We’ve reached conference tournament weekend with a jam-packed Friday slate. Each conference is playing either their semifinals or quarterfinals matchups, making it the best time to get familiar with how teams play in a tournament setting.
This weekend is the most important for college basketball bettors, as we’re taking our final notes and separating the contenders from the pretenders ahead of the March Madness tournament. Below are the five best bets for Friday, March 12.
Before we dive in, all odds in this article come from our partners at the FanDuel Sportsbook. Right now, new users can place their first bet risk-free up to $1,000. If your bet loses, the FanDuel Sportsbook will refund you in site credit. It’s an incredible offer that you can lock in by clicking this link.
Now, onto the picks (odds via FanDuel Sportsbook; subject to change).
Big 12: Oklahoma State vs. Baylor (-9) – 6:30 p.m. ET
After Thursday’s second-half beatdown against West Virginia, it’s clear Oklahoma State is the most undervalued team in the Big 12 Tournament. They closed as 3.5-point underdogs, despite coming off a win against the Mountaineers, and obliterated it in the final 20 minutes.
Led by the country’s best player, Cade Cunningham, the Cowboys played complete basketball in a game that featured Isaac Likekele doing anything and everything off the bench. It was a dream outcome for the Cowboys, executed precisely how Oklahoma State drew it up. If you got in while it was hot, major props to you.
But the reality is about to punch Oklahoma State in the mouth, and its fist is green and gold. Baylor beat Oklahoma State by double digits in both meetings this season, and one came after the Bears had already clinched the Big 12 championship. No one should question Baylor’s motivation Friday. Baylor is the best team beyond the arch, from the field, attacking the glass, and scoring in the paint in the Big 12. They hiccupped a bit on Thursday against Kansas State but should win this tournament handily. Back them for a double-digit win on Friday.
The Pick: Baylor (-9)
Mountain West: Nevada vs. San Diego State (-8.5) – 9:30 p.m. ET
Just a year ago, San Diego State was the hottest team in college basketball, destined to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and halted all the Aztecs’ dreams of making a deep run. They haven’t skipped a beat, going 21-4 this season and facing a pretty good Nevada team that they beat in both meetings this season.
I have the Aztecs winning outright, but 8.5 points seem high. Though the Aztecs took care of the Wolfpack twice this season, neither win was by more than five points. In fact, Nevada lost by a margin greater than 8 points only three times this season. On a neutral court (both meetings were in San Diego) and in conference tournament play, this looks to be another nail-biter, making the underdog the better play. Typically, these games are close, so I’m backing Nevada to cover the spread.
The Pick: Nevada (+8.5)
SEC: Alabama (-8.5) vs. Mississippi State – noon ET
First things first, the Crimson Tide are legit. Don’t let the detractors get that twisted. They’ve got an elite defense, are the best in the conference beyond the arch, and in the midst of their most remarkable run in program history. They should win this game and the SEC Tournament.
But Alabama is facing a red-hot Mississippi State squad who just edged out a win against Kentucky, dominating the boards and playing stellar defense. The Bulldogs covered both meetings against the Crimson Tide this season, so there’s reason to believe they’ll cover again on Friday. That said, the Crimson Tide are coming off a bye while Mississippi State hasn’t had any rest. That’s worth too much in conference tournament play to ignore.
Furthermore, pulling from raw data, my model likes Alabama to win by 11 points. Admittedly, I feel this is my riskiest play, but when the situation, feel and data all coexist, you have to back it. I’ll lay the points with the Crimson Tide, but wouldn’t mind waiting to live bet at a better number.
The Pick: Alabama (-8.5)
Big Ten: Maryland vs. Michigan (-8) – 11:30 a.m. ET
Eight points are right around my limit for betting conference tournament games, so I’d typically recommend taking Michigan in-game when the line is closer to four. But that opportunity rarely comes with the Wolverines this season. In my opinion, they’re just as good, if not better, than Gonzaga and my pick to win the NCAA Tournament. Facing a Maryland team whom they beat by double digits this season makes this a no-brainer bet and will be my biggest of the day.
This game sets up as a classic David vs. Goliath matchup, except David doesn’t usually win in sports. Tournaments separate the contenders from pretenders, and Michigan should have no problem picking apart a vastly inferior Terps squad. My model has the Wolverines winning by 12 points. Back Michigan and lay the chalk.
The Pick: Michigan (-8)
Big Ten: Ohio State (-1.5) vs. Purdue – 2 p.m. ET
Some still say Ohio State has a legitimate shot at getting a top seed, though they’d need to earn the automatic bid. The Buckeyes are a team that would benefit the most from making a deep run in the Big Ten tourney, especially after dropping four straight games before their win against Minnesota on Thursday.
Across from them is a team that has been Ohio State’s kryptonite, the Purdue Boilermakers, the only Big Ten team to beat the Buckeyes in both meetings this season. Much of that was due to Ohio State’s inability to score, shooting just 37% in both games. But it’s tourney time, and the Buckeyes seemingly put shooting worries to bed Thursday when they went off for 79 points. Can they snap Purdue’s five-game win streak? I say yes.
Remember, the Buckeyes led for most of the second half in their last meeting on January 19. Simply put, they let Purdue back in the game, and I don’t expect that to happen a second time. I’m laying the 1.5 points and backing Ohio State.
The Pick: Ohio State (-1.5)
UPDATE: I’m adding some underdog outright winners to the mix.
Let’s manifest a very profitable day. What are you favorite bets for Friday’s slate? Drop them in the comment box below.