2015-16 version (click to read) - Highlights: Not many! Advising against betting on both of the title game participants qualifies as a “rough start.”
2016-17 version (click to read) - Highlights: Gonzaga 50:1 (runner-up), Xavier 50:1 (Sweet 16) - and the Zags came oh-so-close!
2017-18 version (click to read) - Highlights: Villanova 20:1 (winner), Cincinnati 100:1 (2 seed), Xavier 60:1 (1 seed) - would have loved to see the Queen City schools not melt into puddles in the Round of 32, but hard to complain here.
Another year, another fall trip to the desert – which means dishing out some national title selections (and logging them so that I can brag or be shamed down the road). The last two years have brought a 20:1 winner in Villanova and a 50:1 finalist in Gonzaga (hedge city), so I’m clearly a world champion futures bettor and you should send 5% of all of your profits derived from this article to me. It’s only fair.
Full disclosure: I was a little under the influence of Uncle Alcohol on this fine day in Vegas, and thus I bet on a couple more teams than I would have liked. However, other than one massive homer bet, I genuinely like the odds of every selection below, so I’ll stand by each bet even if you want to roast me over an open flame upon reading them.
Also, in addition to the normal four categories denoted below, there’s a new fifth section! I won’t spoil it (you can just scroll down if you want to – if you’re LAME), but let’s just say the Westgate stepped up its game this year…
I. Real Contenders (Favorites up to 25:1)
UNC ($50 on 12:1)
Virginia ($50 on 20:1)
That’s right folks - I went line shopping this year!! UNC and Virginia were better values at the respective casinos above, and being the grown-up that I am, I made my way to both spots and spread my money around.
I wasn’t thrilled with the value on UNC (Roy’s boys had been 20:1 or 16:1 leading up to my trip), but I still like the Tar Heels quite a bit. I rate them awfully close to the Kansas/Kentucky/Gonzaga/Duke “top shelf,” and I’m getting the value of a “call” drink here – love me some value! Perhaps the biggest knock on last year’s Heels was a lack of NBA-caliber talent; they didn’t have another gear to rise to once the postseason rolled around. The arrival of 6’6 mega-destroyer Nassir Little (and Coby White) changes that, validating that the ceiling is indeed the roof for this year’s Heels.
As for Virginia…“the night is darkest just before the dawn” – some Googling informs me that proverb isn’t factually true (fake news from Harvey Dent), but Tony Bennett and his NCAA Tournament exploits have to hope the message applies this year. The humbling 20-point beat-down suffered at the hands of 16-seed UMBC has to feel like rock bottom, and people aren’t in any rush to let it go (folks - let’s at least be creative with the “don’t forget UVA lost to a 16 seed” jokes, okay? Hold yourself to a higher standard.). With perhaps his best offensive team and his trusty pack line defense (plus maybe his first NBA lottery pick in DeAndre Hunter), Bennett has a sneaky monster on his hands. I certainly see it that way, because these 20:1 odds make me feel similar to how Nova at 20:1 did last year: this will be a top 5 team, likely a 1 or 2 seed, with the talent to win the whole thing. That would be a decent way to quell the jokes, no?
II. Personal Favorites - Middle Tier (25:1 to 100:1)
Virginia Tech ($25 on 60:1)
The major concern with Virginia Tech is that beyond Kerry Blackshear, the Hokies’ big man rotation is as ragged as a dress shirt after Buzz Williams sweats through it. Thankfully, Buzz is the perfect coach to deal with such an issue: his Marquette teams thrived with players like Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler filling the nominal post spots, and this Hokie roster is flush with skilled guards and wings. The offense (#8 in KenPom’s preseason rankings) should be a nightmare to guard with shooters galore spotted up around Justin Robinson, so if Buzz can construct a scrambling, pressure-heavy defense similar to what he had at MU in 2012, VT could finish third or fourth in an ultra-competitive ACC and put themselves in great position to make a run.
Kansas State ($25 on 80:1)
Entering the season ranked 12th at KenPom.com, Kansas State has the combination of defense, experience, and shooting that I look for in a title contender. Dean Wade gives them a relatively unique inside-out weapon on offense, helping to open things up for the stable of guards to drive into gaps and force defenses into scrambled rotations. Those same guards can make life miserable for opposing ball-handlers, as Bruce Weber’s pressure schemes emphasize forcing turnovers. A disciplined, patient attack can beat them – see Loyola’s surgical effort in the Elite Eight last year – but if JUCO transfer Austin Trice helps answer some of the rebounding questions, the Wildcats will be an extremely tough out in March.
