EDIT: Apparently this was a fairly poorly-timed article! Louisville finds themselves in deep water, and SMU was banned from the postseason like 2 days after I published this. But oh well, what are you gonna do, can't plan for that type of thing. Maybe Vegas knew?
Most gamblers will probably tell you that futures are a waste of time because of the hilarious amount of juice factored in, but I’m a fan of them as a recreational activity as well as a gauge for how good teams are expected to be. Obviously, some of that expectation is colored by the amount of money Vegas expects to take in on a team (for example, knowing that a lot of money will probably come in on Kentucky, Vegas may artificially lower their odds to compensate for the future liability), but in general, they give a pretty great guide to team’s likelihood of winning the national championship.
So for fun, I’m going to take a little dive into the NCAA Tournament championship odds, picking a few favorites and hates along the way, even making some “pretend bets” (wink wink) on a few whose value I adore. The biggest thing to remember – when I take these, they aren’t necessarily because I think the team IS going to win it all. It’s more that I think they are underestimated, value-wise, and I like their chances of making a run in the tournament. If I can get a team with long-ish odds to the Final Four (or even Elite 8, if the number is high enough), then the hedging opportunities will make the bet profitable.
I’m taking the odds from here: http://www.vegasinsider.com/college-basketball/odds/futures/, as those are the most widely available to the American public (offshore sports books notwithstanding – that’s illegal!!!) (for now).
I can’t remember how Coach Rat did with his last batch of elite froshies, but I think it turned out pretty well. Right? Maybe? Who knows, I’m just pumped Wisconsin is the defending National Champ. Anyway, I’m pretty high on this class + Grayson, so the Dookies are probably my favorite bet near the top of the board. I’ll give or take Jeter, but between Obi/Amile/Sergeant Plumdog, I think they’re fine on the inside (especially defensively), and Grayson/Ingram/Kennard are gonna score a ton of points. The only reason I hesitate on this bet for now is to hope the Devils drop a couple games in nonconf or in conference play to more seasoned teams (UNC, UVa anyone?) and their odds improve from the current 9:1. If I see them at 12:1 anywhere, I’ll snatch that up.
If it weren’t for the ridiculous next odds, this would be my favorite bet on the board. I looooove the two grad transfers Ricky P brings in, Trey Lewis and Damion Lee. They averaged a combined 37.7 points and hit a combined 148 threes last year with very solid efficiency numbers (Lee especially), giving Pitino probably the best wing scoring combo he’s had since Taquan Dean and Francisco Garcia (sorry Luke Hancock, you’re not quite dynamic enough off the dribble). Those two should continue to fill it up, helping Louisville bump up its offense from the relatively disappointing 64th-place finish it had last year.
On the other side of the ball, Pitino’s squads have been in the top 5 in defensive efficiency in 7 of the last 8 years. My esteemed colleague DJ MC will point to those teams having Siva/Russdiculous/Rozier at the head of his pressure schemes, and while they don’t have an on-ball guy quite on that level this year, I actually liked what I saw from Quentin Snider last year and Lewis is no slouch coming over from Cleveland St. Plus, Pitino coaxed a #2 defensive ranking from his 2004 squad without an elite ball pressure guy, so there’s precedent. Mathiang and Onuaku are a great set of rim protectors, and I’m high on Jaylen Johnson’s potential on both ends as well.
The downside for Louisville is the strength of the ACC; struggling against UNC/UVa/Duke/ND would deflate the Cardinals’ seed and give them a tougher road to Houston. I think 5th in the ACC is worth a 4-seed this year, though, in which case 55:1 will be golden value, especially given Slick Rick’s March track record.
