The final dress rehearsal for Big Dance erupts across New Jersey and the national landscape this week. It provides a festive ensemble of compelling matchups, promising upsets, buzzer-beating finishes, and tension-filled drama.

The heaviest play will be Thursday throughout the weekend. Many tourneys begin on Wednesday, featuring the weakest teams.

March Madness excitement mirrors the conference-tournament matchups:

  • Single-elimination tournaments
  • Perpetual action, from coast to coast
  • Jockeying for position

Look for a midweek-to-weekend New Jersey sports betting fest where everything matters.

When the smoke clears, Selection Sunday will determine the top 68 of the nation’s 353 men’s college basketball teams.

Then the real March Madness begins.

“The action goes way, way up now,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading for William Hill US, told njgamblingsites.com.

“We love this. There’s nothing like the conference tournaments and March Madness.”

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Conference week has a range of March Madness implications

For the nation’s two AP teams, Kansas and Gonzaga, this week’s competition is a chance to ensure No. 1 seeds when the final tournament launches next week.

For Baylor, San Diego State, Florida State, and Kentucky, it’s likely a free-for-all attempt to land the final pair of No. 1 seeds for next week.

An exciting Kansas-Baylor rubber match could ensue in the Big 12.

The NJ sports betting crowd will also be riveted on the Big East. Really riveted.

This is parity at its finest, and perhaps major opportunities for underdog bettors, as this tournament unfurls Wednesday through Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

New Jersey-based Seton Hall, a season-long darling of the gamblers, blew a late-season Big East conference lead. It wound up sharing the league title with Creighton and Villanova.

It’s a three-way tie at the top and now a matchup of the participants. With all three ranked among the AP’s top 25 teams in the country.

Irresistible.

This will be a must-see for fans of these teams, and the matchups will be all about momentum.

Seton Hall lost its imminent top conference-tournament seed and got third, thus facing sixth-ranked Marquette on Thursday. Seton Hall beat Marquette 88-79 in late February and may take out its frustration in the first game.

Creighton, which handily beat Seton Hall twice, including a blowout this past weekend, earned the No. 1 seed.

It will face the winner of Wednesday’s match between Georgetown, seeded eighth, and St. John’s, seeded ninth.

Villanova, the second seed, split two games with Seton Hall, winning the last matchup on the road. The Wildcats take on Wednesday’s DePaul (10) versus Xavier (7) survivor on Thursday.

If Seton Hall, Villanova, and Creighton win their first games, as expected, we’ll have three nationally ranked teams facing each other in the semifinals and finals. Butler, seeded fifth, is a live dog.

Big East fans in those markets are salivating for that showdown.

Many markets across the country will feature attractive matchups similar to the Big East.

By any measure, it’s a thrill ride for the gamblers. They can observe it as a self-contained March Madness preview, but with fewer first-round upsets because some opening-round teams really don’t belong.

Some weak clubs are significantly overmatched in the opening round. For instance, Wake Forest is 200-1 at SugarHouse Sportsbook to win the ACC tournament. After that, competition is much tighter.

We know what it means for bettors. But what does it mean for the teams?

Conference championships can either improve March Madness seeding for top-ranked teams.

It can give longshots one more chance to enter the Final 68 by winning the tournament. Or it establishes tie-breakers for teams “on the bubble” to gain entry into the Big Dance.

Bogdanovich considers this one of the most level playing fields in many years.

The happiest gamblers this winter have been dog bettors. Upsets marked the landscape, as the top teams ascended and descended in elevator-style fashion.

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March Madness futures: The ‘futures’ is now

The books are scrambling to update conference tournament odds after shifting from the end of the regular season. They have been placing the props up gradually.

FanDuel Sportsbook had an extensive lineup by the end of play March 8 for the conference tournaments. Here’s the outlook.

SEC

Favorite: Kentucky +180. Longest odds: South Carolina 35-1

Big 12

  • Favorite: Kansas + 105
  • Baylor +230
  • West Virginia, 9-1

*All three have been nationally ranked throughout the season. Kansas and Baylor split two games. Baylor dealt Kansas its last loss on Jan. 11.

Big 10

Favorite: Michigan, +320

Pac 12

  • Favorite: Oregon +180
  • Colorado +430
  • UCLA +700
  • USC (which just beat UCLA, 11-1)

Big East

  • Favorite: Villanova +270
  • Creighton + 310
  • Providence +600

ACC early odds at DraftKings

DraftKings Sportsbook has the following early ACC odds:

  • Favorite: Florida State 2-1
  • Louisville +235
  • Duke +225
  • Virginia +700
  • Wake Forest 200-1
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Conference tournaments’ impact on March Madness

Some, but not all the rich get richer this week. 

Kansas has been the nation’s top team. Gonzaga is second. Dayton, Baylor, San Diego State, and even Kentucky vie for inclusion in the top four rankings and potential top seeds for the following week.

Watch those teams this week to see if they recover lost momentum.  San Diego State and Baylor have weakened themselves with recent slumps.

Kansas and Baylor may meet in what is both a Big 12 conference tournament game and a potential preview of a big March Madness clash.

The angle of “needing the game” is factoring in less into betting now. It’s all about relative talent.

Every team must win to upgrade or preserve postseason hopes, but some are not good enough to make a run on this type of foundation, even if they are in a favorable situation.

UCLA, ranked 76 in NET, (the NCAA Evaluation tool and unofficial team ranking guide) for example, would have moved up this list by sharing the PAC 12 title.

But the Bruins were beaten over the weekend by USC and now must have a monster conference tournament to reach March Madness.

San Diego State has a similar consistency problem. The Aztecs were the nation’s lone unbeaten team in late February, but stumbled and did not even win the Mountain West Conference tournament.

That went to Utah, the year’s first official NCAA tournament team. The Aggies won the Mountain West Conference tournament on Saturday, upsetting top-seeded San Diego State 59-56, in thrilling fashion, to secure the nation’s first automatic bid to March Madness.

Utah is thus one team that is grateful for the conference tournament. This conference is considered weak and, thus, anything less than a tournament championship would not have been good enough for this team.

San Diego State, by contrast, will slide from its once-lofty perch but still reach the final tournament because of its play through mid-February.

Tournament winners automatically gain entry to March Madness.

That benefits some teams, but for the most part, it won’t generate too many surprises. There may be a mediocre team seeded near the bottom who is capable of running the conference-tournament table, but there won’t be many.

Teams on the NET bubble (50-80) are lobbying for their March Madness lives. Each victory win will be significant, and perhaps matter come Selection Sunday, regardless of how deep they went in this week’s tournament.

Dave Bontempo

About

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.