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The New Year rings in the start of conference play for the major college basketball conferences. Competition is heating up and the march to March can uncover some hidden value in the NCAAB futures.
Here’s a look at a sleep pick to win each of the six major conferences:
ACC – Maryland Terrapins (+800)
The Terps got everyone’s attention when they nearly knocked off Kentucky in their opening game of the year. Maryland’s schedule has gotten softer since then but it has captured wins over Northwestern and George Mason behind a stingy defense that is allowing under 60 points per game and locking down opponents to 34.4 percent shooting – second lowest in the land. Seven-footer Alex Len is making a big difference on both ends of the floor and is catching the eyes of plenty of NBA scouts.
Big 12 – Oklahoma State Cowboys (+1,500)
Grabbing OSU at this price is a steal. The Cowboys, ranked 21st in the nation, proved they can play with the elite programs in the country. They lost by one to Gonzaga on New Year’s Eve and have resume builders with victories over North Carolina State and Tennessee in Puerto Rico. Oklahoma State has a great chance to make a name for itself this season, with no clear-cut favorite in the conference. If you believe in OSU’s chances, you might want to bet it before it takes on Kansas State next weekend. This tasty price tag will dwindle if the Pokes can knock off the Wildcats in Manhattan.
Big East - Cincinnati Bearcats (+800)
Finding long-shot value is the Big East logjam is like trying to find your cell phone in the aftermath of a New Year’s Eve bash. The tightly packed conference has forced oddsmakers to price six teams between +150 and +800 – no exactly searching for Cinderella here. However, the Bearcats have shown the most promise and happen to have the nicest payout of those top six programs. Cincinnati has wins over Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama, Xavier and Pittsburgh and its only loss came by one point to No. 23 New Mexico.
Big Ten – Minnesota Golden Gophers (+1,000)
The Big Ten is a very top-heavy league with national title contenders Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State leading the way. Those high-profile teams have given the conference’s mid-tier programs some added futures value. Minnesota has flourished in the shadows of those behemoths. The Golden Gophers went toe-to-toe with Duke, scored wins over Memphis, Stanford, Florida State and opened Big Ten play with a victory over Michigan State. Guard Andre Hollins is quickly becoming the most exciting player in the conference and Tubby Smith has plenty of senior talent to lean on.
Pac-12 - Oregon Ducks (+800)
The Ducks have quietly built a respectable record, headlined by wins over Vanderbilt and UNLV. They also lost a hard-fought game against Cincinnati in Las Vegas back in late November. Oregon has a balanced scoring attack, with four players averaging more than 10 points a night, and wins the battle on the boards most nights. The Ducks are 20th overall in average total rebounds and thrive on second-chance buckets – ranked 29th in second looks per game.
SEC – Missouri Tigers (+800)
Missouri’s addition to the SEC shakes up the conference’s basketball ranks, which were getting a little stale behind Kentucky and Florida. The Tigers have a surplus of talent and have been tested plenty in the early going, losing to Louisville and most recently UCLA. Frank Haith needs more consistent efforts from high-profile transfer Alex Oriakhi and must tighten up on turnover – 13.2 per game. Missouri has the edge of mystery in conference play, which could be enough to steal some key wins on the road.