This year’s version of the “Peek at Futures,” as I lovingly call it, comes with a brief tale. When I visited Vegas at the end of September, MGM/Mirage sportsbooks had taken college basketball futures off the board due to the FBI scandal and investigation. I had resigned myself to foregoing the best part of a future bet (holding onto the ticket) until the terrifying Las Vegas shooting occurred the final night I was there. I’ll spare you the details of that experience, but, wanting to avoid the Strip, my friend Vegas Steve and I decided to check out the Westgate the following day. Surprisingly, the CBB odds were up and live there, and the legacy of posting my tickets can continue.
A summary of last year: I bet on Duke (7:2), Arizona (15:1), and Louisville (12:1), and Gonzaga (50:1). Duke’s chemistry issues and aversion to defense led to a shocking first weekend exit (along with HB2 forcing them to play a semi-road game in South Carolina, as Blue Devil fans will be sure to tell you), while Arizona lost to a team I nearly bet on (see next paragraph) in the Sweet 16. Louisville, like Duke, was also unceremoniously bounced in the second round. Gonzaga though…ah, the Zags. As you know, that one turned out pretty well – although I hedged somewhat, I would have loved for them to have finished the job.
I also listed Xavier (50:1), plus some outrageous long shots (only one of whom made the tournament – valiant effort, Virginia Tech!). The loss of Edmond Sumner to a torn ACL derailed that one, despite the Musketeers managing to make the Elite 8.
Contrary to 2015, my stay-away teams worked out reasonably well – Kentucky (11:1) had a strong season, but they fell a basket short of the Final Four, and Indiana (30:1) melted down completely and didn't even make the dance. Purdue (55:1) boogied (Biggied?) into the Sweet 16, but Kansas blitzed them by roughly 1000 points, ending that scare.
Ok, on to this year’s wagers!
All odds from here as of 10/30/17: Vegas Insider
And here for the long shots: Sportsbook.ag
I. Real Contenders (Favorites up to 25:1)
These teams are in the highest tier of hoops and have a real chance to cut down the nets. My main criteria here include coaches I trust, NBA talent at guard, and a stout defense.
Villanova – 20:1 on Vegas Insider, 20:1 at Westgate on October 2nd
Jay Wright is all or nothing – either he’s winning a national title, or he’s losing on the first weekend and going on vacation early. I respect that hard divide! This season, I like his chances at the former – the ‘Cats play smart basketball, led by a future NBA point guard in Jalen Brunson and perhaps the country’s best wing defender, Mikal Bridges. If Omari Spellman gives them a Daniel Ochefu-esque post presence, I could absolutely see Villanova living up to KenPom's preseason #1 billing.
I didn’t bet anyone else in the “Real Contenders” tier, but if you're itching your neck craving another team that I have faith in, I’d go with Michigan State. The “Izzo in March” phenomenon is well-documented, but I’ll rehash quickly: 47-19 over 20 straight appearances since 1998, 7 Final Fours, one National Championship – and this is perhaps the most talented team he’s ever had. The main reason I’m not betting on them right now is that I think value might improve if they lose a couple games early (Champions Classic, PK80?).
II. Personal Favorites - Middle Tier (25:1 to 100:1)
This is the sweet spot. Teams from, say, 30:1 to 75:1 that could grow into elite teams and give you a wealth of value come postseason time. My selection criteria are similar to the above tier. Perhaps I’m too tantalized by my profitable Gonzaga wager last year, but most of the value teams I like reside in this range…
Oregon – 33:1 on Vegas Insider, 50:1 at Westgate on 10/2
The 2017-18 Ducks are the closest thing I can find to last year’s Gonzaga team. Both programs lost a ton of production, but both teams restocked in a hurry through the transfer wire (Elijah Brown, MiKyle McIntosh, Paul White) and the recruiting trail (Troy Brown, Abu Kigab, Victor Bailey), both feature an excellent coach with a proven track record of success, and the best part - both sit at 50:1 in the preseason odds. Ignoring the talent leaving Eugene and focusing only on what they have, I see an extremely high ceiling if Altman can mesh all of the talented pieces together.
Notre Dame – 66:1 on Vegas Insider, 60:1 at Westgate on 10/2
The Irish have an All-American in the post (Bonzie Colson), an all-conference performer at point guard (Matt Farrell), and an excellent coach on the sidelines (Mike Brey). They check basically every box I’m looking for, and I’m sneaky high on the Temple Gibbs/Rex Pflueger/DJ Harvey wing rotation as well. The Irish defense isn’t always a tough nut to crack, but with two Elite Eight appearances in the past three years, they’ve shown the ability to buckle down when it matters most.
Xavier – 80:1 on Vegas Insider, 60:1 at Westgate on 10/2
I can’t wait to see how angry both Xavier and Cincinnati fans are at me for betting on their archrivals. But you guys, I think your team is going to be awesome too! I’m particularly interested to see the Musketeers’ big man rotation – I prefer the way Tyrique Jones fits into the offense (dominates the offensive glass, doesn’t need touches), but he needs to learn how to not hack and shoot free throws. The addition of Baby Enes Kanter (Kerem, his younger brother) adds a much more trigger-happy big man to the mix, but the lion's share of the shots need to go to Trevon Bluiett and JP Macura. It’s easy to trust Chris Mack to sort out the rotation, though.
