Quick Peek at Futures: February Follow-Up

- Matt Cox

With Selection Sunday creeping up on the horizon, my colleague Jim – the mastermind behind 3MW’s proprietary futures analysis – is knee deep in the science of Bracketology, so we went to the bullpen (aka me) to churn out a 'Futures follow-up' article. We’ll quickly recap where Jim’s preseason futures currently stand, in terms of how much value each wager has gained or lost since the season tipped off. Then, we’ll pick out a fresh new batch of futures to add to your betting portfolio – if you’ve procrastinated entering into the gambling ring in 2018, hesitate no more… let us guide you to endless wealth and prosperity…

We’ve often discussed on our podcast how lucrative a futures trading market would be for college basketball and if that exchange existed today, well, let’s just say Jim’s portfolio would be looking ‘strong to quite strong’:

Jim Preseason Selections:

  • Nova was 20/1 - now 6/1  (solid)
  • Xavier was 80/1 - now 18/1 (money)
  • Cincy was 80/1 - now 16/1 (also money)
  • Rhode Island was 250/1 - now 50/1 (this may be Jim's best call)
  • Providence was 250/1 - now 250/1 (meh, no change)
  • Georgia Tech was 500/1 - now 250/1 (not too shabby)
  • Notre Dame was 66/1 - now 125/1 (darn - get healthy Bonzie)
  • Oregon was 33/1 - now 100/1 (bummer)

Jim Preseason Stay Aways:

  • Duke was 5/1 - now 8/1 (the jury is still out on this one)
  • Louisville was 20/1 - now 100/1 (good David Padgett fade by Jimmy)
  • Indiana was 50/1 - now 125/1 (shame on you if you actually took the Hoosiers 50/1 preseason)


Not to oversimplify this evaluation, but if you’re looking solely on whether or not Jim’s futures appreciated or depreciated in value, 8 of his 11 selections are currently ‘in the money’. And had the injury spell not cursed Notre Dame, there’s a good possibility Oregon would be the only whiff from these selections.

Ok, I’m done patting Jim on the back – let’s get to net new wagers:

Futures betting is all about setting yourself up for an opportunity to hedge in the later rounds of the tournament and guaranteeing a profit regardless of whether your chosen team(s) actually cut down the nets. For the bigger favorites (odds 25/1 or "worse"), reaching the Final 4 is typically the target outcome - for the longer shots, reaching the Elite 8 or even Sweet 16 can put you in a good position to hedge on a game by game basis.

Before risking any of your hard earned money, make sure you're aware of the projected seed line for each team you wager on. In a Newsweek article written by Tim Marcin leading up to the tournament last year, he highlighted some historical NCAA tournament trends around how well each seed performs. I'd advise staying away from too many futures picks outside of the 4-seed line - per the graph below, out of the 128  teams to make the Final Four dating back to 1985 only 21 were seeded 5 or lower (16%).

With this in mind, let's narrow our focus to the teams with a realistic shot at winding up on one of the top-4 seed lines next month...

To start us off, I highlighted 5 teams that have value purely from a discrepancy in their current futures price and current projected seed (see graphic below - futures prices courtesy of vegasinsider.com and seed projections courtesy of bracketmatrix.com).

  • Kansas (25/1): While the public perception of the Jayhawks has been tarnished by their abnormal struggles at home, Kansas is 9-4 against the RPI Group 1 this year (refer to warrennolan.com for the breakdown of Group 1, 2, 3 & 4 record breakdowns), tied with Villanova for the most wins against the Group 1 category. The problem is that the Beakers are only 8-2 against Groups  2 & 3, as they've shown us multiple times this year that they're susceptible to playing down to their level of competition - this could certainly spell doom if KU draws an unfavorable matchup in the 2nd round of the Big Dance, but I continue to stubbornly trust Devonte Graham as a decorated lead guard to make the right plays in crunchtime. 

    Quick Tangent: A lot has been made about Bill Self's decision to send Lagerald Vick - who has been a dumpster in Big-12 play -  to the bench and toss Mitch Lightfoot into the starting lineup. We only have a two game sample size to assess this bold move by Self, but I honestly doubt it has a major impact going forward - in their last two games (home win vs. TCU, road loss @ Baylor) even coming off the pine, Vick still played 29 and 32 minutes, respectively, compared to Lightfoot's 22 and 22 minute tallies.
  • Xavier (18/1): The national narrative is all about how Kansas' Big-12 reign is in suddenly hanging in the balance, but guess what - so is Villanova's 4-year dominance of the 'new' Big East. Much like their crosstown rival Cincinnati, Xavier has been quietly going about their business and only the diehard bracketologists seem to be paying attention. The Muskies have racked up 8-straight wins against the Big East gauntlet and sit in sole possession atop the conference standings at 11-2.

