Best futures bets for college basketball's Wooden Award

December 5, 2022 08:10 PM

It’s time to re-examine the college basketball futures market.

The first month of the season is done, along with the high-profile tournaments that serve as showcases for national champion contenders. For many bettors, the sport now has their attention, as the college football season has a lull prior to the bowl madness. 

Future boards need constant analysis, even this early, to see what value remains and if a futures portfolio built in the preseason needs some tweaking. 

The focus here is the John R. Wooden Award futures board which has undergone some noticeable changes over the past month. 

A new favorite there is creating some added value further down the line. 

Since most national sportsbooks have similar odds for the award, we will use DraftKings’ current numbers here. 

Purdue big man Zach Edey (+500) currently has the lowest odds to win it, a big difference from the season opener when Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe (+750) and Drew Timme (+1500) of Gonzaga were sitting as the favorites in the 6-1 range.

The 7-foot-4 Edey is now casting the largest shadow on the board. As dominant and healthy as Edey has been leading the Boilermakers to a surprising Top-10 ranking, don’t be compelled to wager on him at the moment. Instead, consider options with higher odds that could eventually knock him from that spot.

Value-driven futures bettors should look long-term at a favorite’s possible output and, just as importantly, if the media coverage will continue to stay in his favor. Looking at this equation with Edey in mind, don’t be quick to jump on him now for a bet based on his productivity to date (22.1 points per game, 11.4 rebounds per game, 2.1 blocked shots per game).  

There is likely going to be some regression come Big Ten play which started this past weekend. Conference foes are familiar with his frame and game. Also, Edey no longer has Trevion Williams around for both rest and protection during the normally physical conference games. 

It appears the best way to go against Matt Painter’s team is to direct extra bumps, elbows, and pushes toward Edey. As a result, fading Edey makes sense. 

Betting on him now is based on the belief he can keep up those numbers, stay healthy, and Purdue continues to overachieve. For relatively low 5-1 odds this far out, those are a lot of factors that must remain in his favor. 

There is another major component working against Edey for Wooden, which might be the biggest negative against his case. 

History shows players of Edey’s stature rarely win this award.

The 7-foot-and-over crowd is routinely punished by voters because of their size and an expectation that they should be dominating. Voters tend to favor the guards and forwards whose success comes at the expense of the giants patrolling the lane.

The same holds for Michigan’s 7-foot-1 Hunter Dickinson (+2200)

The last player 7-foot-or-taller to win the Wooden Award was Frank Kaminsky in 2015. However, the Wisconsin big man often played a stretch-5 type of role, unlike Edey, who lives on the blocks. 

Before Frank the Tank, it was Andrew Bogut in 2005. Just think about the way the college game has changed since then, and how many of the nearly 1,000 Wooden Award voters were not around during Bogut’s post-centric time in Utah. 

The last center listed at 7-foot-or-higher to win the award prior to Bogut was David Robinson in 1987. The tall guys you are probably thinking about–Christian Laettner, Tim Duncan, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant, among other­–were listed just shy of the 7-foot barrier. 

This is not just a trend. It’s an ideology and groupthink among the voters. It doesn’t mean Edey can’t buck this trend. Rather, it shows other candidates are closer to being the favorite than their current odds indicate. That’s the way to find value on an award board.

To further this process, let’s also take Tshiebewe and Timme off the list for now. I recommended doing so during the preseason, and I'm feeingl even more comfortable with that position.   

It was always going to be difficult for Tshiebewe to repeat; voters don’t want to duplicate last season’s story. See the lukewarm reception Heisman bettors had for Bryce Young at the start of this college football season. 

The Wildcats have already lost twice (once to Gonzaga) and have been criticized for looking somewhat disinterested in the early season matchups. A couple of strikes against this fabulous double-double machine. 

Remember, a CBB player can be playing at an elite level and still not be a good bet for the Wooden. That pertains to Timme even though he is performing like an All-American (18.6 PPG & 7.1 REB/G). His Zags already have three losses, placing them far behind their normal early-season pace. Since Timme was unable to wrestle the award away from Tshiebewe last year, his best chance of doing so in 2023 was to bring Gonzaga to new regular-season heights. Not happening. With WCC play starting, Timme’s national profile will take a dip. 