Wisconsin ($25 on 100:1)
Look, I already admitted I was slightly intoxicated when I put these bets in, okay? I’m not super psyched about having this ticket, but now that I do, might as well talk myself into it. Ethan Happ is one of the nation’s best players (people who deny that are confused souls), and you can see the makings of a solid supporting cast with better health and some freshman-to-sophomore development from Brad Davison, Nate Reuvers, Aleem Ford, and Kobe King (yes he’s technically still a frayshman). Alright, that’s all it took, I’m in on this!
III. Why Are You Even Looking This Far Down The List? (Beyond 100:1)
NC State ($25 on 125:1)
I’m all in on the Wolfpack this year. I would have bought them at 80:1, so this value has me taking a champagne shower. Kevin Keatts + a massive stable of guards/wings that can fly around and apply constant pressure on both ends of the court is a formula that piques my interest, and despite Braxton Beverly’s fractured hand and indefinite return timetable, there’s plenty of weapons with which to work. Granted, there’s a lot of fine-tuning to be done while incorporating so many new pieces, but I’ve signed up for VIP membership in the Keatts Fan Club (annual dues are actually pretty high these days), so I expect that to be sorted out rather smoothly. If the Wyatt Walker/DJ Funderburk big man tandem can fill the necessary rim runner/rebounder/rim protector role (that’s a lot of r’s), then this value is going to be outrageous come tournament time.
No super long shots – for the ones I like beyond this range, see Section V below…
IV. Stay Away
And here’s the annual section where I alienate three fanbases by saying I don’t like their value! For the first time in three years, Indiana will be absent from this section, so congratulations, Hoosiers…
Look, the Wildcats are going to be excellent once again - but not the same degree of “holy hell, they’re blasting 1-seed Kansas by 20 in the national semifinals” type of excellent. Villanova is still my pick to win the Big East, and Jay Wright is still a handsome genius, but I think the Cats’ pair of national titles has deflated these odds past the true number.
Michigan State (25:1)
Tom Izzo’s March Magic apparently had a shelf life, as he hasn’t made a Sweet 16 since 2015, including two shocking upset losses to Syracuse (2018) and Middle Tennessee (2016). Or maybe - just maybe - shocking losses in a single elimination tournament are actually pretty commonplace, and one man’s wizardry is actually an illusion. One or the other. Either way, I’m (relatively) bearish on the perimeter scoring options, something that will rear its ugly head come March.
Consistent readers/listeners of the Weave are probably starting to wonder how the UCLA basketball program hurt me, as I’ve been consistent all offseason in my low stance on this year’s Bruin squad. In the NCAA Tournament, though, I think their lack of experience and top shelf coaching will be exposed – and that’s if they make the field at all, which is not a given in my eyes.
V. BONUS SECTION! Final Four Odds
Pretty psyched about this new option- it creates a scenario where you could actually win more than one bet, and really, more things to bet on is always a positive (please give us regular season conference title odds next!!).
Florida ($20 on 10:1)
Texas Tech ($20 on 15:1)
Iowa St. ($10 on 50:1)
I won’t dig into each of these individually, but the through line for this group boils down to: talented backcourts with an NBA-level star (Hudson/Nembhard, Culver, Wigginton) who I like to finish better in their respective conference standings than they’re being projected. If they can secure high seeds (and I’d wager at least one of these teams ends up in the overall top 16), the value will be more than worth the small upfront investment.
SLU ($5 on 125:1)
Harvard ($5 on 125:1)
Last but not least, the Billikens and the Crimson! I’m betting on talent overwhelming their respective conferences, opening the door for a decent seed and a Butler- or Loyola-esque run through March. Travis Ford and Tommy Amaker aren’t rocket scientists with a clipboard, but they have high-major-caliber rosters, and that talent can play up in a win-or-go-home scenario. Ultimately, the value was simply too great for me to ignore; I did not walk into the Westgate planning to bet on these two. Here’s hoping the Bills or the Crimson (or both?!) will be financing my next trip to Sin City…