This bet is the one, my only. I don’t really know what I’m missing with this squad – they have a returning conference player of the year at point guard (Nic Moore), a Hall of Fame coach in Larry Brown, a force of nature big man in Markus Kennedy, and a wide variety of pieces to fit in between. Keith Frazier is a great third scoring option on the wing, Shake Milton is a fantastic freshman combo guard who can score or handle the ball (allowing Nic Moore to play off the ball), Ben Moore can score a little and defend, Sterling Brown is a great defender who knows his role offensively, Jordan Tolbert is a solid forward to plant next to Kennedy who was efficient at Texas Tech, and Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye is the ultimate x-factor. I suppose one more big man would be helpful, but with the speed and versatility that this team can put on the floor, they might be better off without one. I trust Brown to figure out how best to pull the strings, playing time- and scheme-wise.
Another big reason I love these odds is SMU’s potential seed. I think the AAC will be an improved conference this year (but not enough to overtake SMU for the crown), which will boost the Mustangs tournament resume, as will the non-conference schedule. Home games against Michigan and Gonzaga (in February?) are huge, and Stanford/TCU/Kent St. shouldn’t be good enough to beat SMU this year. If SMU can pull something like 25-4 (15-3) in the regular season with wins over Michigan and/or Gonzaga, and I think they can, they should be in position for a 2-3ish seed and a very decent setup to the Final Four. In that spot, their odds would drop drastically throughout the year, meaning I think this is as high as their odds will be all season. Count me in now.
Others I Like
Michigan St., 22:1
This one is kinda obvious – Tom Izzo in March! They were 25:1 last year, and I like this year’s squad even more. Denzel Valentine is a first-team all-conference guy, and if Eron Harris stops drinking and driving, he could be too. Those two plus Bryn Forbes would be a super potent offensive backcourt, and Tum-Tum Nairn should get better offensively in his sophomore year. He’ll continue to be a pest defensively, which will also help.
A swing factor for Sparty will be how the Big Ten conference season goes. A top 2 finish (within reach) would probably put them right around a 2 seed, which would pave a very nice road to the Final Four. Izzo has proven he doesn’t need an easy path, but it can’t hurt. Plus, Denzel Valentine feels like a “heart and soul of the program”-type player that Izzo usually rides to March prominence. Another big factor is super-bouncy freshman Deyonta Davis – if he can find a way to make a big impact early (relatively rare for Izzo freshmen), he will bring a different dimension to the offense. Twenty-two to 1 isn’t massive odds, but with Izzo managing this type of talent, it’s not bad at all.
I like Oklahoma a ton this year, and this doesn’t FEEL like a ton of value, but compared to Kansas at 12:1 and Iowa State at 25:1, I think it is – those teams are not oodles better than the Sooners. I love me a good backcourt in March, and Woodard/Hield/Cousins is fantastic and experienced. Depth is a question with this team for sure, but that tends to matter less in the tournament due to all the TV timeouts and slower games. If they’re in a similar seed position as last year (strong Big 12 year, 3 seed), I like the chances for this squad. A huge factor will be MANYANG, the JuCo transfer with elite rim protection skills – if he and Lattin can be super stout inside while executing “catch ball, dunk ball” on offense alongside Spangler’s more diverse skill set, this team will be excellent. On the strength of their defense and strong perimeter scoring, I would not be surprised at all to see this team making a deep run.
Notre Dame, 65:1
Look how close this team got to a Final Four last year, despite having to play one of the best college teams ever! Sure, they lose Grant and Connaughton, but I am in love with Demetrius Jackson at PG and Vasturia/Auguste/Colson/Beachem are a great supporting cast. The shooting should still be there, and if they can keep spacing teams out for Auguste/Colson finishes, the offense will remain elite. Jackson has the passing skills to succeed Grant in that regard. The biggest issue is replacing Connaughton’s shocking defensive rebounding, but hopefully Beachem/Colson/Vasturia can do that by committee. If the bench can come up with some strong contributors, they’ll be in great shape for being 65:1.
