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Best Bets: What national title favorites have best futures value?

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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 top ten teams in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 ranked in order of which futures bet is the best value.

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. 

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VALUE BETS

1. Villanova (+3000), No. 5 in our top 25

I may the only member of Villanova Island these days, but I’m fully bought in on the idea that the Wildcats are still national title contenders.

The narrative this team is currently facing is that they are young, which, in Villanova terms, is totally accurate. Three members of their rotation are going to be sophomores. They’ll likely play at least two, if not three freshmen significant minutes. For a program that has featured at least two players receiving social security benefits in each of the last five seasons, that is quite a bit of youth.

But Villanova also has as much veteran leadership as anyone in the country. Phil Booth is a fifth-year senior that has won two national titles and has more experience that any other player in the sport. Eric Paschall only played in one national title game, but he is also a fifth-year senior with two rings to his name. Joe Cremo is an Albany transfer, but Albany has a track record of winning and Cremo is a perfect fit for the way the Wildcats want to play.

And all that comes before we start talking about the way the Villanova program operates. It’s always been next-man-up, and there has always been someone ready to make that next step. Darrun Hilliard, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo. The beauty of the way Villanova operates is that there are NBA-caliber players willing to play a role for the betterment of the team, and this season I think that Paschall is going to be the guy that is the next-man-up.

A 15.9-ppg scorer at Fordham as a freshman, Paschall is a terrific athlete, an excellent three-point shooter — he shot 46.1 percent in the final three months of the season after a 1-for-25 start — and a guy primed for a breakout year. If he ends up being an All-American as I expect he will be and Booth becomes that secondary scorer, all Jay Wright needs his new faces to do are to thrive in their roles, and there is no reason that they can’t.

At these odds, a $10 bet pays off $300. That’s more than worth the risk.

2. Auburn (+4000), No. 10

Auburn has plenty of question marks this season. How will they handle the loss of their leading scorer, Mustapha Heron? Will the team able to effectively integrate Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy without messing with their style of play and their ego-less brand of basketball? What happens when the Tigers are no longer sneaking up on anyone? They are the reigning SEC co-champions and a preseason top ten team. They will be one of the biggest games on the schedule for every team they play this season.

But the key here is that while there are a couple of question marks, Auburn brings back the two most important pieces to their space-and-pace system. Jared Harper is their junior point guard and the floor general that make their fast-paced offense work. He declared for the draft but returned to school.

More importantly, however, it appears that Anfernee McLemore is healthy after a devastating ankle injury (think Gordon Hayward) that he suffered in February. McLemore is the piece that brings everything together for the Tigers. He’s a hyper-athletic 6-foot-7 big man that led the SEC in blocked shots (2.7 per game) despite playing less than 20 minutes per night. He led the nation in block rate. And he shot 39.1 percent from three.

There are real concerns about this team, but the risk is baked into the odds. At 40:1, Auburn is getting better odds than Michigan, UCLA and Oregon and is at the same level as Wichita State and Indiana. I like those odds.

Grant Williams (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

3. Tennessee (+2500), No. 7

I’m still not totally sure how I feel about Tennessee this season. It’s impossible to deny the success that they had last year, coming out of nowhere to win a share of the SEC regular season title. And they bring everyone back from that team, including reigning SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams.

They are going to win a lot of basketball games this season. They are very likely going to end up getting a top three seed again. They are old, they have some star power, Rick Barnes has been to a Final Four before.

At 25:1 odds, I see the value, I’m just not sure I’m ready to pull the trigger yet. If I’m betting on someone from the SEC, it’s probably going to be Auburn.

WORTH A LOOK

4. Virginia (+2000), No. 8

Look, I get it.

Virginia is scary.

In the last five years, they’ve been a No. 1-seed three times and a No. 2-seed once. In each of those four NCAA tournaments, they lost to a team seeded lower than them, including blowing a 15-point lead in the last ten minutes against No. 10-seed Syracuse and becoming the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed. So I understand why you would be hesitant.

But you’re also getting 20:1 odds here. Remember back in 2016, when Villanova was the team that always choked in March? Or when Mark Few, or Bill Self, or Jim Calhoun, or Lute Olson couldn’t win a big game? Or when the Cubs were those lovable losers that were never going to win a World Series?

This may not be the year that Virginia finally sheds the label of choke artist, but when a $100 bet pays off your phone bill for the entire year, the risk is worth it.

5. Kansas (+800), No. 1

There is a clear-cut top four in college basketball this season: Kansas, Kentucky, Gonzaga and Duke. They are the four teams with the lowest odds to win the national title, they are the four teams at the top of the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and they will be the four teams that inhabit the top four of both preseason polls.

The order that they wind up in will vary from place to place. Personally, I have Kansas at No. 1. Not only do they have a potential Player of the Year in Dedric Lawson and another potential All-American in Quentin Grimes, this is a team that has a terrific combination of talented youngsters and quality veterans. I’m a little worried about point guard play and I think that shooting will be an issue, but this group has the roster build of Bill Self’s best teams: big, athletic perimeter players, a hoss at the five and a face-up four that can get 20 points on any given night.

