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Best Bets: Which top teams are easiest national title fades?

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During the 2018-19 college basketball season, we will be taking deeper dives into the betting markets now that sports gambling has been legalized outside of the state of Nevada.

To kick the season off, we are going to break down National Title futures and which bets are worth your time and money. 

Here are the five teams with odds 50:1 or lower that are the easiest to fade during the preseason.

REMINDER: A bet of $100 on +200 odds would win $200. A bet of $100 on +10,000 odds would win $10,000. A bet of $1 on +20,000 would win $200.

NOTE: These odds come via the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook. 

MICHIGAN (+3,000)

Michigan has a chance to be a pretty good team this year. They finished last season as the No. 3 team in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and with all of their best defenders — and defensive coordinator Luke Yaklich — all back, I fully expect them to once again be among the nation’s-best defensive teams.

And that’s before you factor in John Beilein, who has proven himself to be one of college basketball’s best coaches and ruthlessly effective in tournament settings. He’s been to the national title game twice. He’s won back-to-back Big Ten tournaments. Who can forget the success he had with West Virginia.

So I get it.

I’m just not willing to pay this price.

For starters, the Wolverines are going to enter the season ranked somewhere near the back-end of the top 25 — we have them 23rd — but there are just nine teams with lower odds to win the national title. That’s a red flag.

Then you have to factor in the issues I expect the Wolverines to have on the offensive end of the floor. There were long stretches of last season where Michigan’s offense was painful to watch, and this offseason they parted ways with their three-best offensive weapons — Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson. That means that they are going to have to be carried offensively by players that have either failed to provide they can handle that kind of load (Zavier Simpson, Charles Matthews) or by youngsters that haven’t proven themselves at this level yet (Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers).

While it is important to be a good defensive team if you want to have success in March, you are much more likely to make a Final Four or national title run with an elite offense and a good-enough-defense than vice versa. I did a study on this subject. You can see the results here and here.

So I would stay away from Michigan, particularly at these odds.

RELATED: The longshot national title futures with value

UCLA (+3,000)

Even before the injuries that ravaged their bench, the Bruins were a team that I had no interest in. This is a program that has played precisely zero defense in the Steve Alford era, and they are entering a season where their three best players aren’t exactly know for their effort on the defensive end of the floor and where issues may arise over whose team this is, Kris Wilkes or Jaylen Hands.

That was before we found out that Alex Olesinki had injured his foot and will miss at least a couple of months, Shareef O’Neal will miss the season due to a previously-undiagnosed heart ailment and Tyger Campbell — the one steadying presence that the Bruins had in their backcourt — had torn his ACL.

I expect the odds here to adjust eventually, but as it currently stands, betting on UCLA to win a national title when they have the tenth-lowest odds is giving money away. If that’s what you’re looking to do, I’ll send you my Venmo. Your money will be put to better use that way.

Jaylen Hands (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

OREGON (+2,000)

According to the Westgate’s oddsmakers, Oregon is the seventh-most likely team in college basketball to win the national title.

Seventh!

I’m a fan of Dana Altman and I think that this Oregon team does have some talent — they should be one of the two-best teams in the Pac-12 this season — but seventh?

That is a steep price to pay for a team that undeniably has flaws.

This is one of the youngest teams that Altman will have coached at Oregon. As much respect as I respect Payton Pritchard, he’s not exactly the kind of lead guard that Altman has thrived with in the past, and neither are Altman’s wings; Louis King might be able to fill that Dillon Brooks’ role, but that is a big ask from a freshman.

That’s not the biggest issue I have, however.

The reason that Oregon is regarded this highly likely has to do with the fact that they landed Bol Bol, a top five recruit in the class and a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. But I have real concerns over his effectiveness at the college level — both due to who he is as a player and his fit in the Oregon system. There’s a lot to unpack there (I go through it all in detail here) but it should be enough to scare you off the Ducks when the payoff you’re getting is only 20:1.

INDIANA (+4,000)

I actually like this Indiana team this season. Romeo Langford will likely be the best freshman in the Big Ten. He is a potential all-league player, as is senior forward Juwan Morgan. They have some length and athleticism, giving them the kind of roster that head coach Archie Miller typically has success with. Point guard play is going to be a question mark, but at (+20,000), the Hoosiers were a great bet.

The problem is that Indiana is no longer (+20,000) to win the national title.

After the Hoosiers landed Langford’s commitment in late-April and Morgan announced that he was returning to school in late-May, their odds dropped all the way to (+4,000). That puts them at the 15th-most likely team to win the national title, at least according to the bookmakers at the Westgate.

I’ll pass.

WICHITA STATE (+4,000)

Simply put, this is just a terrible line, and not in the way that we want to exploit. Wichita State is a good program that has had success in the NCAA tournament in the past and the kind of name recognition that goes beyond their place in college basketball’s hierarchy, but it would be (ahem) shocking if this was the year that the Shockers were to cut down the nets.

