It’s a time-honored tradition in the United States of America - giving money to the overly fattened cash cows in lovely Las Vegas (or the local bookie of your choice)! That’s right folks, we’re getting close enough to the 2016-17 college hoop season to start discussing the gambling implications of said season, and having just returned from Vegas myself, I figured I would start with a detailed analysis of the futures market.
Part of this examination involves correctly framing your perspective - obviously, only one team can cut down the nets, but finding the right “buy low” bet could give some valuable hedging opportunities in the future.
Quick summary of last year: my favorite bets were Duke (9:1), Louisville (55:1), and SMU (110:1). The latter 2 played WAY better than those odds, but of course, they both got banned from the postseason for various (shitty) reasons. I also liked Michigan St. (22:1), Oklahoma (35:1), and Notre Dame (65:1) along with some long shots. The first two became 2-seeds, and ND made the Elite 8 - not bad! What was bad - advising against UNC (9:1, runner-up), Syracuse (70:1, made Final Four), and Villanova (22:1, won title). So maybe just skip to that section and bet on those guys!
All odds from here as of 10/23/16: http://www.vegasinsider.com/college-basketball/odds/futures/
I. Real Contenders
These teams are in the highest tier of hoops and have a real chance to cut down the nets. My main criteria here is looking for a team with a very good coach, NBA talent at guard, and a stout defense.
Duke - 7:2 on both Vegas Insiders and in Vegas on 10/17
Far and away the best team in the country, and it isn’t that close. The rest of this column (and the entire 2016-17 season) is merely a formality as we await to crown Coach K and the Blue Devils once again. This started out sincere and turned into a reverse jinx - the best way to jinx them is to bet on them, right?
Really, though, the Dookies have pretty much every possible piece you’d want on a basketball team, save a true point guard, but with plenty of talented ball-handlers and scorers, I don’t think that will hold them back. The 2015 Kentucky squad’s odds eventually reached minus money during their undefeated regular season, and I expect Duke to similarly dominate their opposition, making nearly 3.5:1 a very appealing bet.
Arizona - 20:1 VI, 15:1 in Vegas
An extremely well-coached team featuring some intriguing returning talent (Trier, Allen, Comanche) with a phenomenal freshman class (Alkins, Simmons, Markkanen, plus redshirt Ray Smith). Sean Miller will have the freshmen playing like upperclassmen by the time March rolls around, and I fully expect him to break through into the Final Four sooner rather than later - especially with so much elite (albeit young) talent. Markkanen’s versatility and shooting could make the offense very good to go with Miller’s usually excellent defense.
Note: I had Michigan State in this group again, but with injuries to Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, their frontcourt is too worrisome. Staying away.
Note 2: I also like Kansas in this range, but don’t want to give you 2 of the top 3 favorites.
II. Personal Favorites - Middle Tier
This is the sweet spot. Teams from, say, 25:1 to 75:1 that could grow into elite teams and really give you a ton of value come postseason time. Team criteria similar to the above tier.
Louisville - 35:1 VI, 12:1 in Vegas
I’m gladly going to run it back with Louisville here - I loved them last year, and had Ricky Pitino not completely unknowingly (lol) had some, shall we say, “shenanigans” going on behind the scenes in the recruiting world, it would have been outstanding value. I love them again this year, as they’ll once again bring an elite defense to the table as well as a possible NBA guard in Donovan Mitchell and fellow Breakout Sophomore U candidates Deng Adel and Raymond Spalding.
Note: For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the disparity is so wide between VI and what I got at Luxor. I still took it, and that’s why I’m a shitty gambler.
Gonzaga - 55:1 VI, 50:1 in Vegas
When I first started writing this, the Zags were 65:1, so the value is already declining. Get in early folks! Despite having to blend a ton of new talent, I think Mark Few has this team playing excellent ball from wire to wire and in the top 15 for most of the year. This is the first time Few has had an elite athlete at PG since Demetri Goodson (playing for the Green Bay Packers now), and Nigel Williams-Goss is 7 inches taller than Goodson was. He’s going to have a monster year.
Xavier - 50:1 VI
No ticket to show here since I didn’t take them in Vegas, but I like them for many of the same reasons I listed about Arizona. I love Chris Mack and think he eventually reaches the Final Four, and this may be his best team yet. Edmond Sumner will be an NBA guard, Blueitt is a stud, and their defense should be right up near the top 25 again (22nd last year).
III. Love the Talent, Not the Coaches
Washington - 200:1 VI
NC State - 100:1 VI
These two teams form a special group in which I believe they have the elite talent to make a long tournament run, but I have gigantic concerns about whether their coaches will stunt their chances with poor rotations or by allowing horrendous shot selection. Both teams have a potential top-5 pick as a primary ball-handler (Dennis Smith Jr. and Markelle Fultz), so if they seize the identity of the team, magic could happen.
IV. Why Are You Even Looking This Far Down The List?
Look, I know betting on these guys is like casting your presidential vote for Snoopy, but at this point, you’re just looking for someone who might drastically out-perform their preseason expectations and give you bountiful hedging opportunities. Crucial criteria I have in this group include either being well-coached or having a bona fide national star. The pickings are obviously slim, but here’s some intriguing ones I like:
Texas Tech - 350:1 VI
Absolutely my favorite long shot. They lose two wings, but return everyone else and add FIVE impact transfers (3 D1 grad, 2 JUCOs - one was a first team All-American). I really think Chris Beard is a great coach, and the Big 12 is wide open after Kansas this year, leaving the door open for the Red Raiders to finish in the top 3 or 4. At that point, their odds would be far lower than 350/1.
Virginia Tech - 400:1 VI
Clemson - 500:1 VI
The ACC is going to be brutal, but I like both of these teams to exceed expectations. The Hokies are super deep, will play hard, and will be well-coached by Buzz Williams, and I think Jaron Blossomgame will get a little more national recognition as a senior a la Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine (not to that level, of course). I don’t trust Brad Brownell, but I really like his roster.
Monmouth - 1000:1 VI
Monmouth probably has less of a chance of winning the NCAA Title than Leicester City did of winning the Premier League. But at 1000/1 with three returning backcourt starters and a very good coach (King Rice), the value here could make it fun. I think there’s a chance the Hawks could have a 2007-2011 Butler-type season where they end up wearing white in the first round, and if they win a game or two, the hedging opportunities for a 1000/1 team would be plentiful.
V. Stay Away
As mentioned, this section didn’t turn out so hot last year, so perhaps you want to just take these bets. But hey, that’s your call, you are more than welcome to fade me and throw your winnings in my face as I sadly regret the mistakes I’ve made in life.
Kentucky - 11:1 VI
The young talent is definitely very good. I just watched the Blue and White scrimmage, and Monk/Fox are going to be a monster backcourt, plus Adebayo is a beast. I just don’t think the veterans (Briscoe - who admittedly looked good in the scrimmage, Willis, Humphries) provide enough complementary help and leadership for 11:1 to be good value.
Indiana - 30:1 VI
Lots of talent here, but when you combine a coach I don’t trust, the return of the James Blackmon defensive void, and questionable point guard play, that’s not a middle tier team I’m interested in.
Purdue - 55:1 VI
There’s a bit of a theme here - I don’t want poor point guard play on my potential national title winners. As my colleague Matty Cox said, “you don’t want Spike Albrecht as your PG on a title contender unless it’s the first half against Louisville in the 2013 National Title game.”
Mizzou - 500:1
Some year, I’ll be able to remove my alma mater from this list...someday soon I hope...