Western Athletic Conference Tournament Odds: Sam Houston Slight Favorite
Regular Season Champ Utah Valley Vying for First NCAA Bid
The Western Athletic Conference Tournament was constructed in unconventional fashion, with teams seeded based on advanced analytics via kenpom.com instead of wins and losses. Sam Houston State — the betting favorite at +120 — was awarded the top seed, ahead of NCAAB regular season champion Utah Valley. In addition to those two schools, both third-seeded Southern Utah and fourth-seeded Seattle will receive byes to the quarterfinals.
The tournament will tip off Tuesday, notably without New Mexico State. The defending champion called off the rest of its season in February after allegations of hazing surfaced within the program.
All games will be played in Las Vegas, with the final slated for March 11 at 8:30 p.m. at Orleans Arena.
Sam Houston State Bearkats (+120)
Sam Houston State has made a steady transition from the Southland Conference. In only their second year in the WAC, the Bearkats have gone 24-6, including 14-4 in league play, to claim the No. 1 seed. They’re the hottest team going, with a seven-game win streak dating to early February.
The Bearkats’ ability to score consistently from the perimeter and play suffocating defense should allow them to make a deep tournament run. They rank eighth in the country in 3-point percentage (39.02) and fourth in scoring defense (58.5 points allowed per game). With Western Athletic Conference Tournament odds of +120, there’s value here.
Utah Valley Wolverines (+165)
Picked to finish eighth in the WAC preseason media poll, the Wolverines defied odds by going 15-3 in league play. That’s better than Sam Houston, Southern Utah, and everyone else, for that matter. Now, the Wolverines are hoping to parlay that into their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Coached by former Stanford star Mark Madsen, second-seeded Utah Valley has a number of quality wins, including over BYU and Oregon on the road, as well as Sam Houston at home. Defense is the Wolverines’ calling card, thanks to 7-foot sophomore Aziz Bandaogo, and will keep them in most games. Impressively, they lead the nation in blocked shots with 208.
Notably, Utah Valley was the best team in college basketball against the spread this season, covering 71% of the time. Its record in that case was 20-8.
Southern Utah Thunderbirds (+700)
Befitting of their nickname, the Thunderbirds — a newcomer from the Big Sky Conference — play at a blistering pace. They rank 13th in the country in possessions per game and 26th in fastbreak points, per NCAAB stats. It shouldn’t surprise you then, that they’re averaging 83 points a contest, with five 100-point efforts.
They’re experienced, which certainly helps their chances in March. Leading scorer Tevian Jones, a 6-7 senior averaging 17.8 points, spent parts of two seasons at Illinois. He scored a team-high 25 in a six-point loss to Kansas in November.
While they face much longer odds than the WAC’s top two seeds, the Thunderbirds beat both teams on their home floor. Thus, they shouldn’t be intimidated in a neutral-court setting.
Seattle Redhawks (+1400)
Seattle is steep in history, having produced Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor, a catalyst in the program’s Final Four run in 1958. The Redhawks have made the NCAA Tournament 10 other times, though not in over 50 years.
While the program seemed to fall off the periphery for a while, having bounced between the Division II and III and NAIA levels, it rejoined Division I in 2008. The Redhawks took a big step back toward contention last year, winning their first-ever WAC regular season title. That didn’t translate in a return to the NCAA Tournament, but they’re getting close.
Is this the year? The odds aren’t great, but for what it’s worth, the fourth-seeded Redhawks did beat Utah Valley on the road. So, the potential’s there.
Grand Canyon Antelopes (+1400)
Grand Canyon didn’t quite live up to its billing as the WAC favorite. That said, it wasn’t far off. The Antelopes still won 20 games for the second consecutive year and finished in the upper half of the league despite losing WAC Preseason Player of the Year Jovan Blacksher Jr. to a torn ACL, per college basketball injuries.
Coached by former Valparaiso star Bryce Drew, the Antelopes are balanced, with three healthy players scoring in double figures, and play quality defense. Opponents are shooting a tad over 40% against them.
At 14/1 odds, the Antelopes — who’ll face No. 12 seed UT Arlington in Friday’s first round — may be worth a sprinkle, especially if Drew can muster some of that March magic like he did at Valpo.
PROJECTED CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHUP
Sam Houston State vs. Southern Utah: Defense always travels. Because of that, it’s hard to bet against top-seeded Sam Houston making the Western Athletic Conference Tournament final, if not winning it. Southern Utah faces a tougher road, especially if it has to play Utah Valley in the semifinals, but the Thunderbirds’ ability to score should bode well.Follow us on Twitter
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