This is the period of the sports calendar when many futures-minded bettors are faced with a lull in their action.
All the college basketball plays are settled, along with NBA and NHL regular-season futures coming to a conclusion. The MLB season just started, so those wagers are five months away from fruition.
There is another option futures bettors should pursue, namely college baseball, a sport the public has yet to fully embrace and one positioned for considerable growth within the betting community.
Look for more college baseball betting talk because games are now so readily available on the conference television networks (ACC, SEC, Big Ten) and streaming platforms such as ESPN+ and FloSports. With nearly 10 times the number of Division I teams as MLB franchises, there are a multitude of games on a daily basis to both watch and bet on.
MLB, which at one time never publicized its draft like the other leagues out of fear of increasing signing bonuses, has changed course and promotes the college ranks as a place fans can find the sport’s next superstars.
Today there is an expectation that just about any D1 game is available to watch. That assists handicapping tremendously because news and information on college baseball lacks compared with other sports.
Expect the connection between media coverage and wagering to increase because college sports-loving states like Ohio, Massachusetts and Michigan recently joined the ranks of legalized sports betting.
College baseball is becoming a case study in the new age of legalized sports betting. If there are games, and those games are readily available to view along with betting lines, the public is going to get involved.
So with college baseball in its second half, this is the time to focus more on the sport. Especially for those who avoid wagering during the NBA and NHL playoff seasons.
Where to start
Of the major national sportsbooks, DraftKings is usually the first to post its College World Series numbers and consistently lists daily lines. Across the board, Circa tends to offer the best odds.
Here is a tip for those who travel to Las Vegas for March Madness. Before leaving the city, head over to Circa and get a couple of CWS tickets to stow away. A bettor should get better odds than the books back home, and if it hits, it’s a great reason to come back to the desert and cash it.
The college baseball champion is determined differently than the more familiar NCAA basketball tournament. It begins with a tournament of 64 teams (30 automatic bids and 34 at-large). Teams are grouped into 16 regionals, each consisting of four schools that play a double-elimination format. Then comes the best-of-three super regionals to get the eight schools to move on to Omaha, Neb., for the CWS.
Regular-season records determine who hosts regionals and then super regionals. Hosting a super regional is usually a major advantage. Before last year, eight of the previous 10 CWS winners did so.
In 2022, neither of the two CWS finalists, Ole Miss and Oklahoma, hosted a super regional. Both played their best during the conference tournaments before the Rebels won it all.
Obviously with this many games in a condensed period, contenders must have pitching depth.
Using the basic statistical elements and performance so far, there are two pitching staffs standing out in 2023: Wake Forest (+1000 DraftKings; +900 Circa) and Tennessee (+2500 Circa; +1000 DraftKings).
The Demon Deacons have a staff ERA of just 2.28 and the Volunteers are at 2.99. Heading into the season, Tennessee, with Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam, was widely regarded as having the best arms in the country. While the team numbers are impressive, Dollander and Burns have not been as dominant as expected as the Vols have fallen in the rankings and accumulated more losses than expected.
In a way, this sounds like what happened to UConn basketball in mid-January. These two Chases could lead a similar revival.
Daily vs. futures
I’m willing to make the definitive claim that baseball is the hardest sport to bet on. A tremendous amount of variables, such as travel, home-field dimensions, weather, pitching and umpiring, must be accounted for. Unless you are like VSiN’s Adam Burke, who extensively tracks this along with advanced analytics, it is extremely difficult just to stay afloat wagering on baseball.
In college baseball, the talent pool is distributed toward the favorites and the books consistently hang numbers like -170 to -225. The math will never work in a bettor’s favor consistently with those numbers when teams often play three-game series and just one upset will set a bankroll behind.
Within those multi-game series, some coaches are content winning two out of three and might hold back pitching in one game. The motivation angle for handicapping can change unexpectedly. Sometimes a team is willing to lose today to win tomorrow.
Perhaps the best way to bet on daily college baseball games with value in mind is to focus on mid-week games that tend to be non-conference single-contest showdowns between local schools. Here the motivation angle can be swayed toward the plus dog that is often the smaller program in the shadow of the bigger program in the same region.