Cincinnati – 80:1 on Vegas Insider, 100:1 at Westgate on 10/2
Shhhh, don’t tell the Xavier fans – this is my favorite bet on the board. Actually, I’m not worried about that, I’m sure they’re too angry that Cincy is even listed to read this bit. I really liked Cincy at 80:1; at 100:1, I became a hopeless lovebird - the value is just too great. The Bearcats will have another stout defense behind Gary Clark and Jacob Evans, but it’s the newfound offensive upside that has me intrigued. Cane Broome can get into the lane nearly at will, and a year of getting yelled at by Mick Cronin during practice should have his decision-making up to snuff. He also has potential star Jarron Cumberland to pass to, so hopefully he’ll be content to share the rock now that he has non-Sacred Heart-level teammates. Cronin isn’t renowned for his NCAA success, but he's a good coach, and I think this is the year he quiets some of the doubters in that regard. Quick update - Dan Hanner even has them at #6 overall in his top 351 at SI.com. Why yes, I would like 100:1 odds for a Top 10 team!
III. Why Are You Even Looking This Far Down The List? (Beyond 100:1)
I haven’t actually placed bets on anyone with longer odds than Cincinnati, but that doesn’t stop my wandering eyes from peering down the list and finding a diamond or two in the rough. For some reason, Vegas Insiders has extremely limited odds, so I’m going to pull these from sportsbook.ag:
Providence – 250:1 on Sportsbook.ag
A well-coached, experienced team with a veteran floor general (Kyron Cartwright) and an inside-outside threat up front (Rodney Bullock), the Friars look fairly certain to be an NCAA Tournament team. If they have a strong run through the Big East – it’s entirely possible they finish second – these odds will be a steal. Getting Emmitt Holt healthy (far from a certainty) would be a nice boost, but that appears dicey as of now.
Rhode Island – 250:1 on Sportsbook.ag
Rhodey nearly made the Sweet 16 last season, getting narrowly edged by Oregon in the second round. With that team’s entire backcourt returning, along with a down year in the A-10 and a smartly-scheduled non-conference slate (only 2 explicitly bad teams, playing small conference favorites like UNC Asheville, Charleston, FGCU, and Iona), the Rams have a sneaky shot at something like 24-4 (16-2) on the regular season with great schedule numbers. For teams in this range of odds, I’ll take that.
Georgia Tech – 500:1 on Sportsbook.ag
I have to take one insane long shot, and I wanted it to be UCF until Aubrey Dawkins suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. So I audibled to Georgia Tech, a similar team in the sense that their defense should be borderline elite (ranked #6 per KenPom last year and returns ACC DPOY Ben Lammers). SI’s Dan Hanner projects them to be even better this year, coming in at 4th in his preseason ranks. GT needs to find offense/shooting – and they’ll be without Josh Okogie to start the year after he broke a finger in an exhibition game – but in a more forgiving ACC, the Yellow Jackets could surprise.
IV. Stay Away
This section includes teams in which I see little to no value – I don’t hate these teams (or do I?!), but rather, I simply think the odds offered aren’t appealing enough to make the investment.
Duke – 5:1 on Vegas Insider
I have Duke ranked #1 in the preseason, and they have plenty of talent – but I don’t think the gap is wide enough to bet on them as the top title favorite (as I regrettably did last year). As athletic as Trevon Duval is, he can’t shoot and I don’t trust him as a table-setter/leader. Coach K has reached the pinnacle of the sport with a freshman-heavy team before, but that Blue Devils team featured the cold-blooded Tyus “Stones” Jones at the point. Like last year’s Duke team, role allocation worries me; Marvin Bagley may be focused on being the #1 overall pick, while Grayson Allen hopes to clean up his legacy with a banner senior campaign.
Louisville – 20:1 on Vegas Insider
I’ve bet on the Cardinals the past two seasons, but this year makes me nervous. Louisville has plenty of distractions, and while David Padgett has said all the right things so far, Rick Pitino isn’t walking through that door. The skilled, veteran backcourt certainly gives UL a chance to go to the Final Four and beyond, but my gut tells me it’s just not their year. I'm pretty sure Mark Emmert would hire Adolph Rupp, John Calipari, and Ashley Judd to officiate a Louisville Elite Eight game, if it somehow got to that point.
Indiana – 50:1 on Vegas Insider
I’m going back to the Hoosiers well here. Or telling you to avoid that well? Whatever. While I do really like the Archie Miller hire, I don’t think he has the talent to make a tournament run this year. In fact, I think the Hoosiers have a less than 50/50 chance of even making the tournament, so 50:1 to win the whole shabang feels heavily influenced by IU fans being irrationally high on their own team (similar to why Mizzou’s odds are so out of whack). Miller has already started to reel in recruits (his 2018 class is currently rated 10th by 247sports), so IU will be a contender before long.
That's all I got - feel free to laugh at me when all of the above bets flame out on opening weekend!