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Best Bets: National title futures to buy, fade

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We are still more than three months away from the start of the college basketball season, but that doesn’t mean it is too early to start betting on college basketball.

Futures, baby!

There are already plenty of places where you can find lines on next season’s national champions, so we would be in the wrong if we weren’t advising you on who to put your money on considering that now is when you will likely be getting the best odds. 

One thing to note: These odds come from DraftKings Sportsbook, and like a number of the legal Sportsbooks operating in New Jersey, it allows you to cash out futures bets for a profit if the odds get better. So, for example, last year I bet on Marquette at 200/1 odds in September. By late February, their odds had moved to 50/1. When the team lost four in a row late in the year, I was able to cash out that bet to more than triple my investment.

That option plays a significant role in the futures that I am going to be investing in. If you don’t have the ability to cash out, some of your decision-making should be more conservative. A future bet may be a great value, but just because I think Utah State should be 60/1 vs. 150/1 doesn’t change the fact that you won’t get paid unless Utah State wins the title.

So with all that in mind, here is your as-of-today college basketball futures breakdown.

(AP Photo/Jeff Swinger)

THE FAVORITES

  • Kentucky (8/1)
  • Michigan State (8/1)
  • Duke (10/1)
  • Virginia (11/1)
  • Kansas (12/1)

The way I see it, there are four teams that are in the mix as the best team heading into the 2019-2020 season — Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas. As the reigning national champs, it makes sense that Virginia would have their odds in this range as well.

BEST BET: At this point, I think that it is probably KANSAS (12/1) for the simple fact that they have the best odds and there really isn’t all that much of a difference between them and, say, Kentucky or Michigan State. Hell, there are smart basketball people out there that will tell you that the Jayhawks are the best team in college basketball this season. They lost Dedric Lawson and Quentin Grimes with eligibility remaining, but they did bring back Devon Dotson (a potential breakout star next season) and Udoka Azubuike. That wasn’t a guarantee. The addition of Isaiah Moss adds some perimeter shooting while Ochai Agbaji should be in line for a significant jump in minutes and production. Throw in Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa, Tristan Enaruna and Jalen Wilson, and there is as much versatility on this roster as there is talent.

I do think that KENTUCKY (8/1) and MICHIGAN STATE (8/1) are worth betting as well. That’s decent value. For my money they are the best two teams in the country heading into next season, and the Spartans return my Preseason Player of the Year in Cassius Winston. DUKE (10/1) also seems to be the right price. They don’t have as much talent this year, but the pieces should fit together better. But at 12/1, Kansas is clearly the best value in this tier. 

EASIEST FADE: It’s VIRGINIA (11/1) and it’s not close. I’m actually bullish on the Cavaliers heading into next season. I love Jay Huff and I *love* Mamadi Diakite, and Braxton Key should be able to play the three alongside both of them. But there are real questions that need to be answered about their perimeter play. I don’t know if Casey Morsell is going to be ready as a freshman. Tomas Woldentensae can really, really shoot but the staff has concerns about what he will be defensively. Kody Stattman is supposed to be the guy they rely on to be a defender and a floor-spacer on the wing but he is coming off of a 9-for-41 effort from three in the FIBA U-19 event.

I like Virginia this season more than a lot of people. I do not like Virginia at this price.

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

THE CONTENDERS

  • Gonzaga (18/1)
  • Memphis (18/1)
  • North Carolina (18/1)
  • Florida (20/1)
  • Louisville (20/1)
  • Villanova (20/1)
  • Texas Tech (25/1)

BEST BETS: My two favorite futures heading into the 2019-20 season are in this tier: FLORIDA (20/1) and LOUISVILLE (20/1).

We’ll start with the Gators, who have actually seen their odds change significantly over the course of the last month. When Kerry Blackshear announced that he will be playing his senior season in Gainesville, there were still places where Florida was available at better than (50/1). For a team that is going to enter this season in everyone’s preseason top 10, that was insane value. They are certainly priced better now, but at (20/1), the value is still there. Remember, this is a team that already had an elite perimeter – Andrew Nembhard, Scottie Lewis, Keyontae Johnson, Noah Locke, Tre Mann – of versatile defenders capable of thriving in small-ball, and they added an all-american redshirt senior that anchored the frontline for a Virginia Tech team that played the same way last season.

