March Madness is finally here. Championship week is the week that gives almost every NCAA Division I basketball team a chance to make it to the national championship via conference tournaments.

And those tournaments offer unique handicapping opportunities because of the unusual number of games a team must play in a short period. Teams that are already guaranteed a spot in the final NCAA tournament by virtue of their won-loss records have less incentive in these conference tournaments than opponents in desperate need of a victory to assure an invitation.

Depth is a critical factor in handicapping these games. Teams that have a bye in the first round hold a huge advantage. To handicap successfully, check out the box scores. Look for how many minutes the five key players on each team have played. Teams that have enough good substitutes to permit the starters to play fewer than 30 minutes a game have a big advantage in the conference tournaments.

Here are my special tournament-edition power ratings for each of the teams playing in conference tournaments:

The Big Dance

Everyone enjoys watching the Sunday tournament selection show to see who gets invited to the Big Dance.

My list of power ratings for the top teams in the country follows. Most of these teams will make it into the NCAA tournament. The teams at the bottom of the list with power ratings of 86 or 87 can improve their status by playing well in the conference tournament.

Georgia

is a most unique team this year with a 16-13 regular-season record but a good power rating. If the Bulldogs can make it to the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament they will probably get an invitation to the Big Dance.

This chart can also be used to determine my theoretical point spreads when teams match up in the tournament. Power ratings should be compared, and the team with the higher power rating should be a favorite by the difference between those ratings.

Click

here for the power ratings.

Now, let's look at how teams that are underdogs have done in conference tournaments over the last five years.

Underdogs do not do particularly well in these conference tournaments, although they perform at just about a .500 level in the semifinals and finals.

The location of the conference tournament also offers interesting betting angles. Historically, when one of the conference teams hosts a tournament, the host has an advantage in the first two rounds.

That edge disappears as the other teams get acclimated to the court, however. Last year, though, the home teams performed poorly against the spread in each round except the finals. Whether this is a reversal of the longer-term trend is something I will continue to monitor.

Does revenge play any part in conference tournaments? Yes and no. A favorite that has lost straight up to its opponent during the regular season has covered the spread at a rate of 59 % in the last four years.

However, favorites who have lost twice to their opponent during the regular season only cover the spread 41% of the time. Underdogs who try to avenge a single regular-season defeat only cover at a 46% rate, while underdogs who try to avenge two regular-season losses cover the spread 45% of the time.

We will be back next Wednesday with a special NCAA tournament edition of Vegas Vice, where I will discuss the teams I believe have a chance to make it to the Sweet Sixteen.

See you then.

and is currently the general counsel for a company that operates four hotel/casinos in Las Vegas. He has been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years and successfully concluded last football season by winning on 55% of his college and pro selections posted on TheStreet.com. He welcomes your feedback at

Vegasvice@aol.com.