Midseason Futures Update

As the conference season is about to start, it seems like a solid time to take a second look at the futures market. I looked into them during the preseason here – what’s changed since then? How have my picks done so far this year? Anyone’s value spike or bottom out? 

Best Bets
Duke (9/1 in the preseason, 8/1 at present)
Louisville (55/1, 25/1)
SMU (110/1, off the board)

Pretty damn good start here. I still like Duke a lot, provided they get a healthy Amile Jefferson back – his interior defense and all-around grit is a major tone-setter for this team. In the meantime, though, I love that they’re playing some with Ingram at the 4 – the offense becomes an absolute nightmare to stop with him/Kennard/Jones spacing the floor around Allen and Thornton drives and Plumdog crashing the glass.

Louisville has been every bit as good as I expected, completely thrashing their inferior schedule. Unfortunately, they’ve come up just short in both of their big road tests (Sparty and UK without Mathiang), but they’ve proved they can defend with the elites (#7 in Adj Defensive Efficiency per kenpom.com), and the transfers Lee and Lewis have been the wing scoring catalysts that their talents promised. I think there’s still some slight value at 25/1 – they’re the #6 team in the entire country per kenpom.com, and their initial ACC schedule is relatively forgiving – so I’d still suggest buying those odds.

SMU…sigh. Everything I thought about this team has been true. They’re undefeated (despite Larry Brown not being around the team at all for the first month and a half), rank #14 in kenpom, and have an absolutely elite offense with no one in the 8-man rotation below 113.2 in O-rating. I could rant for hours about how absolutely fucking absurd it is that they can’t play in the postseason, but that’s not going to help anything.

Other Recommendations
Michigan State (22/1, favorite at 7/1)
Oklahoma (35/1, 10/1)
Notre Dame (65/1, 110/1)
Vanderbilt (110/1, 50/1)

Well look at that. Michigan State and Oklahoma, two top-3 teams currently and both undefeated! The value is gone on them now, but it’s encouraging to see the progress both of those choices. Michigan State may drop a Big Ten game or two without Denzel Valentine in the lineup (minor knee surgery), but I wouldn’t expect Vegas to react to those at all. They’re elite with him in the lineup. The progress of Deyonta Davis and Eron Harris is encouraging, and I firmly believe they’ll need to play big roles for Sparty to cut down the nets.

Oklahoma’s defense has been absolutely elite, the offense has been great, but what’s surprised me most has been their depth. The starting lineup is so strong and experienced that they don’t use the bench a ton, but MANYANG!, Walker, Buford, James, Odomes, and McNeace have given them pieces off the bench to fill in when needed. Jordan Woodard’s shooting has also been a revelation – he was 17/67 (25%) last year; he’s already 24/46 (52%) this year. With Hield, Cousins, Woodard, and Spangler stretching the floor with absurdly efficient shooting – they’re 93/185, 51%, from deep among the four of them – I don’t expect to see the Sooners fall off anytime soon.

Notre Dame and Vanderbilt have been a little more disappointing. The fears about Notre Dame’s defense have been realized; they’re a dismal 167th nationally in efficiency, and even the continuation of their elite offensive production (#4) won’t be enough to get them far in the tourney. Vandy has been good (good enough for their odds to be cut in half), but they’ve come up short in all 4 of their biggest non-conference tests. Getting Luke Kornet back (and having him find his outside shot in the meantime, 3/22 from deep) is essential.   

Long Shots
Marquette (300/1, 400/1)
Davidson (500/1, 1000/1)

Nothing to see here. Both are still long shots, though both only sport 2 losses. Marquette’s still gelling as an insanely-young team (343rd in the country in experience, a weighted measure of the age of minutes played), though I still like their upside. Davidson’s defense and rebounding are complete atrocities, but they do have Jack Gibbs, one of college basketball’s best scorers, to ride in tough moments. The Wildcats will need a strong A-10 season to secure an at-large bid.

Advised Against
UNC (9/1, 10/1)
Villanova (22/1, 15/1)
Syracuse (70/1, 175/1)
Field (300/1, 250/1)
Missouri (500/1, 1000/1)

I stand by these – UNC is a very, very good college team, but I still worry about their offense against other elite opponents. Relying on offensive rebounding (and an inability to get the line) can come and go when facing other teams with athletic size. Their defense (#59 in efficiency) is also not that of a title winner at this point.

Villanova convinces me every year that they’re actually a great team, but I’m not going to be fooled come tournament time this year. They’re excellent on both ends of the ball, they’re versatile and deep, but they still struggle a bit against other top squads. There’s just too many tough opponents in the tournament for Villanova to get by without more talent.

Syracuse lost to Saint John’s. Not a whole lot else to say about them.

The Missouri one was more of a joke at my alma mater’s expense, they’re still pathetic. The Field bet still baffles me – as an amendment to my previous post, I actually looked for the best teams not included in Vegas Insider’s odds. From kenpom, your best chances with the Field bet are Monmouth from the MAAC, Evansville from the MVC, and Little Rock from the Sun Belt. I won’t speak badly about Monmouth – I love their backcourt – but I still won’t be taking that bet.

Any New Bets?

A common thread here is players returning from injury/suspension. I believe these teams’ values have been deflated due to the absence of key player(s), and it might be worth a shot to try to grab them before Vegas can fully adjust.

Wichita State, 80/1
Shocker Nation value got deflated after their disastrous trip to the Wide World of Sports without Fred VanVleet and backup point guard Landry Shamet (and lost grad transfer Anton Grady during the trip). But with VanVleet back, they’ve been a lot better, with wins over UNLV, Utah, and @ SLU. A road loss at Seton Hall is a bump in the road, but if they run through the MVC (it’s not a good conference this year), they’ll be in decent shape with their senior-led roster. 

Oregon, 110/1
I have an irrational love for Dylan Ennis and the Ducks, so let that be a mild warning. But with Jordan Bell already back and making an impact, if Ennis can join him and facilitate for Boucher/Dorsey/Brooks/etc., this Oregon team can be truly dangerous. They’ll be a problem in the Pac 12. 

Dayton, 200/1

Dayton has already been solid this year, with wins at Vanderbilt and against Iowa and Monmouth on a neutral floor. All of that was done without Dyshawn Pierre, who has returned from suspension and might be their best player. With Steve McElvene providing some size, rebounding, and rim protection that Dayton didn’t have last year, the Flyers have the goods to make a real run in March – enough to make 200/1 a very nice value.