Another offense I absolutely love. What’s not to like about sticking 4 shooters around an NBA prospect in the paint? And even better, one of those shooters is a 7-footer who can protect the rim a little bit (along with Damian Jones’s elite shotblocking and rebounding). There’s a lot of development possibility here, with freshmen having played a massive chunk of the team’s minutes last year. An x-factor may be freshman Joseph Toye, a top-100 prospect who could give Vandy a great slasher and perimeter defender that they didn’t really have last year. Kevin Stallings doesn’t have much of a March resume, but if this team can put together a strong SEC season (2nd? 3rd?), a 4 or 5 seed is very possible, at which point getting anything near 110:1 odds will be impossible. All it takes is one stretch of hot shooting in March, and this team could easily surprise and find its way to Houston.
Ok, really digging deep in the barrel here for both of these – but I figured I should glance at the long shots. If you read my Big East preview, you’ll know I have a massive crush on Henry Ellenson’s game – he’s a top-5 recruit with deep range and excellent ball skills for a 6’10 guy, and he’ll be paired with a solid center in Luke Fischer. If the freshman guards can knock down shots and prevent too many double teams, I could see Marquette going on a crazy run on Ellenson’s shoulders.
As for Davidson, I’m sort of blinded by how much I love their offense. But I think 500:1 is pretty incredible odds for a team I feel sure will be a part of the field of 68, and that’s a good place to start. Beyond that, Jack Gibbs is a bona fide star, and I think he explodes even more with Kalinoski having graduated. He has shooters galore around him (not to mention his own gunning ability), and this will be one hell of a fun bet to cheer for if the team can get hot at the right time. All of that is without mentioning Bob McKillop, a top 5 coach that I would want to play for in collegiate hoop (but that’s a whole other article/debate). He recruits well to his system, and although Gibbs is obviously no Steph Curry, McKillop has experience making a run in March.
Will Not Be Touching
North Carolina, 9:1
Tied for the second best odds, I just don’t see this team quite on that level come March. I have no issue with ranking them as a top-5 team – they bring back a ton of talent from a very good Sweet 16 team – but I don’t see them having enough dynamic scorers to keep pace with the other elites. Paige is great, I think Jackson takes a leap, and you can throw Johnson and Meeks at the offensive glass all day, but unless one or two of Berry/Britt/Pinson/Hicks gives the team more slashing and shooting, they come up a little short for me.
Sure, this team may be similar, preseason ranking-wise, to Michigan State, but the difference in March coaching track records makes it hard to believe they have the same chance of winning the NCAA Tournament. Nova is good, but the usual complaint – a lack of elite, NBA-level talent to elevate them against other great teams – still applies this year. Josh Hart and/or Jalen Brunson COULD change it, but I am coming around to the belief that Villanova’s “no go-to guy, balanced offense” just isn’t designed for March success. Statheads (which I sometimes consider myself) will scream about how unpredictable and random March results can be, but having watched their round of 32 upsets, it’s tough to watch other teams raise a level with Nova just unable to match it. Kind of the Thibodeau Bulls of college hoop.
Depth isn’t always a big issue for the Orange due to the zone defense, but this team really doesn’t have much of it this year. Couple that with not being in love with their starters in the first place, and I want no part of this squad. Kaleb Joseph was quietly awful offensively last year, turning the ball over a bunch while shooting poorly from 2-point range and providing no deep range. He’ll improve this year, sure, but he has a long way to go to even provide an average efficiency rating. Down low, they are relying HEAVILY on DaJuan Coleman, who is coming off an ACL tear – Chinoso Obokoh backs him up, but he barely played last year. The wing rotation is solid, with Cooney to be the streakiest shooter in the land and a bunch of length alongside him in Gbinije/Roberson/Richardson/Lydon/Howard, but that won’t be enough offensive punch to get this team on a postseason run.
But you get 252 chances with this bet!!! I thought about going through and trying to figure out the best teams that aren’t listed here, but you know what, that’s a complete waste of time because none of them are going to make the Elite 8.
This is my alma mater and it just makes me sad. The day I can settle into a Vegas bar and watch the Tigs in the Round of 64 will be a joyous one indeed…unfortunately, it could be a looooong way off.