They lose nine of their top 11 scorers and 89 percent of their minutes played from last season, and none of the kids they have coming into the program this season are the kind of impact recruits that can dig them out of a rebuilding season. Gregg Marshall is Gregg Marshall, so anything is possible, but I will say that people around the AAC that I’ve spoken to expect them to finish in the bottom four of their league standings.

There are only 14 teams with lower odds to win the title.

I’d take Wichita State (+4,000) to get a bid to the NCAA tournament. I don’t know if there is a line that would get me to bet on them to win the national title.

Pac-12 loosens intra-conference transfer rule

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The Pac-12 approved a measure Monday that will lighten restrictions on players that want to transfer to schools within the conference.

Players who now make an intra-conference transfer will no longer be subject to an immediate loss of a season of eligibility, the conference announced.

“This rule change removes one of the last remaining penalties associated with transferring between Conference schools,” the league said in a press release, “and is designed to provide student-athletes with a similar experience to any other student who decides to transfer.”

The league also has passed rules to beef up its non-conference schedule as programs will be required to a non-conference five-year trailing average of opponents’ NET ranking must be 175 or less, no participation in road buy games, no regular season games against non-Division I opponents and no road games versus a non-conference opponent with a five-year trailing average of 200 NET. Those requirements, along with the move to a 20-game conference schedule, come in response to continued struggles by the league in basketball, with last season seeing the league flirt with being a one-bid NCAA tournament conference. Ultimately, its league champion, Washington, received a No. 9 seed with Oregon getting a 12 and Arizona State an 11 and a First Four invitation.

 

Kenny Wooten writes he won’t return to Oregon

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Kenny Wooten took to Instagram on Monday to discuss his future.

“I know I’ve waited a very long time to answer this question,” Wooten wrote in response to a question from a fan, “but I will not be coming back for year 3.”

Presumably that means that Wooten means to continue to pursue a professional career after declaring for the NBA draft after his sophomore season. He competed at the G-Leage Elite minicamp last week in Chicago along with a host of other draft hopefuls.

The 6-foot-9 California native averaged 6.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game while shooting 58.9 percent from the field. At the moment, it’s likely that Wooten would have to pursue a path to the NBA that includes the G-League.

Wooten makes it a loss of seven players from last year’s Sweet 16 squad for coach Dana Altman, who also saw Bol Bol and Louis King go to the draft. Payton Pritchard Jr., who averaged nearly 13 points per game as a junior, has also declared, but has not indicated if he plans to stay in or return to school.

Five-star forward Trendon Watford commits to LSU

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Whatever issues have dogged LSU coach Will Wade over the last few months, they aren’t enough to keep him from landing another five-star recruit.

Trendon Watford, a top-25 forward in 2019, committed to Wade and the Tigers in an Monday afternoon announcement.

“It’s the trust,” he said of his pick of the Tigers, according to AL.com, “the trust I have with those coaches and them helping me reach my potential.”

Watford said he had been leaning towards heading to Baton Rouge, but retreated from that stance when Wade was suspended by LSU after reports surfaced about federal wiretaps featuring Wade discussing making a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit. Former Arizona assistant Book Richardson was also on wiretap discussing Wade, recruit Naz Reid and $300,000. Ultimately, though, LSU has stood by him as it reinstated him from suspension.

“When all that was going on it was definitely a pause in my recruitment,” Watford told 247Sports. “Before that I was going to commit to LSU during the McDonald’s game and that happened so we postponed. He still contacted me throughout that time and would tell me what was up. When he got reinstated they got pushed back to the top.”

Ultimately, the Tigers are landing one of the top players that were left on the board this spring, a 6-foot-9 forward that was also considering Alabama, Memphis and Indiana, where his brother Christian played. He joins James Bishop, a top-150 guard from Maryland, and junior college transfer guard Charles Manning in Wade’s 2019 class. It would also seem there is little immediate concern, at least by Watford, that the NCAA might soon find wrongdoing that was suggested by the evidence and testimony to come out the federal investigation into college hoops.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with what Nassir Little said about North Carolina at the combine

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One of the storylines that has popped up since the NBA draft combine came to an end last week has centered around a couple of things that potential top ten pick and former North Carolina Tar Heel Nassir Little said.

Before we dive into it, here is what the actual quote was, courtesy of our own Scott Phillips:

“Hesitancy. Not being sure of what I wanted to do at UNC,” Little said when he was asked why he thinks he struggled more in college than he did in the high school ranks. “The coaching staff didn’t really understand exactly what my role was early on, especially in the offense, (which) created a lot of hesitancy which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”

Then we he was asked to elaborate on whether or not being unsure of his role contributed to his hesitancy, Little said, “Just kind of being unsure, playing out of position, created some confusion on the court which caused me to be hesitant.”

