/1) are the top contenders, but the Gators have been underachievers and LSU plays little defense.
Best Bet: Auburn (7/2). Kentucky is ready to make a deep NCAA run, but the bracket sets up well for coach Bruce Pearl.