Louisville should be obvious, really. They are misspriced. They return Jordan Nwora (my Preseason ACC Player of the Year), Dwayne Sutton, Steve Enoch and Malik Williams, they add a loaded six-man recruiting class and bring in a grad transfer point guard in Fresh Kimble that averaged 15 points in the Atlantic 10 last season. Throw in the fact that their head coach is one of the very best in the business, and I would buy the Cardinals up until they are priced where Virginia is priced today.

TEXAS TECH (25/1) is also interesting to me because Chris Beard always finds a way to win, but I’m not sure there is much value there; they seem to be priced accurately. I’m intrigued by VILLANOVA (20/1), but I’m not ready to invest too heavily in a Villanova team that is going to have as many as five or six freshmen and sophomores playing in their rotation.

EASIEST FADE: For me, it is MEMPHIS (18/1). I already have a Memphis future. I got them at (50/1) way back in April. That was when they were a sneaky value. With James Wiseman and Precious Achiuwa on the roster, they are going to have the talent to play with any one in the country this season. My concern is just how young they are. They have just three players on the roster that are returning, and only two members of a seven-man recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the country are guys that can be slotted as surefire one-and-dones. More than 70 percent of that class are program guys, players that should be on campus for two or three years.

Throw in the fact that two of the three returning players are undersized point guards that likely aren’t going to be the starting point guard, and I think Memphis should be priced closer to (25/1) or (30/1). At (18/1), I’m staying far away.

GONZAGA (18/1) is interesting given who they landed in the grad transfer market, but this is not the team that I am betting on to win the first national title for the Zags. And while I love Cole Anthony, I think that NORTH CAROLINA (18/1) is too expensive for a team that will be replacing so many important pieces.

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THREE MORE FUTURES I LIKE

Maryland (40/1): This is the one team that I just cannot wrap my head around. Personally, I think that Maryland is a team that will deservedly end up being a top ten team in the preseason. They have an all-league point guard in Anthony Cowan and a big man in Jalen Smith that surprisingly returned for his sophomore season. Beyond that, they are loaded with capable role players on the wing – Eric Ayala, Darryl Morsell, Aaron Wiggins, Serrel Smith – and have a sneaky-good sophomore big in Ricky Lindo. There are going to be some deserved questions about their youth, and I understand anyone that is against betting on a team coached by Mark Turgeon, but (40/1) is absolutely nuts. I think they should be priced alongside the likes of Villanova, Gonzaga and North Carolina.

Seton Hall (50/1): Legal Sportsbooks in New Jersey are not allowed to accept bets on college teams located within the state so there are no odds available for the Pirates, but there are places where you can bet on the Pirates and they are listed at (50/1). Again, this number just doesn’t make sense to me. The Pirates return everyone, including All-American Myles Powell, and look like they could end up being the best team in the Big East. It’s worth a few bucks.

Baylor (80/1): This might actually be the best Baylor team that Scott Drew has had. They are old, they are deep, they are balanced and they are a roster full of dudes with something to prove. There is a chance that this is the best team in the Big 12 not named Kansas or Texas Tech, and (80/1) is a nice price for them right now.

Utah State (150/1): I love the Aggies this year. Assuming that Neemias Queta’s injury is not too serious, they are a top 15 team in my mind. I don’t think they are winning the national title, but if I can get them at 150/1 and cash out at, say, 50/1, that is a nice little win.

THREE LONGSHOTS THAT ARE TOO CHEAP

Xavier (100/1): The Musketeers return their top four from a team that won six of their last seven Big East games a season ago. To me, they are clearly the third-best team in the conference.

Alabama (125/1): Alabama’s loaded with talented guards and wings. Kira Lewis, Herb Jones, Beetle Bolden, John Petty, their three freshmen. If we know anything about Nate, it’s that he knows how to have success with teams that have talented perimeter options. I also really like LSU (120/1) in theory, but I think there’s a non-zero chance that the Tigers end up doing something crazy like self-imposing a postseason ban to try and assuage the NCAA’s enforcement staff.

