NCAAB

College Basketball Check-In: Conference Leaders, Futures, and Best Bets

Who's up and who's down? Our look at current odds and picks to win their conferences in college hoops.

January 22, 2024

The last time we took stock of the college basketball landscape, conference play hadn’t begun, leaving us with a lot of guess work. We now have a decent sample of in-conference games, so it’s a good time to look at the major conferences for risers, fallers, and best bets — with odds to win the conference included.

Pac-12

The Pac-12 wasn’t represented favorably in our early season check-in, and unfortunately things haven’t changed much. USC (Tipico +20000 to win conference) was a faller due to (potentially unreasonable) preseason expectations, and their skid has continued. They sit at 2-6 in conference play and have lost four straight by a total of 48 points. Bronny James is a good story and will keep the team in the public eye, but it won’t lead to wins.

Washington (+10000) was an honorable mention in the riser category one month ago, but their stock has since taken a significant tumble. After getting out of the non-conference schedule with an 8-3 record, they have gone just 3-5 in conference play and are now an extreme longshot to make noise.

The standings don’t reflect it, but Arizona has a pretty clear case as the top team (-380 to win the Pac-12). They have an average point differential of positive 18.3 points despite playing one of the tougher schedules in the country. They’ve suffered two conference losses on the road with sloppy play that has theoretically opened the door for Oregon and Utah, but a showdown with the Ducks on January 27 should set the tone for the rest of conference play.

Expect the Wildcats to be focused on their home court and churn out a win to create momentum down the stretch and into the NCAA Tournament. They still have the chance at a No. 1 seed, though their recent slips ups to Stanford and Washington State may ultimately prevent that.

Big East

We didn’t highlight any teams from the Big East in our initial check-in, but the conference is as competitive as expected in the preseason. UConn (-420) lost a lot of talent off its championship roster from last season, which caused them to slip a bit in early season polls and power rankings.

However, they’re currently the top-ranked team in the country. The Huskies now hold a two-game lead over Creighton with a head-to-head win in hand. There are likely to be slip-ups from here though, as they still have two contests against Marquette on the docket, as well as a trip to Omaha for a grudge match with Creighton.

UConn is a riser because they’ve proven they aren’t going to fall off due to roster turnover, but laying -420 odds for a conference win is still a challenging proposition. I’d stay away entirely from this conference entirely, but I’d rather take value picks of Creighton (+800) or Marquette (+620). The latter is particularly intriguing due to two remaining head-to-head matchups with the Huskies.

Big 12

BYU (+1200) got off to a hot start and was an early-season riser. There were cases both for and against backing them. They had legitimate wins over San Diego State, Arizona State and NC State, but the issue was they played on the road only once in their first 13 games.

They went 12-1 in that span, but in five games since, they are 2-3. They’re also just 2-3 in conference play and are back in the middle of the pack in terms of chances to win the conference. The Cougars are still a good bet to make the big dance, but the likelihood of them hanging with the big boys has diminished.

Houston (+160) is the favorite to win the conference, and rightfully so. Like Arizona, they had a pair of slip-ups in conference play, both of which came on the road. However, they are the top ranked team in the country based on common metrics such as ESPN’s BPI. They still have competition from blue-blood programs such as Kansas, but I’d be happy to buy low on the best Cougars in the conference. For those willing to take on additional risk, take a peek at their odds to win the NCAA Tournament (+950).

One final note is the ongoing struggles for Texas (+10000). They were a top 15 team for many in the preseason but will have to turn things around quickly after a 2-3 start in conference play to even make the tournament. An upset of Baylor on Saturday was a good start.

ACC

We have a good old-fashioned blue blood battle between UNC (-360) and Duke (+320). The Blue Devils steadied the ship after early losses in and out of the conference, though a shocking home loss to Pitt over the weekend once again creates questions.

The Tar Heels have had no such issues, as they’re 7-0 in ACC play and have been battle-tested with four wins over Top 25 teams (going 4-2 overall against those squads). If they can pull off a pair of wins over Duke, UNC has a one seed in their grasp in the NCAA Tournament. Their conference odds aren’t enticing from a betting perspective, but they’re worth a look to make the Final Four (+370) or even win the tournament (+1500).

Wake Forest. (+1700) has been the feel-good story as they are currently tied for second. They can prove to be a legitimate threat against UNC on Monday night, but I’d expect a loss there. That will be an indication that the Demon Deacons aren’t ready to hang with the big boys just yet.