The favorite often holds out its best pitcher for the weekend conference series.
Overall, futures tend to be a more attractive play. A futures bet is still based on a daily component because regular-season wins increase the likelihood of a team hosting a regional and possibly a super regional. However, it protects the bankroll from volatility.
Just like with football, the SEC dominates the college ranks. According to the NCAA’s RPI, six of the top 12 ranked teams come from the conference (Kentucky No.1 and South Carolina No.2) with the ACC right behind with four representatives.
History and recent play indicate that bettors should include SEC teams in their CWS portfolio. The conference has won the last three tournaments played, four of the last five and eight of the past 13.
There is no reason to overload now with all the SEC contenders. Plenty of regular-season games remain, the ACC and Pac-12 have elite squads and conferences such as the Sun Belt, AAC and Big South could find a way to Omaha in mid-June.
College baseball bettors can call upon the same social media prognostication tools used for basketball futures. Baseball bracketologists can provide even more insight than basketball since they are tracking who will host a regional and be in line for a super-regional.
On Twitter, make sure to follow @Ben_Upton5 of the @11point7 podcast, @KendallRogers of @d1baseball, and @NCAABaseball.
Based on their predictions and using other sources such as Baseball America and the USA Today coaches poll, the top eight seeds currently look like LSU (+495 Circa; +400 DraftKings), Wake Forest, Florida (+1000 DraftKings; +700 Circa), Vanderbilt (+1800 DraftKings; +1200 Circa), South Carolina (+2000 Circa; +1800 DraftKings), Boston College (+30000 DraftKings; +11000 Circa), Arkansas (+1500 DraftKings; +1200 Circa) and Virginia (+2500 Circa; +2000 DraftKings).
Others in line to host a regional include Tennessee, Kentucky (+7500 DraftKings; +4500 Circa), East Carolina (+5000 DraftKings; +3000 Circa), Coastal Carolina (+20000 DraftKings; +10000 Circa ), UCLA (+4000 Circa; +2500 DraftKings), Miami (+7500 Circa; +6000 DraftKings ), Oklahoma State (+3800 Circa; +3000 DraftKings), Stanford (+2500 DraftKings; +2000 Circa), TCU (+7000 Circa; +6000 DraftKings ), Texas (+5000 DraftKings; +4000 Circa), Louisville (+3000 DraftKings; +2300 Circa) and Texas Tech (+5900 Circa; +4000 DraftKings).
Because of last year, DraftKings lists Ole Miss at +1800, while Circa views it much differently at +5000.
Unlike college basketball, these futures odds tend to remain steady throughout the first three quarters of the regular season. That will change as the conference tournaments get closer (late May).
Let’s stick with the college basketball connection when analyzing baseball futures.
One of the key principles basketball bettors look for in a champ is a team being ranked in KenPom’s top 20 for both offense and defense.
Once again Connecticut proved that to be a reliable measure.
On the baseball side, there doesn’t seem to be a go-to analytic element like that because getting “hot” at the right time is what the most recent champs have in common (besides being an SEC team).
There is some interesting variance among the last seven CWS winners when looking at home runs (an important aspect of games at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha) and team ERA. On one end is Ole Miss last year, which mashed 108 home runs with a relatively high ERA of 4.21. Compare that with Virginia in 2015: the Cavaliers had just 35 homers and a 3.49 ERA.
The average of those last seven winners was 73 homers and a 3.61 ERA. So this year’s champ should be similar to that, to some extent.
Still, who can host a super regional is what bettors need to prioritize. Having tickets in pocket on those teams now makes it easier to hedge (on underdogs like Ole Miss and Oklahoma were last year) when the CWS begins.
One way to construct a college baseball futures portfolio is to get a contender or two that look undervalued. Then add a couple of long shots who can host a regional. Once the eight teams advance to Omaha, select one from that group if needed as that condensed odds board should be between 4-1 and 7-1.
Let’s address the two biggest contenders coming into this year, LSU and Tennessee.