Davidson (225/1): I think VCU (125/1) is too cheap for a team that won the Atlantic 10 regular season title, reached the NCAA tournament, returns every single member of their top nine that they wanted to bring back and should get their star point guard, Marcus Evans, back to 100 percent. Davidson – who went 14-4 in the A-10 last year, returns their top six and has one of the 10-15 best backcourts in the country – is almost half the price. For me, this is strictly a bet that I will look to cash out before Selection Sunday, but both of these teams are top 25 teams in my mind.

THREE TEAMS TO FADE

Memphis (18/1): We already discussed Memphis, but for me they are easily the easiest fade of the teams in the top two tiers.

Arizona (33/1): I think Arizona is going to be good. I think they are the best team in the Pac-12. I think their recruiting class is loaded. I don’t think that this is a team that is going to be good enough to get to Sean Miller’s first Final Four, let alone win a national title. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that they have this NCAA investigation staring them in the face.

Texas (40/1): The Longhorns are priced as a top 15 team, according to Vegas. I actually think there’s a chance that they will be better than expected – and I can see them getting back to the NCAA tournament this season – but at (40/1), they have worse odds than almost half of my preseason top 25.

Mick Cronin lands first five-star recruit at UCLA

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Less than 24 hours after cutting his list to five schools, five-star point guard Daishen Nix committed to UCLA.

Nix is a 6-foot-5 point guard from Alaska that’s currently playing his high school ball in Las Vegas. He’s known for his court vision and elite basketball IQ with a developing jumper and a feel for the game that cannot be taught. He ranks as a top 15 prospect, according to 247 Sports.

He was Mick Cronin’s top target at the point guard spot, and Cronin landed him. That’s notable, because one of the concerns that people had about UCLA’s decision to hire Cronin was whether or not a coach known for his toughness, his intensity and his team’s propensity for being defense first would adjust to playing at California’s flagship program, where tempo is a must and defense has been, for the last half-decade, optional.

And while it remains to be seen how the team and program will adjust to his coaching style – I will have a story coming on that later this week – at the very least, Cronin has proven that he can dip his toe in the west coast recruiting waters and get a player that he prioritized.

Who are the best basketball prospects that have yet to play in the NBA?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, Pro Basketball Talk will be rolling out a project that we have been working on for the last month: Ranking the top 50 players five years from now.

Players ranked 46-50 were unveiled today.

You can find that list here.

In the meantime, since it is relevant, here at College Basketball Talk we are going to take a look at the guys that, in 2024, may actually deserve a spot on a top 50 players list that you may not know about just yet.

So without further ado, here are the ten best prospects that have yet to play a game in the professional ranks.

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1. Emoni Bates, Class of 2022

Bates is the shoe-in at No. 1 on this list. Over the years I’ve gotten to know quite a few of the scouts that do recruiting rankings and cover the sport at the high school level. These guys have been in the business for a long time – some for decades – and every single one of them rave about Bates in a way that you don’t often see players get talked about. One called him the best freshman he’s ever scouted. One called him as good as any prospect that he’s scouted in more than 20 years in the business. One called him the best prospect in high school hoops, which is exactly where I have him on this list. Personally, I think that he’s the closest thing that we’ve seen to Kevin Durant since Kevin Durant.

I wrote a story on Bates from Peach Jam back in July, and one of the things that I made sure to note in that story is the danger that comes with this level of hype at this age. Many of the things that are being said about Bates were said about Renardo Sidney at the same age, and we know how that turned out. Part of the reason I’m a little less-hesitant to make such proclamations with Bates is that he has an alpha mentality and competitive streak that you don’t see all that often. So not only does he have the physical tools as a super-skilled, 6-foot-9 scorer with range out to the NBA three-point line, but once he gets on the court, he’s an a–hole in all of the best ways.

