Quick Peek at Futures - 2019-20

-Jim Root

Welcome to the fifth annual “Quick Peek at Futures,” presented by yours truly. Before bragging about the success of the old Quick Peeks, indulge me for a second: the fact that I’m writing a “fifth annual” anything that isn’t a resignation letter is kind of blowing my mind. Alright, links to old editions below, with highlights noted:

2018-19 – nailed UVA 20/1, Texas Tech to the Final Four 15/1
2017-18 – nailed Nova 20/1
2016-17 – got Gonzaga (50/1) to the title game
2015-16 – a poor start!

This year’s version is slightly different due to the fact that I have yet to actually place my bets (save one, to be revealed below), so hopefully these odds don’t shift too drastically before I get out to Vegas in late October. Once I do, I’ll update the article with screenshots so that I can appropriately celebrate or be shamed for my foresight/lack thereof…

Tier I. The Real Contenders

Note: If you’re going to bet teams from this “favorites” tier, I implore you to make your way to a Circa Sports location – either the Golden Gate Casino or the D, both downtown on Fremont. Obviously, line shopping is always recommended, but the differences are fairly pronounced in this range. For example:

Michigan St. (+750 at Circa vs. +450 at MGM)
Kentucky (10/1 vs. 8/1)
Kansas (12/1 vs. 5/1)
Duke (12/1 vs. 8/1)
North Carolina (18/1 vs. 15/1)
Florida (20/1 vs. 15/1)

Odds as of 10/3/2019

Florida – 50/1

And speaking of the Gators – let’s start there! The only wager I’ve been able to place so far, I had a friend throw $50 on them as Kerry Blackshear’s destination remained in doubt, hoping that he’d pick Florida, which featured a lineup that really only lacked experience and an interior threat. Blackshear provides Florida with both, and they’re now a consensus top 6 or so team. I don’t mind the 25/1 that’s still out there at Circa if you’re still looking for a taste – just hope that whatever got in the water in Gainesville and infected Jalen Hudson has been purified.

Gonzaga – 25/1 MGM, 25/1 Westgate, 22/1 Circa

Gonzaga still has a couple obvious things going for it: Mark Few is still the coach, and the Zags are still the Lords Paramount of the West Coast Conference. The league is improving, sure, and St. Mary’s is excellent this year, but with one of the country’s best and deepest frontcourts plus the addition of the “Texas Two-Step” at guard (Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder - credit to my colleague Matt Cox for that sweet nickname), Gonzaga should still reign supreme in the WCC. The Zags’ seeding will be determined by a three-game gauntlet in mid-December of @Washington, @Arizona, vs. UNC.

Tier II. The Fringe Boys (Up to 100:1)

Ohio St. – 40/1 MGM, 60/1 Westgate, 50/1 Circa

Chris Holtmann has racked up 115 wins over his five seasons at “Power 6” schools (three at Butler, two at Ohio State), including winning at least one NCAA Tournament game in all five years. Now he has his most talented roster, featuring a star in the paint in Kaleb Wesson, a cadre of versatile wings, and a dangerous point guard duo in CJ Walker (Florida State transfer) and electric freshman D.J. Carton. Carton is part of Holtmann’s best-ever recruiting class (ranked 14th nationally by 247 Sports), further amping up the talent level in Columbus.

I’m confident this team will defend at a high level, and if one (or more) of the perimeter options emerges as a star-level threat alongside Wesson, the Buckeyes should be a protected seed come March.

Florida St. – 50/1 MGM, 60/1 Westgate, 100/1 Circa

The ‘Noles are a prime example of focusing on what went out the door, rather than what remains in the room (and what enters). Yes, six of the top eight scorers are gone, including two members of the LA Clippers (Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele), but Leonard Hamilton still has a wealth of long, talented wings and plenty of size in the frontcourt – aka the staples to his success.

Do I think Coach Bunny Colvin can outfox some of the country’s best coaching minds as the NCAA Tournament wears on? Perhaps he can distract the opposition with some sort of hoops Hamsterdam, but…I doubt it. Still, this team can earn a high seed with its tremendous athleticism and (likely) elite defense, and it has a point guard capable of making big plays in Trent Forrest. Give me that 100/1 for hedging opportunities, please.