Speaking of which, Clemson (+10000) has fallen on tough times since their 11-1 start. They beat Florida State to help the resume most recently and have another chance to make a statement with a win at Duke next weekend, but that looks unlikely.

SEC

We have a four-horse race in the SEC, making it one of the more wide-open conferences in the country. Auburn (+125) and Tennessee (+195) rightfully have the shortest odds. The Tigers haven’t lost since December 3, though admittedly, their conference schedule has been relatively soft to this point as their best win came against Ole Miss – a team that is just 2-3 in SEC play. They’ll have the chance to prove themselves with matchups against Tennessee and Kentucky in an 11-day stretch in late February.

I’d expect Auburn to stumble and open the door for Tennessee. The Volunteers lost three straight in in late November, but those defeats came against Purdue, Kansas, and UNC – all of whom could be one seeds come March. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for their national championship case, but Tennessee has mostly dominated early conference play and is a nice value right now.

Alabama (+390) and Kentucky (+570) can’t be discounted, but they look to be a rung below the top two contenders.

Big 10

As expected, Purdue (-350) is the class of the Big 10 and also has the shortest current odds to win the NCAA Tournament (+750). They rival Houston as the best team in the country, and the duo could very well meet up in the finals. That isn’t to say they don’t have competition, however. Wisconsin currently leads the conference with a 14-4 overall record (6-1 in conference) and has the second-shortest odds (+450).

However, for those with interest in longshot bet, Illinois (+550) would be my choice. They played the Boilermakers tough (83-78 loss) on the road. They’re just 1-3 against Top 25 teams, but in a relatively down Big 10 this year, Purdue is their only true road block to a conference championship. They also welcomed back Terrence Shannon after a court intervened to temporarily reverse his suspension, giving the Illini a significant on-court boost.

Mountain West

We’ll shift to some of the mid-majors. Colorado State (+550) was among the best stories in first month-plus of the schedule, but we noted that they’d be without Jalen Lake and Josiah Strong – two key members of their rotation – posing a challenge to the Rams’ depth.

They weathered that storm and have both Lake and Strong back in the mix, but they recently fell to two of the better teams in the conference (Utah State and Boise State). They can redeem themselves when they host both of those schools later, which could vault them back up the standings.

Utah St. (+265)  has vaulted itself onto the national stage, likely to be ranked in the top 15 when the new AP Poll is released. They’re the favorites right now to walk away with the Mountain West Conference, with San Diego State (+300) posing the biggest threat to the Aggies’ supremacy. The Aztecs also went down to Boise State on the road, but still boast the best on-paper talent of the conference.

We’ve now brought up Boise State (+500) on a few occasions, and they should be commended for their strong start to conference play (4-1). However, they hosted both Colorado State and San Diego State. They still have to face Utah State twice (one home, one away) and both the Rams and Aztecs on the road. If they survive that, they’ll be putting themselves in position to be deserving champs, but it’s best to remain skeptical.

Atlantic 10

Dayton (-180) has reached the Top 25 nationally and the Flyers have only lost to Houston and Northwestern. Despite the short odds, they’re one of the better values currently available. Richmond (+330) appears to be in the same proximity to the Flyers. However, their BPI more accurately reflects the quality of the team, as the Spiders sit in the range of USC and Colorado St. Meanwhile, Dayton is in the same class as Villanova, Wake Forest, and Florida Atlantic.

American Conference

Florida Atlantic (-118) is in a similar class to Dayton. They’ve shown the ability to handle the big boys better than the Flyers however, as they have wins against top five and top 15 programs in the country (Arizona and Texas A&M). Despite some relatively stiff competition from SMU (+380) and Memphis (+330), the Owls are another nice bet at their current value.

West Coast Conference

Saint Mary’s (-150) and Gonzaga (+200) have squared off in the WCC Tournament in six of the last eight years, and they are almost certainly on a collision course once again. The teams are evenly matched when looking at nearly any rating systems, so give me the Zags, thanks to their longer odds. There’s no need to complicate the outlook of this conference.

Dale Weber
Dale began working at RotoWire in 2017 writing MLB game wraps. He now covers primarily MLB, NFL and racing, but also has experience writing in a wide range of sports, including MMA, golf and soccer.
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