If you want to bet on one of the top four teams this season, Kansas — who has the best odds of the four — is the one I’m looking at.

6. Gonzaga (+700), No. 3; 7. Kentucky (+600), No. 2

I don’t see all that much of a difference between the Zags and the Wildcats this year. I think Kentucky probably has a higher ceiling, although their dependence on freshmen guards and the questions about who will be their go-to guy (Tyler Herro) in crunch-time are concerns. Gonzaga might have the best frontcourt in all of college basketball, but betting on them to win a national title means that you are betting on a team that will be run by Josh Perkins, and I’m not sure I’m ready to do that.

Either way, I doubt that I’ll invest in any futures for either of these teams. But at their cost I don’t think either are worth the payoff.

Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Reagan Lunn/@DukeMBB

I’M STAYING AWAY

8. Duke (+500), No. 4

Everyone has a blind spot, and I think Duke might be mine. I am lower on the Blue Devils than the rest country. I did not really consider them for the top three in my rankings because I am really concerned about the way the pieces on this roster are going to come together.

There is no questioning the talent that will be on display here. RJ Barrett looks like the favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. Cam Reddish might have the highest upside of anyone in the draft class. Tre Jones has all those point guard qualities Duke has been trying desperately to find for the last three seasons. Zion Williamson is Zion Williamson.

What concerns me is that the Blue Devils’ four best players are all going to operate best with the ball in their hands. There is also going to be a lack of shooting on this roster, and I’m not fully convinced that Coach K has figured out how to make these one-and-done rosters as good as he needs them to be defensively.

If they do end up winning the title, I will not be cashing a ticket. At the lowest odds of any team in the country, I’ll let someone else make that bet.

9. Nevada (+1200), No. 6

When the odds for the 2019 national title were first posted, Nevada checked in at (+6000). I would have been all over the Wolf Pack at 60:1, but once the Martin twins both announced that they would be returning to school for their final year of eligibility, those odds fell to 12:1. They now, according to the Westgate, are the sixth-most likely team to win the national title. I have them sixth-nationally heading into the season.

If you feel strongly that this is the year Eric Musselman’s crew can win a title, make the bet. I don’t hate it. But at these odds, I won’t be there with you.

10. North Carolina (+800), No. 9

I actually think the Tar Heels have a chance to be pretty good this season. I have them ninth in the preseason top 25. They have an All-American in Luke Maye and a future top three pick in Nassir Little. They might win the ACC. They’re good.

They’re also getting the same odds as Kansas — who I have as the preseason No. 1 team in the country — and are sitting between Tennessee (+2500), Virginia (+2000), Auburn (+4000) and Kansas State (+8000) in my rankings.

They could win the title, but at 8:1 odds I’m not going to be the guy betting on it.

Dominant first half pushes No. 4 Virginia Tech into second round

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East Region No. 4 Virginia Tech earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory in 12 years Friday night, as it rode a dominant first half to a 66-52 win over No. 13 Saint Louis.

Buzz Williams’ team limited the Billikens to 18 first half points, taking a 22-point lead into the half as a result. The Hokies weren’t at their best offensively in the second half, but the work done in the first half was more than enough as Saint Louis could get no closer than nine points.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way for Virginia Tech with a game-high 20 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals, with Kerry Blackshear adding 15 points and Ahmed Hill ten. The Hokies shot just 41.7 percent from the field, but a 22-for-27 night from the foul line and a 12-point edge in points from the charity stripe made up for that.

Defensively the Hokies were outstanding in the first half, and would limit the Billikens to 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 4-for-23 from three. Travis Ford’s team, which erased halftime deficits in three of its four wins at last week’s Atlantic 10 tournament, outscored Virginia Tech 34-26 in the second half.

Javon Bess, who sparked the second half rally with some big shots, led three SLU players in double figures with 14 points, with D.J. Foreman adding 12 points and Tramaine Isabell Jr. 11.

Friday’s game also marked the return of Virginia Tech point guard Justin Robinson, who had not played since late January due to a foot injury. The senior finished the game with nine points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals, and while he didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (2-for-7 from the field) Robinson’s presence will only help the Hokies as they look to play deep into the tournament.

Next up for Virginia Tech will be No. 12 Liberty, which upset No. 5 Mississippi State in the first game of the evening session in San Jose.

No. 11 Ohio State advances after landing upset of No. 6 Iowa State

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Chris Holtmann has been to five straight NCAA tournaments since he took over as the interim head coach at Butler during the 2014-15 season.

And after his No. 11-seed Ohio State Buckeyes outlasted No. 6-seed Iowa State, Holtmann can say that his streak remains intact: He has still never lost a game in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Kaleb Wesson scored 21 points and grabbed 11 boards, overpowering a smaller Iowa State team in the paint and carrying the Buckeyes back to the second round of the dance for the second straight season with a 62-59 win over the Cyclones. Wesson missed a front end of a one-and-one with 10 seconds left in the game, but Nick Weiler-Babb missed a wide-open three from about 23 feet that would have tied the game.