The Tigers, behind Dylan Crews and Paul Skenes, look like the best team in the country. However, their pitching staff is dealing with mid-April injuries, creating question marks for the big favorite. At 4-1, there is no reason to buy now on the Bayou Bengals.
Sure, this team should still make the CWS, but look for other ways to play Jay Johnson’s club if that happens.
Tennessee gets more national attention than any other team because of the swagger coach Tony Vitello encourages within his program. Last year, that fire helped get headlines but burned out before the Vols could even get to Omaha.
This year the Vols have more losses than all of 2022 and there are plenty of concerns over the pitching staff. DK is clearly showing some brand-name bias offering them at just 10-1. Avoid that. The Circa number, though, is appealing. Nothing wrong with getting a ticket now at 25-1 on what could end up being the team in June we thought it was in March.
Staying in the SEC, there is plenty of current value on Florida. The Gators have a manager in Kevin O’Sullivan who won the CWS in 2017, a team that consistently scores runs, wins on the road and takes series.
They already have more than 70 home runs and an 8-1 record away from home. The team ERA of 4.78 is less than desirable, however.
There is very little difference between LSU, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Florida when trying to make a CWS future play on an elite SEC squad.
Going with Florida is based on the idea that the pitching staff will catch up with the offensive side in the second half of the season.
Even if you don’t bet on Florida, take a look at their two-way lefty stud, Jac Caglianone, who could be a difference-maker in Omaha.
Mid-major plays are a good option since they can come cheap with high odds. The last team not from a power conference to make the CWS was Cal State Fullerton in 2017. The year before that, Coastal Carolina won it all.
East Carolina, Coastal Carolina and Campbell (+9000 DraftKings; +6000 Circa) are the prime mid-major choices. Across the board, ECU is the top-ranked mid-major and at 50-1 has good value since the Pirates can host a regional and possibly a super regional as well.
Campbell already has two wins over ECU this season. Still, what the Pirates did last season, hosting a super regional, makes them an intriguing long-shot play this year.
There are two long shots definitely worth a small investment with the hopes of something big down the line. They aren't mid-major surprises, instead both are highly ranked power conference clubs overlooked because of their lack of pedigree.
Bettors should never put too much stock into subjective rankings, but they can help categorize teams for comparative purposes.
Kentucky is one of the nation’s top-ranked teams with a much higher number next to its name on the odds board than the others. They are No.1 in RPI but certainly not priced accordingly.
UK does well using today’s style of play — high on-base percentage and spreading the innings around for multiple pitchers.
Of course, it will be hard for Big Blue to sneak past all its SEC brothers, but the record is there and so is a possible high seed for the conference tournament. That could help bring NCAA tournament games to Lexington.
The other Hail Mary worthy of attention is Boston College. The Eagles have nothing spectacular in the stats column but have racked up wins against Tennessee, Connecticut and taken series at Virginia Tech and Florida State. Recently being swept by Louisville isn’t good, but it is part of a long regular season.
Books can offer such high odds for a team like BC since the track record for northeast schools making the CWS is recently nonexistent. The last one to make it to Omaha was Stony Brook in 2012.
Like Kentucky, the Eagles can emerge from all the crossfire in a top conference to find a way to host a regional. This is a triple-digit play that futures bettors want for their portfolios. It can come cheap and provide plenty of maneuverability along the way.
I asked the aforementioned Ben Upton of 11point7 if he has any long-shot plays and he provided this interesting tidbit.
“I think the long shot nobody is talking about right now is Cal State Fullerton at 500-1 on DK,” Upton said. “This is a team with series wins over Texas, UC Irvine and Santa Barbara, and they absolutely should have won the series against Stanford. They also have a mid-week win over UCLA. Plus they have an easy conference stretch and could possibly host a regional if they finish strong. Even if they get a 2 or 3 seed, they will most likely stay out west for the regionals, and we all know the West Coast isn’t up to par with the Southeast when it comes to talent. So it’s not a bad road to a super regional, where it would be easy to hedge out of a 500-1 ticket.”