Harry How/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

Bubble Banter: Nebraska’s fortunes have changed thanks to better Big Ten

Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here is the most recent bracket NBC Sports bracket projection.

There is no better example in college basketball of the importance of non-conference play for a league and the value that performance brings to a team than Nebraska.

A year ago, the Cornhuskers entered Selection Sunday with a 22-10 record and a 13-5 mark in the Big Ten and barely got a sniff of life on the bubble. That was a direct result of just how weird the Big Ten was that season. The conference had four teams that were good enough to be top five seeds on Selection Sunday — Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan — and a bunch of nothing beyond that. To put it into perspective, prior to last season, there had never been a team with 12 Big Ten wins to get left out of the NCAA tournament and there have only been two teams in the history of the conference to win 11 games and be relegated to the NIT. Hell, the only time that any power conference team won 13 league games and missed the NCAA tournament was when it happened to Washington and Oregon in 2012. Washington won the league title but the conference was worse than it is this year, so they got left out.

Nebraska? They went 13-5 in conference play and they were a No. 5 seed in the NIT.

How?

Unbalanced scheduling meant that Nebraska only got one game against each of those top four teams — three of which came on the road — and they won the one game they got at home by 20 points over the same Michigan team that reached the national title game. They, like the much of rest of the conference, whiffed on all of their chances to land big wins outside of league play, and when they lost at Illinois late in the season, it was more or less the end of the road.

This year, Nebraska is sitting at 5-10 in league play with a 15-11 record overall, and … they’re one of our Next Four Teams Out?

How is that possible?

It’s simple: The Big Ten cleaned up in non-conference play, meaning that everyone in the league except for Rutgers is ranked in the top 80 of the NET. If Illinois (77) and Northwestern (78) find a way to get into the top 75, it would mean that 13 of the 14 teams in the conference would be Q1 wins if you beat them on the road. Yes, Nebraska lost seven games in a row, but five of those seven losses were Q1 losses and the other team were Q2.

They’re 15-11 on the season but they don’t have a single bad loss to their name. What they’re missing are those high-end wins, and that’s where things get really interesting. The final five games on Nebraska’s schedule — including Tuesday night’s trip to Penn State (70) — are Q1 games. They close the season against Purdue (12), at Michigan (8), at Michigan State (7) and Iowa (28). Let’s say they finish the season 3-2 and pick up a win at a depleted Michigan State team in the process. Suddenly, they would be sitting at 18-13 on the season. The committee would not factor in that 8-12 record in the Big Ten or that there was a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the year.

Instead, they would look at a team that is 5-10 in Q1 games and 10-13 against Q1 and Q2 opponents with a win in East Lansing in their back pocket.

I look at bubble profiles every single day this time of year.

And that resume? I think it probably gets them into the tournament.

What a time to be alive.

GAMES LEFT TO PLAY

Dayton at DAVIDSON (NET: 67, SOS: 128), 6:00 p.m.
Ohio at No. 25 BUFFALO (NET: 24, SOS: 71), 7:00 p.m.
NEBRASKA (NET: 38, SOS: 77) at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.
Rhode Island at VCU (NET: 42, SOS: 31), 8:00 p.m.
No. 16 Florida State at CLEMSON (NET: 41, SOS: 43), 9:00 p.m.
BAYLOR (NET: 36, SOS: 45) at No. 19 Iowa State, 9:00 p.m.
ALABAMA (NET: 50, SOS: 20) at Texas A&M, 9:00 p.m.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson has this award locked up

AP Photo/Zack Wajsgras
Leave a comment

1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I’m running out of good things to say about Zion at this point.

Last week, we talked about how good he can play in games where he doesn’t even play well — when he had 18 points, five boards, five assists, three blocks and three steals in an OK performance at Virginia. Then this past week we saw Zion play through foul trouble to put up 27 points, 12 boards and three steals in a come-from-behind win at Louisville before lighting up N.C. State for 32 points, six boards and three steals in just 30 minutes.

He’s just not fair at this level, and at this point in the season, with less than three weeks before tournament play kicks off, I think we can just about stamp him as the National Player of the Year.

2. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

After struggling and finishing with just 17 points on 5-for-17 shooting in Marquette’s loss to St. John’s two weeks ago, Howard has been absolutely on fire. He’s averaging 37.0 points in the last two games while shooting 25-for-45 (55.6 percent) from the floor and 9-for-20 (45 percent) from three. Included in that run is a 38 point performance in a win over Villanova. He has been carrying the Golden Eagles for stretches on the offensive end of the floor this season, and that is why they are in the mix for a Big East regular season title.