    A date with the Wildcats looms large on Saturday, but no one has been able to clip the X-Men at the Cintas Center this season. If Chris Mack and the boys can sneak by Nova, X will be in the driver's seat for a 1-seed barring a major letdown in the Big East tournament. And if you're able to lock in a future on a 1-seed with 18/1 value, you ship it and don't look back. The only real question mark for Mack at the moment is the health of Tyrique Jones. The other frontliners have stepped up in a big way with Jones out and / or playing limited minutes, but Jones is still a notch above his counterparts in terms of defensive rim protection and rebounding. The Muskies will need his minutes if they want to make a deep run in March.
  • Auburn (33/1): Vegas bookmakers seem to think highly of Tennessee as their current title odds depict the Vols as the SEC's top team, but Auburn may actually be the better futures play at the moment. The analytics LOVE the Tigers and it's not hard to see why - they feature a pair of mismatches at the 3/4 positions, Mustapha Heron and DeSean Murray, which have been nightmarish for SEC opponents to check defensively. 33/1 is an exceptionally reasonable price for what looks to be a top-4 seed, but be weary of a brutal remaining SEC schedule over the next couple of weeks. A few more untimely losses would slide the Tigers down the S-curve and outside of the optimal seed range.
  • Rhode Island (50/1): Feel free to bash the A-10 all you want - and I agree the Rams 20-3 overall record is inflated - but Rhody has proven to be immune to slip ups against inferior competition. The Rams are a perfect 19-0 against the RPI Groups 2, 3 & 4 and 2 of their 3 Group 1 losses were without offensive engine, E.C. Matthews. Rhody still has yet to face it's two biggest tests in A-10 play - @ St. Bonaventure and @ Davidson - but they've already dispatched the Bonnies and Wildcats by double digits at home. The bottom-line is that it's hard to see the Rams losing more than twice the rest of the season, which should secure them a spot inside the 6-seed line. If you were smart and listened to Jim's advice preseason, you're licking your chops right now with a 250/1 ticket price - but if you were stubborn, there appears to be value still on the table and I'd HIGHLY recommend dipping your beak in the Rams now at 50/1. Put 20 bucks down and hope URI bounces into the Sweet-16, at which point some lucrative hedging opportunities would come into play.
  • Clemson (66/1): I present to you the biggest arbitrage opportunity of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Yes, I know Brad Brownell is still coaching this team and his track record of following through on promising starts is essentially non-existent. Yes, I know their most versatile weapon - Donte Grantham - is done for the season and David Skara, Aamir Simms and Mark Donnal will have to play MAJOR minutes for this team (*snaps* for you if you knew who 2/3 of those players were). But trust me... snagging 66 to 1 odds for what could be a top-4 seed is synonymous with grand larceny.

    Everyone freaked out when the orange Tiggers pooped out 36 points against Virginia in their first game without Grantham, but no one seems to have noticed that Clemson is back in business after 4-straight wins to follow that abysmal offensive display in Charlottesville. Perhaps Vegas is heavily factoring in Clemson's unforgiving February schedule into their borderline disrespectful 66/1 price - Florida St. (2X), Duke, @ Syracuse and @ Virginia Tech are all losable games, but kenpom projects the Tigers to finish 13-5 in league play, implying they'll likely drop two of their next 5 tilts. That estimate seems reasonable to me, and if the hand plays out as the data predicts, the Tigers will find themselves safely inside the top-16 and you'll be cackling all the way to the bank with a 66/1 futures ticket safely in hand.

I'll provide one more personal recommendation, in addition to the 'seed line value-based' plays above:

  • Creighton (125/1): The Jays futures price took a minor dip after a tough 1-point home loss to Xavier, but Creighton will still be knocking on the door of a top-5 seed when Selection Sunday rolls around. Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas have been outstanding as a co-op offensive attack, which has helped mitigate the lack of a true ball dominant point guard. Even with the big blow of Martin Krampelj's season ending injury, the Jays still boast the Big East's best defense at this juncture on a points per possession basis. Getting consistent stops seems to always be the primary concern for Creighton in March, but that narrative may no longer be valid - athletic and versatile defenders in Foster, Thomas, and Ronnie Harrell have been instrumental in bolstering the Jays' perimeter defense, but the question is whether or not the likes of Toby Hegner and Jacob Epperson can pull their weight on the back end.