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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.

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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.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.