3. JA MORANT, Murray State

Morant had 25 points, 14 assists, eight boards, three steals and a block the last time out. He’s averaging 24.3 points and 10.2 assists on the season. He is the reason a Murray State team that doesn’t have all that much talent on the roster is sitting at 21-4 on the year. I don’t think the Racers have a realistic shot at getting an at-large bid this season, but I want nothing more than a chance to see Morant try and put 50 points up against some No. 3 seed in the first round of the tournament.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

I think that you can make the argument that R.J. Barrett played his best game of the season on Saturday, as he notched just the fourth triple-double in the history of the Duke program while posting 23 points, 11 boards and 10 assists without committing a single turnover.

5. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

The flaw in Williams’ game was exposed on Saturday night. When he goes up against someone that can match him pound for pound and muscle for muscle, he doesn’t quite have the athleticism or the skill to win that battle. He’s still a surefire all-american and, at this point, I have a hard time imagining him falling off of the first-team, but we did get a glimpse at some of his limitations.

6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Every time I watch Hunter play, I am more and more convinced that he is on his way to being a top five player out of this draft class. The most intriguing part of it all is the way that Tony Bennett has opted to deploy him on the defensive end of the floor, using Hunter to guard Coby White in the closing minutes of a win at North Carolina and putting him on Nickeil Alexander-Walker in the win at Virginia Tech. Those are point guards. Hunter plays as the four in many of Virginia’s lineups.

7. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Nick Ward had surgery on his hand and is out for an undetermined amount of time. Josh Langford is already done for the season. If Michigan State is going to have any chance to make a run in March, they are going to need Winston to play out of his mind for the next six weeks.

8. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver makes his return to this list as his three-point shooting has started to regress back to the mean. After a 3-for-33 stretch from deep, Culver is 5-for-11 from deep in the last two games as the Red Raiders have gone scorched earth from beyond the arc of late. The fact that Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney are starting to hit shots is opening up some more space for him to operate.

9. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

I don’t care what Jordan Sperber says, Clarke is the best player on Gonzaga this season.

10. P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

In the last eight games, Washington is averaging 21.1 points, 8.1 boards, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals, which includes a 23 point performance as Kentucky manhandled No. 1 Tennessee in Rupp Arena on Saturday evening. More important, however, is the fact that during that stretch, Washington is shooting 12-for-24 (50 percent) from three. It’s hard to know exactly where to put Washington on a list like this — he has a couple big games earlier in the year, but he was no where near as consistent or as dominant — but I do think that if he finishes out the season the way that he has played over the course of the last month he will win SEC Player of the Year.

IN THE MIX: Phil Booth (Villanova), Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Ty Jerome (Virginia), Dedric Lawson (Kansas), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)

Davison, Iverson lead No. 22 Wisconsin over Illinois, 64-58

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADISON, Wis. — Brad Davison scored 18 points, Khalil Iverson added 16 and No. 22 Wisconsin held off Illinois 64-58 on Monday night.

The Badgers (18-8, 10-5 Big Ten) ground out a win over Illinois (10-16, 6-9) with leading scorer Ethan Happ on the bench down the stretch.

Happ, who averages 18 points, scored just six points on 3-of-7 shooting, was 0 for 3 from the foul line and had three turnovers, including one just before he sat out the final minutes. He also has proven a liability from the line in crunch time in past games, shooting less than 45 percent from the line.

But Davison led the Badgers down the stretch. His short jumper put the Badgers up 54-52 with 3:21 left, giving them the lead for good. After Iverson blocked Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Davison collected the loose ball to take it in for a layup and a 56-52 lead with 2:45 to go.

From there the teams traded blows until Nate Reuvers’ putback dunk on a missed 3 gave Wisconsin a 62-58 lead. Iverson then stole the ball on the next Illinois possession, helping put away the game.

Aaron Jordan finished with 12 points for the Illini, while Ayo Dosunmu added 11 and Bezhanishvili 10.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini had won four straight and were looking for their first five-game conference winning streak since 2013. Instead, they lost their 15th in a row to the Badgers, the longest streak to any Illinois opponent.

Wisconsin: The Badgers snapped a two-game losing streak and proved they could win in a grind-it-out game with Happ on the bench.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Penn State on Saturday.

Wisconsin: Travels to Northwestern on Saturday.

No. 23 Kansas State beats West Virginia to keep Big 12 lead

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Barry Brown scored 21 points and No. 23 Kansas State beat West Virginia 65-51 on Monday night to remain atop the Big 12 standings.

A 14-0 run midway through the second half, led by a couple of 3-pointers by Xavier Sneed, gave the Wildcats (20-6, 10-3) their fifth straight conference road win.

After shooting poorly in the first half and only holding a two-point lead, Kansas State kept the Mountaineers (10-16, 2-10) at bay with 50 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes.

Sneed added 19 points for Kansas State, including five 3-pointers. Dean Wade, who was questionable going into the game, scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds.

