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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. 

PREVIOUS: Best longshot bets | Easiest contenders to fade

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.

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

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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.

Best Bets: Which longshot national title futures hold value?

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1 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 best longshot bets, teams with odds that payout better than 100:1 to cut down the nets in Minneapolis in April. 

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. 

MARQUETTE (+20,000)

I’m higher on Marquette than most people seem to be, and that’s because Marquette has one of the most potent offenses in all of college basketball. They are one of just five teams to finish in the top 12 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric over the course of the last two years, joining Duke, Kansas, Villanova and North Carolina. With Markus Howard and Sam Hauser back and joined by a slew of talent, young players that have spent a year or two under Steve Wojciechowski, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Golden Eagles don’t finish near the top offensively again this season.

The reason Marquette has struggled as much as they have the last two years is that they are also a trainwreck defensively.Only six high-major programs finished below them in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings: Washington State, East Carolina, South Florida, Tulane, Memphis and Iowa. Only four teams reached the NCAA tournament with a worse defensive rating — Texas Southern, LIU Brooklyn, NC-Central, Iona — and Iona, a No. 15 seed, was the only tournament invitee that was not in a play-in game.

But Marquette has made some changes. They’ve added Joseph Chartouny, a transfer from Fordham that has finished among the league leaders in steals the last three years, while Ed Morrow is now eligible, a physical frontcourt piece that can defend the rim and rebound the ball. They should be improved defensively, and the truth of the matter is that teams that are good enough defensively and elite offensively are the ones that win national titles.

Marquette checks those boxes this season, and at 200:1 odds — where there are 48 teams that are currently getting better odds — they are more than worth the bet.

WASHINGTON (+20,000)

The Huskies are another team that is not getting enough hype heading into the season.

Coming off of Mike Hopkins’ first season in Seattle, Washington looks like a sneaky-favorite to win the Pac-12 this season. They surprisingly won 21 games a year ago and were in the mix for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament until a late-swoon down the stretch of the season. Perhaps the best news is that not only will Washington bring everyone from that team back — including the most slept-on freshman out west in Jaylen Nowell — but Washington will now be heading into their second season playing this 2-3 zone that Hopkins, a former Syracuse assistant, has fashioned.

Put another way, Washington was ahead of the curve last year before the players on the roster really had a feel for what a season in this system was going to be like. And assuming that zone continues to improve, we’ve seen what Syracuse has been capable of doing in March when they shut people down defensively. Why can’t Washington do the same? At +20,000, the risk is getting paid off.

CENTRAL FLORIDA (+50,000)

UCF was one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball last season. They finished eighth nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and that was despite Tacko Fall — their 7-foot-6 center and one of the nation’s most lethal shot erasers — playing only 16 games. They struggled, finishing just 19-13, because they could not score, and that was due to the fact that Fall was far from the only UCF star that missed a lot of time. B.J. Taylor, a contender for AAC Player of the Year this season, played in just 16 games as well. Aubrey Dawkins, a transfer from Michigan, missed the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury.

With essentially everyone back this season, I fully expect UCF to win the AAC, push for a spot in the top 25 and, potentially, enter the NCAA tournament as a top four seed. That is very much in the range of outcomes for the Knights, and if you can stomach betting on Johnny Dawkins, at $10 bet could win you $5,000.

PROVIDENCE (+20,000)

The Friars are a borderline top 25 team in my mind, and their head coach — Ed Cooley — is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the country that doesn’t get the credit he deserves. There is quite a bit of young talent on this roster as well as a handful of former four-star recruits that are ready to come of age; Makai Ashton-Langford and Alpha Diallo, specifically. As a program with the 49-best odds to win the national title, they are worth a look.

CLEMSON, TCU, LSU, MISSISSIPPI STATE (+10,000)

Individually, I don’t love any of these bets for a variety of reasons, but I do believe that they are worth mentioning here. All four are going to enter the 2018-19 season as consensus top 25 teams — TCU and Mississippi State might sneak their way into the top 15 — and all four are currently getting the 30th-best odds to win the national title.

Put another way, Vegas is telling you there are somewhere between 30 and 48 teams in college basketball better than these four, while the coaches and the media within the sport are saying that there probably aren’t 25 better than them. If you love any one of these four teams, you are getting pretty good value on this bet.