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The one stat that will help you pick any conference tournament

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On Monday, we alerted you to this week’s start of college basketball conference tournament action. While all the major TV conferences still have one more week of regular-season action left, several smaller leagues are about to tip off.

Tuesday, the Horizon League gets underway. We know most of you don’t follow this conference at all. That actually helps today! VSiN will provide a quick snapshot of how bettors can get up to speed in any conference before its tournament starts. You can apply today’s discussion to any event coming up in the next two weeks.

Don’t be satisfied looking only at win-loss records in league play. Sharp bettors have found over the years that conference margin average has better predictive value. You won’t find superior “small sample” comparisons in any sport to college basketball conference margins because all the teams just played a lot of games against each other.

You’re probably aware many sports bettors like studying what happened against “common opponents.” The 10-team Horizon League just played an 18-game double-round robin schedule. Everyone played everyone else twice. Nobody benefited by playing “a bunch of cupcakes” or was penalized by unfair travel. It’s as clean as you’re going to get. And, 18 games is a large enough sample size to draw meaningful conclusions.

Wright State and Northern Kentucky tied for first place with 13-5 records. Wright State earned the No. 1 seed in a tie-breaker. But, conference margin averages suggest Northern Kentucky is the stronger side.

Horizon League Conference margins: Northern Kentucky +9.0, Wright State +6.9, Oakland +3.3, Illinois-Chicago +1.2, IUPUI +0.3, Green Bay -1.3, Youngstown State -2.2, Detroit Mercy -3.1, Milwaukee -6.3, Cleveland State -7.8. (Note the Horizon excludes its two worst finishers to form an eight-team bracket).

Against very similar challenges, Northern Kentucky’s average game was a nine-point win, while Wright State’s average game was almost a seven-point win. Reasonable to draw a conclusion that Northern Kentucky is about a bucket better than Wright on a neutral court. Up and down the ledger, margin averages can be used as virtual “power ratings” which express the “point difference” between any two teams.

Respected computer assessments confirm Northern Kentucky is probably the superior side. The NCAA’s NET ranking and Ken Pomeroy’s rankings at kenpom.com both have the Norse about 20 spots higher on the national ladder.

After quarterfinals Tuesday (IUPUI at Wright State; Illinois-Chicago at Green Bay) and Wednesday (Detroit Mercy at Northern Kentucky; Youngstown State at Oakland), the Horizon League moves to Detroit for semifinals next Monday and the title tilt Tuesday. Only the tournament winner will be invited to join the 68-team NCAA field.

To evaluate other conferences, do a web search for “conference only” statistics in your leagues of interest. VSiN will post many “full-season” tabulations here in Bet Smart just before the highest profile events begin.

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