Little has taken some criticism for this, and, to be frank, this can be read as something of a criticism of the coaching staff. Without context, one can infer that Little is passing the buck and pinning the blame for his struggles on his coaches.

But the context here matters, and it changes the tone of what he is trying to say.

Let me start with this: Little says that he would not jump straight from high school to the NBA even if he had the chance to do it all over again.

“It was a struggle statistically,” he said, “but on the court I developed, my body developed and became more mature in the weight room there, learning about the game, playing against actual defense – in high school there is no help, you beat your guy, you’re going to get a dunk. Going to college exposes you to what’s helpful for the NBA.”

That doesn’t sound like someone who is bitter that an inability to crack the starting lineup at North Carolina cost him some draft spots.

To me, it sounds like a guy who realized that he didn’t know what he didn’t know before he arrived in Chapel Hill.

The thing about Little is that he was always just a weird fit for North Carolina’s system and the way that Roy Williams wants to play.

In this day and age, basketball is becoming more and more about versatility and your ability to play multiple positions. Think about Giannis Antetokounmpo bringing the ball up the floor for the Bucks or the job that Draymond Green does for Golden State. Little is such an attractive prospect because he has the size, strength and athleticism to be able to guard multiple different positions — which you cannot teach — while having the upside of still needing to learn how to do pretty much everything better offensively.

North Carolina’s offense is not one that preaches versatility. The positions are quite rigid. Williams wants two bigs on the floor that are true bigs. He wants two wings on the floor that are going to be able to get out in transition and make threes on the wing. He wants a point guard that can lead the break. Where Little’s versatility makes him an intriguing prospect at the highest level, he’s relegated to being something of a tweener for a coach that is just two years removed from his third national title.

So when Little says “the coaching staff didn’t really understand exactly what my role was,” he’s not blaming them.

He’s just speaking the truth.

When he says that created a “hesitancy” in him, of course it did. If you walked into a new job tomorrow, and your boss never really gives you clear and concise instructions on what he expects you to do, are you going to be at your very best right away, or will it take you some time to adjust?

Roy Williams is one of the best to ever coach college basketball, and one of his biggest strengths is the ability to find and recruit players that fit into his system. Coby White is the perfect example. Don’t be surprised when Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot have us saying the same thing next season.

Little is not one of those players that fit perfectly into what Williams wanted to do, but as far as I can tell, this was the closest that we came to hearing Little complain about it. He accepted his role, he got better throughout the year and he had some of his best games in big moments — the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, the Florida State game at home, the Virginia Tech game in January.

Maybe I’m reading this entirely wrong, but to me, Little doesn’t come off as bitter or angry, he sounds like a mature, self-aware kid that was honestly answering questions about his one season in college.

Javonte Smart’s decision to return to LSU could complicate things next season

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Javonte Smart announced over the weekend that he will be withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to LSU for his sophomore season.

Smart is a 6-foot-4 point guard and a former four-star recruit that averaged 11.1 points, 3.3 boards and 2.4 assists as a freshman. He was one of six Tigers — along with Naz Reid, Tremont Waters, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams — to declare for the draft. None of the other five have announced a decision yet.

In a vacuum, this is obviously a good thing for an LSU program that has quite a bit up in the air right now.

But there is more to this story than a solid freshman returning to school for his sophomore season, because Smart found himself smack in the middle of the controversy involving the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. In March, Yahoo Sports reported that LSU head coach Will Wade was caught on a wire tap discussing with Christian Dawkins, an ex-runner for a former NBA agent that has been convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison as a result of this scandal, a “strong-ass” offer that he made to one of Smart’s handlers.

“I was thinking last night on this Smart thing,” Wade reportedly said in the conversation on wiretap with Dawkins. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with the [expletive]. Like, this should not be that [expletive] complicated.”

“Dude,” Wade continued to Dawkins, referring to the third party involved in the recruitment. “I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong.

“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit. It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”

Smart was suspended for the final game of the regular season, but he was reinstated prior to the start of the SEC tournament. Will Wade was suspended at the same time, but he was not reinstated until last month.

This might end up being problematic, for Wade, for Smart and, potentially, for LSU. Smart returning to school means that the NCAA can now exert influence over him. They will be investigating everything that has popped up as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption, from what was discussed at trial to the things that were reported separately in the media. I have very little doubt that LSU is going to be one of the programs that gets investigated, and since he is back in college, the NCAA will once again be able to hold power over him.

They can call him in to be interviewed. If he does not tell the truth in that interview, he can be suspended. If he does tell the truth, just how much of a headache is that going to be for the coaching staff and the program as a whole?

I don’t have the answer to that question, and based on LSU’s decision to reinstate Smart in March, they must either believe that the player did not know anything about that “strong-ass offer” or that the story is inaccurate in some way.

Either way, Smart’s decision to come back to school is going to complicate things, even if it makes the team better.