West Virginia – 125/1 MGM, 100/1 Westgate, 75/1 Circa

Coming off a year in which they finished dead last in the Big 12 and played in the CBI, the Mountaineers are understandably being scoffed at by many entering this year. Even Andy Katz put them right back in the Big 12 basement, drawing the ire of Bob Huggins:

What I see, though, is a team that gets along far better than last year’s edition (which had well-documented chemistry issues), as well as a roster that fits a lot of what Bob Huggins wants to do (absolutely bombard the offensive glass with physical size, suffocate teams defensively with pressure and rim protection to cover for it). Huggins is a proven winner in March, too, and I can’t resist the odds offered here on a team that I think is due for a massive turnaround.

Tier III. Maybe Find Something Better To Do With Your Money (the rest)

Alabama – 250/1 MGM, 200/1 Westgate, 125/1 Circa

I loved the Tide’s value at 250/1 until James Rojas, a blue chip JUCO transfer, tore his ACL in early September. I still like the bet, though – Nate Oats with SEC talent is something I might be interested in. He won two NCAA Tournament games at Buffalo (Buffalo!), and he now has an NBA prospect at point guard in Kira Lewis to run his uptempo offense, size and athleticism at guard and on the wing with which to unleash his perimeter pressure, and power conference clout to help his team’s seeding.

It’s like a renowned chef that has been making delicious meals out of good-but-not-great ingredients, but he suddenly he gets to work in a 5-star kitchen and truly deploy his talents. And to be clear: there’s plenty in the cupboard. The previous chef knew how to buy ingredients (I’ll let you decide if the word “buy” has a double meaning), even if he failed to actually cook them properly. Plus, you have an excuse to randomly shout “Roll Tide!” in March, which is great entertainment in and of itself (as long as you aren’t an Auburn fan).

Perhaps a better bet here is the “Odds to make the Final Four,” which are offered at Westgate. A couple others I might be inclined to sprinkle there: Xavier (15/1), Creighton (25/1), Mississippi (50/1), and New Mexico State (75/1). Will consider betting Bama, West Va, and Ohio State Final Four odds, as well. Again - will update this post once bets have been made.

Tier IV. The Stay Aways

This isn’t actually a “tier” - it’s really a totally separate section - but I’m stuck with this format already, so we’re all just going to have to deal with it.

Memphis – 8/1 MGM, 16/1 Westgate, 24/1 Circa

Memphis obviously has talent (and clearly, plenty of confidence), but I do not think this team has anywhere near a one in eight chance to win the title. Essentially, I think the excitement around the Tigers has gobbled up any value that may have existed here, and that’s not even factoring in that this #1 recruiting class is, in my eyes, nowhere close to some of the best classes in recent history. The strength of the class is in its depth of 4-star players, not the top-end talent needed to win a title:

It’s also worth noting that even those vaunted Duke/UK classes produced as many Second Round exits (UK 2016, Duke 2017) as Final Four appearances (UK 2015, Duke 2015 – champs), and that was with proven commodities roaming the sidelines.

Last thing: it’s extremely telling that the only sportsbook that offers a “No” side to this bet (Circa, currently offering -4600) has the longest odds.

Villanova – 18/1 MGM, 18/1 Westgate, 22/1 Circa

Jay Wright’s recent brilliance has given the Wildcats a bump in the futures market: no sane observer would say this team is better than the 2017-18 one in the preseason, and yet that team was a tantalizing 20/1. Plus, the price may get friendlier early in the year as Nova plays a difficult nonconference schedule without elite freshman Bryan Antoine, so if you must dabble in the Wildcats, go with the “wait and see” approach.

Virginia – 15/1 MGM, 20/1 Westgate, 22/1 Circa

Pretty similar logic to Villanova, honestly: last year’s title and the Tony Bennett charm (woo, that charm) has the Cavs slightly overrated in this market. Last year’s team was 20/1 preseason after returning three massive pieces from a 31-3 team, yet somehow this version that loses its three best players is the same price? The value ain’t there, sorry Cavs fans.