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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 at 1:23 AM

The first of the mid-major college basketball conference tournaments tipped off Tuesday Night. Handicappers must be very careful with these conferences because they’re generally rigged for the best teams to make it through to so a horrible team doesn’t luck into a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

In fact, one of the ways those tournaments is rigged is that the best teams don’t even have to play first or second round games! This week:

In the Horizon League, the top two seeds (Valparaiso and Cleveland State) don’t play until Saturday even though the event began Tuesday Night. Both got byes all the way into the semifinals.

In the West Coat Conference, the top two seeds (St. Mary’s and Gonzaga) are also off until Saturday’s semifinals. The event begins Wednesday Night…with the third and fourth seeds getting byes into Friday’s quarterfinals.

In the Ohio Valley Conference, the top two seeds (Murray State and Tennessee State) get byes into Friday’s semifinals.

You can’t blame conferences for wanting their best teams to have the best chance to represent the league down the road. Advanced Handicapping must adjust to the dynamics that are in play when this happens. Among the keys to remember:

*It’s almost impossible to have a Cinderella in the early mid-majors! There just isn’t any motivation for lower division dogs to get fired up. They might spring one upset. But, it’s extremely unlikely they’re going to run the table when they have to win their first game, then keep winning against rested opposition. Forget about it! Since the kids on the floor know this up front, there’s no reason for adults like us to take many flyers on dogs. The Incentive Factor just isn’t there for underdogs.

*Secondly, it’s possible for good teams who lack depth to play GREAT in their tournaments. Their well-rested, and they can really bear down with their top players to get the job done. Good luck trying to win one of the major tournaments next week when you lack depth. The grind is just too intense. In these staggered mid-majors, there’s not much of a grind. I’ve taught you many ways to find underpriced favorites here in this home study course. Mid-Major tournaments often offer up some great opportunities on affordable favorites.

*Thirdly, defense plays a bigger role than in the regular season because games slow down into halfcourt affairs. If you can’t guard people, that gets exposed quickly in the half court when opponents run plays to create open looks. If you CAN defend the basket well, then that…PLUS postseason pressure…PLUS the tendency for referees to let everyone get physical…PLUS the tendency for coaches to micro-manage in a way that kills an offense’s rhythm all work together to favor defensive minded teams. Be sure you’re studying DEFENSE when handicapping each and every mid-major tournament game. I will back underdogs if they play great defense. I’ll be looking to make my biggest bets on superior teams with multiple playmakers who also play great defense.

So, your BEST bets in these events will often be: Rested, defensive minded, affordable favorites who are facing tired underdogs with mediocre or worse defenses. You’ll be surprised how often this situation presents itself. The fact that many games are on neutral courts helps keep the Vegas spreads from getting very high.

And, the WORST bets will be any flyers you take on poor defensive dogs just because they happened to have a hot shooting night the game before. Shooting blows hot and cold in neutral site tournaments. It’s a horrible choice to back a team just because they looked pretty good the night before. They’re more tired now, and their weaknesses will be more exposed.

I’ll talk a lot more about conference tournament handicapping in the coming days here in my College of Advanced Handicapping. That will be true in videos as well as web content. Then, after Selection Sunday, I’ll get more specific about Advanced Handicapping principals in the NCAA Tournament.

If you’d like some day-to-day guidance through the rest of college basketball, you can purchase my game day releases right here at this very website a few hours before the first tip off every day. I also have packages that take you all the way through the NCAA, NIT, and other postseason tournaments.

I’ll be back again for another installment from my College of Advanced Handicapping later this week. You can already feel the buzz in Vegas sportsbooks because the most exciting stage of the college basketball season is upon us. I’ve experienced it many times myself. I can assure you that there’s nothing like MARCH MADNESS IN LAS VEGAS!

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