Lamont West led West Virginia with 16 points. Derek Culver picked up his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Brandon Knapper scored 10 points.

The Mountaineers outrebounded the Wildcats 35-31.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State: The Wildcats remain on top of the Big 12 by bouncing back after their 78-64 loss to then-No. 23 Iowa State on Saturday. No. 12 Kansas and No. 14 Texas Tech remain one game back at 9-4. The Jayhawks and Red Raiders play each other on Saturday in Lubbock, Texas.

West Virginia: Considering the recent depletion of their roster, the Mountaineers put up a pretty good fight against the stout Wildcats, not caving until midway through the second half. With Oklahoma State’s win over TCU on Monday, WVU sits alone at the bottom of the Big 12.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home to host Oklahoma State on Saturday.

West Virginia heads to Waco to play Baylor on Saturday.

Monday’s Things To Know: Ethan Happ gets benched, Kansas State stays in first and Virginia keeps winning

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There weren’t any wildly surprising results Monday across the country, but there was no shortage of interesting happenings. From an All-American on the bench to the Big 12 race continuing to take shape and beyond, here’s what you need to know from Monday: 

ETHAN HAPPS GETS BENCHED IN WISCONSIN VICTORY

Ethan Happ has been awesome this season. He’s been a national player of the year candidate, and is a likely All-American selection. The Wisconsin senior is averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game. That’s rarified statistical air for the 6-foot-10 star.

He’s also often a liability late in close games, and Wisconsin coach Greg Gard implicitly acknowledged that fact by sitting his All-American center for the final 4 minutes, 6 seconds of the Badgers’ 64-58 win over Illinois on Monday.

Gard said it was because Happ was turning the ball over, and Happ did have a tough offensive night with just six points and three giveaways. So when Gard removed him from the game right before the under-4 timeout, it probably was out of frustration of his poor night. That fact that he never came back in, though, points to hole in Happ’s game.

Happ, for all his success, talent and skill, can’t shoot free throws. It’s inexplicable how bad he is at the line, and it’s incredible what a potentially fatal flaw it might be in his game.

As a freshman, he attempted nearly five free throws per game and converted at a not-great-but-not-embarrassing 64.3 percent. That fell to 50 percent as a sophomore, ticked up slightly to 55 percent last year and has now plummeted to a highly-problematic low of 44.5 percent.

That’s led to Hack-A-Happ, and that led to Happ’s benching when the game was tied with Wisconsin desperately needing a win after back-to-back losses before welcoming a surging-but-not-special Illini team to Madison on Monday.

One of the best players in the country watched from the bench as his team closed out a close game at home in a critical spot in the season. Sure, he was having an otherwise rough night, but it’s hard to believe Gard wouldn’t have been more tempted to go back to him if there wasn’t the issue of free throws lingering in the rafters of the Kohl Center.

The question now will be if Gard will resort to this completely-defensible strategy for the rest of the season, including the NCAA tournament. It’s wild that a coach’s best move could be to bench not only his best player, but one of the country’s best players. Happ’s free-throw shooting has sort of forced his hand, though.

KANSAS STATE STAYS OUT FRONT IN BIG 12

Losing to Iowa State at Bramlage Coliseum over the weekend put a major obstacle in Kansas State’s path to winning an outright Big 12 title, but a loss at West Virginia would have totally taken things off the track.

The Wildcats flirted with disaster, but ultimately prevailed in Morgantown, downing Bob Huggins’ undermanned Mountaineers, 65-51, in a game that was tied with under 12 minutes to play.

Ultimately, it was a win for Kansas State, as was having Dean Wade on the floor after an injury scare kept him out of the game for the final 9 minutes against the Cyclones. Wade played 32 minutes and seemed fine, scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds.

Bruce Weber’s team is now 10-3 in the Big 12, a game up in the loss column on Kansas, Texas Tech and Iowa State. They have what should be a gimme at home Saturday against Oklahoma State, but then play in just a monster game at Allen Fieldhouse against the Jayhawks. Steal that one and then it’s two home wins and a road win at suddenly-stumbling TCU to claim the first outright Big 12 title for a team that doesn’t reside in Lawrence for the first time since 2004.

VIRGINIA KEEPS ROLLING

If you’re not Duke, you’re not beating Virginia, apparently.

Kyle Guy scored 23, Virginia Tech shot 39.7 percent from the floor and Virginia topped the Hokies, 64-58, in Blacksburg.

It was the 23rd-straight win against non-Blue Devils teams for Virginia, which has lost to Coach K’s team twice this season.

The next to take a crack at Tony Bennett’s machine is Chris Mack’s Louisville, which hosts Virginia on Saturday and will play them again in Charlottesville in the regular-season finale.

Virginia keeps winning this season. It’s basically passe at this point, but it is pretty remarkable how Bennett and Co. keep racking up wins.