For those still bullish on Timme, instead of wagering on him for the Wooden Award, look towards a bet on his Gonzaga team on December 17th when the Zags play Alabama in Birmingham. Timme would need an amazing performance there to win the award, and if that happens, playing a singular game instead of the Wooden would pay off much quicker. 

A quick note on Armando Bacot (+2000), another big man to bypass. His North Carolina team is playing just over .500 ball, and he doesn’t look healthy. It seems like every time down the court, he is either limping or rubbing an apparent injury. 

Sure, Kansas' Jalen Wilson (+1500) is having a fantastic freshman season for the defending champs. However, his odds are too low for a player who would need to overcome a tremendous amount of brand equity the other contenders have in their favor. 

Kris Murray (+1800) from Iowa and Azuolas Tubelis (+2000) from Arizona don’t have the highlight reel-like skill set, as well as enough juice from the media to overcome all those in front of them. 

After saying “no” to these players for a Wooden bet, there are a pair bettors should think about saying “yes” to for a value-based addition to their CBB futures portfolios. 

First is Houston’s Marcus Sasser (+1400). Being the main option of the No.1 team in the nation is a powerful addition to a Wooden Award resume. A Sasser for Wooden play might be the best option for bettors who want to add Houston to their portfolios but are turned off by their current odds (+750 national championship; +250 Final Four)

Sasser’s 17.5 points, 3 assists and 3 boards per game are one of the main reasons the Cougars recently dropped Saint Mary’s to stay undefeated. Other than upcoming games against Alabama and Virginia, there aren’t a lot of potential losses on Houston’s horizon. At this point, even a loss to the Tide or Cavaliers won’t be too much of a dent to Sasser’s case since Kelvin Sampson’s team (-400) is expected to run through the AAC. 

Houston’s body of work from now to the start of the NCAA tournament should be enough for the 6-2 Sasser to make up for the height differential between him and Edey. Sasser’s odds say that the books are basing them on the lack of media coverage he has earned so far. That should change soon as “the engine who drives the Houston attack” can easily replace the current headline of “the Goliath behind Purdue’s rise.” Be on the right side of those odds before it happens. 

Another viable Wooden Award wager to make now is on Trayce Jackson-Davis (+1500). Get ready to include TJD in your college basketball verbiage if it isn’t there already. This Indiana big man (just not as big as Edey ) has the Hoosiers back in the national conversation and could lead them (+310) to a regular-season Big Ten title. 

Playing in that power conference setting allows TJD the chance to prominently stay in voters’ minds since any win is deemed a good one and a few losses are expected. He is a smoother version of Luka Garza, who won the award in 2021 after his Iowa team finished the year 22-9 and 14-6 (3rd place) in the Big Ten. 

This is also an opportunity to buy the dip on TJD. Indiana’s loss in the Big Ten opener to Rutgers, which used its suffocating defense to limit TJD to just 13 points and 10 rebounds (still a decent line), keeps it behind Purdue in the early season conference standings. From a betting standpoint, that isn’t a problem. The Scarlet Knights can do likewise to Edey on January 2nd when they travel to West Lafayette. 

Keep an eye on Illinois’ Terrence Shannon Jr. (+1800) whose shooting ability is considerably better than it was a year ago for Texas Tech.  Even though I prefer Sasser and TJD, there is still more value on Shannon at 18-1 compared to Edey’s 5-1. 

An even longer shot to at least consider is Tyrese Hunter (+4000) from Texas. 

Handicapping this award should be about who projects to win the award and where the best value resides.  Based on what Sasser and TJD have done to date, what is coming up, and how either can break through the media narrative needed to win the award make them worth a play. And they are available at double-digit odds. 

For every award handicap I write, this point is always included. Don’t bet on who you think should win the award, bet on who the media members will vote on for the award. 

Edey has the media momentum (and odds) on his side now, but it will be difficult to maintain that through the beginning of March.

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