Last week, the initial focus of this column on college basketball futures bets started at the top and looked at how low, and therefore unappealing, Gonzaga’s odds were to win the national championship. After dominating wins last week against BYU and Portland, the Zags’ price remains at + 350.
It’s possible bookmakers will hold this line for the rest of the regular season knowing that anything lower won’t generate much action.
Staying High But Too Low
Besides the national championship, one of the other most-played CBB futures is the John Wooden Award, given to the nation’s best player. Much like the Gonzaga scenario, this is a lopsided, hard-to-play board.
You want to be safe and take the favorite? Iowa’s Luka Garza not only comes at a minus price, something to avoid in the futures market, but an ultra-expensive -500.
Gonzaga and Garza are so enticing since they have separated themselves from their respective opponents. Nonetheless, looking like the best now and being profitable later don’t necessarily go together with futures.
Gonzaga could have an off night in March and Garza could twist an ankle tomorrow, so the payoff down the road isn’t worth the present price. CBB futures are about plus prices and finding value that expands a portfolio. At this point, Gonzaga and Garza are restrictive.
Just think about how likely it appeared in November that Trevor Lawrence would win the Heisman Trophy. Then Justin Fields was wearing the presumptive crown in December. COVID-19 became the X factor and made those locks disappear.
Now is the time to scan the Wooden board and try to find a DeVonta Smith type lurking in Garza’s shadows. It is an imposing shadow, though, with the high-scoring Hawkeyes ranked fifth behind Garza’s 27.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu is second in odds around + 440. He’s an electric playmaker and scorer, but residing in the Big Ten with Garza and being on the same court with Illinois’ other star, Kofi Cockburn, make it difficult for Dosunmu to create his own headlines.
When making a play on the Wooden Award, you need to identify storylines that have legs.
Next is a pack of Gonzaga Bulldogs, and once again it will be hard for Drew Timme, Corey Kispert or Jalen Suggs to separate himself from his teammates, especially on a squad known as a solid group that relies on multiple contributors.
One legitimate long shot to the Wooden Award is worthy of a play.
Baylor’s Jared Butler can be found for a robust + 1800 price. The Bears are entrenched as the No. 2 team in the country and easily rolled past Oklahoma and TCU last week. Butler averages 16.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, better numbers than teammate MaCio Teague (+ 10000), which allows the 6-foot-3 guard to play the role of the Bears’ leading man.
If Gonzaga somehow slips up, it’s off to Waco for college basketball’s top story.
A + 1800 price for a small play has much greater value than Garza at a minus price or a group of Zags.
Scanning the Tournament Leaderboard
CBB futures with so many options is much like golf betting, which has skyrocketed in popularity since the restart of sports.
In golf futures, you’d better not fall in love with Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas for every tournament just because they draw your attention as the favorite. Always going with big names and low odds won’t produce.
Great golf paydays are available on players who dwell in the next level after the marquee names. Let’s look at some conference tournaments more than a month away to see if there is a Harris English or a Jason Kokrak out there to latch on to before the tournament gets closer.
Clemson (9-1, 3-1 ACC) is one of the hottest teams in the country, moving up to No. 19. The Tigers are available at + 1000 to win the ACC tournament. That number holds steady after its game Saturday against North Carolina was postponed. Next up for Brad Brownell’s group is a very winnable home contest against No. 22 Virginia.
Get the Tigers now, because a win against Virginia will move the + 1000 more in line with the top six ACC teams — Florida State, Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia Tech — who are bunched in the + 350 to + 750 range.
Heading out west, start looking at Utah State before the bookmakers do. The Aggies are 6-0 in Mountain West play and extremely undervalued to win the conference tournament at + 600. San Diego State is the favorite at the dreaded minus number of -165. The Aztecs no longer have Malachi Flynn or Yanni Wetzell. Sure, they are 9-2 and 3-1 in the conference, but they barely got past an inferior Nevada squad in back-to-back games last week.
A very solid Boise State team is undefeated in the Mountain West and available at + 350. Nothing wrong with jumping on the Broncos now, as they will start stockpiling more wins and won’t face Utah State or SDSU until late February.
The Aggies still feel like a better play at almost twice the futures price.
Utah State has a talented core of veterans, including 7-foot Neemias Queta, the best big man in the conference, and scorers Marco Anthony and Justin Bean.
Come March, SDSU and BSU will likely have at-large bids wrapped up. Utah State won’t and will have extra motivation to win the MWC tournament.
Staying with the golf analogy, Tulsa at + 4000 to win the American Athletic Conference tournament is the Richy Werenski type you are always looking for with futures.