2. Cade Cunningham, Class of 2020

Cunningham is tailor-made for modern basketball. He’s a 6-foot-7, 220 pound point forward. He’s a tough, physical and athletic wing that, two years ago, made the transition to playing the point full time. He has the savvy, the maturity and the polish of an NBA veteran. He doesn’t have the highlight reel athleticism of guys like Zion Williamson or Ja Morant, but he has the kind of functional athleticism that will allow him to split the defense, avoid the charge, absorb the contact and finish in traffic. He was the MVP of the EYBL circuit this past season, and if he continues to improve his shooting stroke, there’s a very real chance that he gets picked with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft.

I think the best way to phrase it is this: He will likely be the first player to ever get compared to Luka Doncic, and I’m not sure how much more complimentary you can get.

James Wiseman (Elsa/Getty Images)

3. James Wiseman, Memphis

4. Evan Mobley, Class of 2020

I’m listing these two together because they really are quite similar prospects. Both stand 7-foot. Both have the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow them to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. Both of them are capable defenders with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And both of them are skilled enough where they have the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens.

Now, there are some differences. Wiseman, at this point, is probably more physically developed – he is a year older – while Mobley, at 6-foot-11 and 200 pounds, is going to have to make the absolute most of the meal plan USC gets him on. Mobley, on the other hand, seems to be more accepting of the fact that he’s destined to be a five in the NBA while Wiseman, in the words of one NBA draftnik, “thinks he’s Giannis when in reality he’s a lot closer to Myles Turner.”

There is nothing wrong with being Myles Turner. He just turned 23 years old and he is coming off of a season where he averaged 13.3 points, 7.2 boards and an NBA-best 2.7 blocks while shooting 38.8 percent from three. He’s really good. But he also knows what he is and what he isn’t, and he isn’t Giannis.

5. Jonathan Kuminga, Class of 2021

Kuminga is a super-explosive, 6-foot-8 wing that is just now starting to figure out how good he has the chance to be. He has all the physical tools that you want out of a wing – height, length, athleticism, versatility – and he has shown that he is willing and able to defend multiple positions. The big thing with him in the long-term is going to be how well his jumpshot develops, and if that comes along, his upside is as high as anyone on this list. I do think it’s worth noting that at Peach Jam, he was in the same group as Terrence Clarke and Patrick Baldwin Jr. and justified his spot on this list.

6. Jalen Green, Class of 2020

Green has all the makings of a future top five pick. At 6-foot-5, he’s a naturally gifted scorer that makes the game look easy. He’s at his best when he’s slashing to the bucket, where he can finish above the rim and also has a shiftiness about him in the lane. He’s a capable ball-handler and passer, but he’s going to make his money as a bucket-getter. If his jumper catches up to the rest of his game, look out.

7. Anthony Edwards, Georgia

Edwards is a big time scorer and athlete that has the ideal physical tools for a combo-guard. He’s a sturdy 6-foot-5 with length and explosive athleticism. His game is well-rounded. He’s a good shooter that can also operate in ball-screens, create for his teammates and shoot off the dribble. In theory, he’s an ideal fit for a sport that is becoming more and more reliant on scorers that can create in isolation with shooters spacing the court. Part of the reason he stayed home to play for Georgia is that Tom Crean coached both Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade in college, and those two are what Edwards has the potential to be at the next level.

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8. Cole Anthony, North Carolina

Anthony is going to get a lot of hype heading into the 2020 draft. Beyond the simple fact that he is the son of UNLV legend and NBA journeyman Greg Anthony, Cole Anthony is headed to North Carolina, where Roy Williams is going to slot him into the same role that he used Coby White in last year. He is going to get a lot of shots, he’s going to score a lot of points and he’s going to have a lot of highlight reel plays in the process. My big question with Cole longterm is that I’m not convinced that he is big enough to play off the ball, I’m not sure he is a natural point guard and I don’t know if he is quite good enough to be allowed to play the way he has throughout his career at the NBA level. There is definitely some potential here, but I think the fit at the NBA level makes more sense with Green and Edwards than it does with Anthony.