And with that, the Buckeyes will advance to take on No. 3-seed Houston for the right to play in the Sweet 16.

But the talking point coming out of this game isn’t going to be Ohio State vs. Houston, it’s going to about the future of the Iowa State head coaching position. Avery Johnson is negotiating a buyout with Alabama. Steve Prohm grew up in Georgia and is an Alabama alum. There is more than a little smoke surrounding his potential move to Tuscaloosa, and if that does happen, it opens the door for what was almost unthinkable a couple of months ago: A return to Ames for former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.

And that, in turn, has repercussions that will reverberate throughout the college coaching world. Because Hoiberg was fired by the Chicago Bulls earlier and has been heavily linked with a move to Nebraska to replace Tim Miles, who has not been fired or seen his season come to an end.

This will be fascinating to see get put into motion and where these coaches will land.

But what’s clear is that this process couldn’t start until Iowa State’s season came to an end.

Here we are.

No. 9 UCF beats No. 8 VCU, earns first-ever NCAA tournament win

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East Region No. 9 UCF made history Friday night, picking up the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament victory as it beat No. 8 VCU by a 73-58 final score. The reward for the Knights is a shot at top overall seed Duke Sunday night, with head coach Johnny Dawkins facing his mentor for the second time in his coaching career.

UCF grabbed control of Friday’s matchup with a 19-0 run that began in the first half, with VCU going nearly eight minutes without scoring a point. Mike Rhoades’ team rallied in the second half but could get no closer than nine points before the Knights put the game away.

B.J. Taylor led three double-digit scorers with 15 points, and 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall was the difference-maker in the front court. In addition to scoring 13 points the senior big man also accounted for 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. In addition to the blocks there were shots that Fall altered, and even a couple forced turnovers in which VCU paid the price for making rushed decisions around the basket.

Aubrey Dawkins added 14 points, with Terrell Allen and Frank Bertz scoring nine apiece. With UCF’s win the 9-seeds were 4-0 in first round matchups in this year’s tournament, and three of the wins (UCF, Washington and Oklahoma) were by 15 points or more.

Malik Crowfield led the way for the Atlantic 10 regular season champions with 11 points and De’Riante Jenkins added ten, but VCU shot just 31.1 percent from the field and 6-for-26 from three on the night. UCF used multiple defenses throughout the night, going to a zone when Fall was on the floor and man-to-man when the center was on the bench. The Knights will use a similar formula Sunday in hopes that it will slow down Duke’s talented freshman scorers.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Sunday second round tip times, announcers

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All times Eastern

12:10 p.m.: South No. 10 Iowa vs. No. 2 Tennessee (Columbus; CBS); Brian Anderson/Chris Webber/Allie LaForce

Approx. 2:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 9 Washington vs. No. 1 North Carolina (Columbus; CBS); Anderson/Webber/LaForce

5:15 p.m.: East No. 9 UCF vs. No. 1 Duke (Columbia; CBS); Jim Nantz/Bill Raftery/Grant Hill/Tracy Wolfson

6:10 p.m.: West No. 6 Buffalo vs. No. 3 Texas Tech (Tulsa; TNT); Brad Nessler/Steve Lavin/Jim Jackson/Evan Washburn

7:10 p.m.: East No. 12 Liberty vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech (San Jose; TBS); Spero Dedes/Steve Smith/Len Elmore/Ros Gold-Onwude

Approx.: 7:45 p.m.: South No. 9 Oklahoma vs. No. 1 Virginia (Columbia; truTV); Nantz/Raftery/Hill/Wolfson

Approx. 8:40 p.m.: Midwest No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Houston (Tulsa; TNT); Nessler/Lavin/Jackson/Washburn

Approx.: 9:40 p.m.: South No. 13 UC Irvine vs. No. 12 Oregon (San Jose; TBS); Dedes/Smith/Elmore/Gold-Onwude

North Carolina shakes off slow start, runs over Iona

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The ACC sent three No. 1 seeds to the NCAA tournament, and all three of them decided that they didn’t need to show up for the first half.

Virginia trailed Gardner-Webb by as many at 14 points before going on to win by 15. Duke trailed North Dakota State deep into the first half before taking a 31-27 lead into the break, but they went on to win by 23 points.

North Carolina completed the trifecta, digging themselves a 38-31 hole and taking a five-point deficit into the break before they finally found their rhythm, running No. 16-seed Iona off the floor, 88-73.

Cam Johnson led the way with 21 points, seven boards and four assists for UNC while Nassir Little chipped in with 19 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field. As a team, the Tar Heels grabbed 19 offensive boards.

That said, the final box score doesn’t tell the whole story.

North Carolina was bad in the first half. They couldn’t get out in transition. They gave up 10 Iona three-pointers. It was the furthest thing from a quintessential North Carolina performance, the kind of showing that will get the Tar Heels on a plane back to Chapel Hill if they play this way against Washington in the next round.

It should be easier to be ready to play when the Pac-12 champs are on the other end of the floor.