RISING SON: Cole Anthony remains grounded while following his father’s footsteps

9. Terrence Clarke, Class of 2021

Clarke is a wiry-strong, 6-foot-6 off-guard from Boston that has the potential to be the No. 1 pick in whatever draft he ends up in. (There’s a chance he can reclassify into 2020.) He’s an explosive athlete that can finish in traffic while also displaying a high-level feel for the game. He’s an improving shooter that can create off the bounce in isolation, and his court vision and passing gives him the upside of having some positional versatility down the road.

10. Patrick Baldwin Jr., Class of 2021

As one coach at a top ten program told me this summer, Patrick Baldwin Jr. “is the best shooting big man I’ve ever scouted.” Still just heading into his junior year in high school, Baldwin recently went through a growth spurt that saw him sprout up to 6-foot-10. He needs to add some strength and weight to his frame (what 16 year old doesn’t?) but that size and shooting ability is not something that we see all that often. The big question for Baldwin is how well the rest of his game develops. Is he simply a pick-and-pop five, or will he continue to develop a floor game and the physical tools that will allow him to be a plus-defender in the NBA?

THREE THAT JUST MISSED THIS LIST

Jaden McDaniels, Washington: McDaniels’ upside is as high as anyone on this list save for Bates and Cunningham. At 6-foot-10, he’s a skilled wing with a perimeter game and a developing shooting stroke. It’s not hard to watch him play and see what he can be if he continues to put in the work, but he has a ways to go to get there. He’s still just 190 pounds and, at this point, more of a prospect that a producer.

Paolo Banchero, Class of 2021: Banchero is a tough prospect to gauge the ceiling of. He’s already 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds with a frame that should easily be able to hold more muscle, but without the kind of physical tools that will set him apart from the field. I think it’s also fair to say that his best skill at this point is how well-rounded he is. Put another way, he’s one of those guys that can do everything well – he can shoot it, he can pass, he can beat bigger defenders facing up, he can hold his own defending the paint, etc. – with an exceedingly high basketball IQ. Put another way, outside of continuing to stretch out his shooting range, I’m not sure just how much better he’s going to end up getting.

Jalen Johnson, Class of 2020: Johnson’s biggest strength at this point is probably his basketball IQ and passing ability at this size. He’s a 6-foot-9 lefty with a complete skillset and the kind of floor vision at this size that will make you think Ben Simmons lost his Aussie accent. Already committed to Duke, Johnson will likely continue to generate buzz as his defense and perimeter stroke improve.

Michael Avennati makes court filing alleging Nike cleared payments to Zion Williamson, Romeo Langford

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Lawyers for Michael Avennati filed a court motion on Wednesday alleging that Nike approved under-the-table payments to Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford while they were still in high school.

The alleged offers, which were for $35,000 to Zion and $20,000 to Langford, were found in “text messages, emails and other documents fro 2016-17” and prove “Nike executives had arranged for and concealed payments, often in cash, to amateur basketball players and their families and ‘handlers,'” the motion, which was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, alleged.

Specifically, the motion alleges that:

  • EYBL manager Jamal James texted EYBL director Carlton DeBose and Nike’s recruiting coordinator John Stovall asking if they would be “willing to do … whatever may be needed for the Zion/Romeo situations as well as the money we’re now going to do for the [redacted because he is still a minor] kid in Michigan.” Stovall responded “Langford – 20 Zion – 35 [unnamed minor] – 15”. Stovall added that it was a bad idea for the offer to be put into print.
  • DeBose said in a text message with an unnamed Kentucky assistach coach that the shoe company was “funneling payments to high school players through at least 10 different EYBL coaches.”
  • An EYBL coach told Nike executives he was concerned about the money being paid to players and their families because it won’t end well for Nike and innocent coaches “will be deemed guilty by association.”
  • DeBose told Nico Harrison, Nike’s VP of North America basketball operations, that he’s “willing to bet that 38 of the 40 teams in the EYBL had to pay a moderate to considerable ransom to families just to play in the EYBL.” He also said the arrangements are “being viewed as a contract” by the players and their families.
  • Another Nike executive, Rachel Baker, allegedly said she was worried about carrying cash through an airport.

All the quotes listed above are from the motion itself. It refers to emails and text messages, but they are not attached. The motion can be read in its entirety here.

The motion does not make clear whether or not the money was actually delivered. Both Zion and Langford played their final season of AAU basketball on the Adidas circuit. Langford’s father was the coach of the AAU program that his son played for.

“Nike will not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion,” Nike said in a statement. “Nike will continue its cooperation with the government’s investigation into grassroots basketball and the related extortion case.”

Avenatti was arrested in March and charged with attempting to extort more than $20 million from Nike by threatening to expose the way that the shoe company and its grassroots basketball league, the EYBL, funnel money to the elite high school players and their families. He threatened to hold a press conference at the start of the NCAA tournament announcing these allegations of misconduct.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Avennati represented Gary Franklin, who was the coach of the California Supreme at one point in time. Deandre Ayton, Bol Bol, Aaron Holiday, De’Anthony Melton, Solomon Hill and Brandon McCoy were among the players that spent time on his roster. The motion to dismiss also contains allegations that Franklin was directed by DeBose to make payments to people associated with Ayton, Bol and McCoy, and that he submitted false invoices to Nike to disguise the payments as expenses for the 501(c3) he operated.

Arkansas dismisses forward Gabe Osabuohien

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas has dismissed forward Gabe Osabuohien from the men’s basketball program.

Coach Eric Musselman announced the move Thursday without disclosing the reason.

“We have set a level of expectations for our student-athletes on and off the court,” Musselman said. “After discussions with Gabe, it was decided that it would be best to part ways. We thank him for his time at Arkansas and wish him well.”

The 6-foot-8 Osabuohien was born in Toronto but played at Little Rock’s Southwest Christian Academy. He played in 54 games with eight starts in two seasons with Arkansas. He scored 128 points (2.4 per game) and had 136 rebounds (2.5).

Ollie gets win over UConn in one arm of dispute

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The arbitrator in the dispute between UConn and Kevin Ollie has ruled that the former basketball coach is protected by a union contract when it comes to the standard the school must meet in proving his firing was justified.

The collective bargaining agreement between the school and the American Association of University Professors, of which Ollie is a member, requires a showing of serious misconduct in order to fire an employee for “just cause” and also affords Ollie other union protections

UConn had argued that Ollie’s personal contract superseded the union deal, allowing it to fire him in March 2018 for a broader range of offenses.

Arbitrator Marcia Greenbaum, in a decision filed on July 31, found that neither Ollie nor the union waived his union protections when signing his latest contract.

The arbitrator plans hearings to determine whether UConn fired Ollie for just cause, or if he is owed more than $10 million that was left on his contract, which was through June 30, 2021.

“Serious misconduct is the standard that now has to be proved by the university,” said Michael Bailey, executive director of UConn’s chapter of the AAUP. “I think, as the arbitrator said in her discussion, that is a heavy burden to be placed on the university.”

The school acknowledged Tuesday that the ruling will make proving its case more difficult.

“Nonetheless, UConn remains confident it can prevail in this matter, even against the higher standard, especially in light of the recent NCAA ruling,” said Stephanie Reitz, the school’s spokeswoman.

The NCAA Committee on Infractions last month placed the UConn program on two years of probation and sanctioned Ollie individually for numerous violations of NCAA rules during his tenure.

The Committee on Infractions said the violations mainly stemmed from improper pickup games at which student managers kept statistics for coaches, the use of a video coordinator as a coach, which resulted in more than the allowable number of coaches, and free training sessions provided to three players by a trainer who was friends with Ollie.

The NCAA issued a three-year, show-cause order for the former head coach for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance and providing misleading statements to investigators and failing to monitor his staff.

That means that any NCAA member school that might hire Ollie must restrict him from any athletically related duties unless it shows why those restrictions should not apply.

But Ollie’s attorney, Jacques Parenteau, said that does not mean the firing was justified.

“One should not assume that the NCAA’s recent action, which was totally lacking in due process protections, will have any relevance before an impartial arbitrator,” he said.

Bailey said he is hopeful that, in the absence of a settlement, the arbitration process can be concluded by the end of the year.