College basketball futures preview

June 5, 2023 07:00 PM

Let’s divert some of your attention away from the NBA and Stanley Cup finals to delve into some college basketball analysis. 

If your initial reaction is that there is no need to do this so far out, especially with football talk picking up, then well, it’s time to change that handicapping approach. Since the transfer portal and NIL deals have dramatically altered the college basketball landscape, bettors also must adapt. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean wagers must be made in June; it is more about being proactive by doing some summer homework and tracking player movements while the rosters are in a constant state of change. As always when playing the futures markets, periodically checking in with the odds board is vital. This makes it possible to know where the best numbers are when news breaks that might alter the board.

Write down May 11th as a new date to keep in mind. That is when the portal closes to new entrants other than graduate transfers. Add @portal_updates as a must-follow Twitter account. 

Here is a broad look at some of the names and teams active in the portal and their connection to the CBB futures board. 

All odds are for the national championship - the only futures wager books are currently offering.


Success in the Portal

Drew Timme’s career at Gonzaga is officially over, but Mark Few should once again keep his team in contention by reloading with more big names. This time though, they are coming to Spokane from the transfer portal. 

The Zags have played the college basketball version of the shell game by landing Wyoming big man Graham Ike, Steele Venters from Eastern Washington, and Crieghton point guard Ryan Nembhard. The latter's name might sound familiar as his brother Andrew was recently a key figure for the program. 

Gonzaga has some of its own moving through the portal (Dominick Harris and Efton Reid both to BYU, and Hunter Sallis) but the comings are far more newsworthy than the goings. 

Reports out of Spokane say the Zags will look to play an even faster offensive style with this new group of veterans. That is an important tidbit of information for futures bettors who might look at Gonzaga differently than the books and national media when the season starts. 

For over a decade, Gonzaga was a popular public play because of star players like Timme, Corey Kispert and Chet Holmgren. Now all are gone, and the narrative surrounding the Zags will likely be less favorable following their blowout loss to Connecticut in the Elite Eight. 

Gonzaga’s current odds are +2500 Circa and +2200 DraftKings. These are more than double what they have been in prior preseasons. 

In the past, I had little interest in ever backing Gonzaga at a 7-1 price. A number in the 20-1 range is much more appealing and worth some consideration. 

For those who think Ike and Nembhard can change Gonzaga’s March fortunes, wait until at least the late summer when most of the talk is on football.


Big Game Hunters 

Kansas (+1300 Circa; +1200 DraftKings) bagged the top name in the portal, Hunter Dickinson, after the former Michigan big man enjoyed a number of different stops on the re-recruiting trail. 247Sports gives Kansas the top-rated transfer class. The richer get richer; good for them. Not so much for bettors who favor the favorites.  

There was plenty of speculation that Dickinson would return to his Mid-Atlantic roots and transfer to Maryland, Georgetown or Villanova. Any one of those schools would have altered the futures board.

The Jayhawks should once again be in position to start the season as the top-ranked team with Dickinson and Towson transfer Nick Timberlake joining returners Kevin McCullar, Dajuan Harris and K.J. Adams. This core can offset the losses of Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson. For added depth, Kansas also brought on Arterio Morris (Texas) and Parker Braun (Santa Clara).  Right now there is no reason to back the Jayhawks before the season starts or when the action first tips off. 

The presence of multiple short favorites — Duke (+1600 Circa; +1100 DraftKings), Kentucky (+1800 Circa; +1300 DraftKings,)  and Connecticut (+1700 Circa; +1400 DraftKings) — also atop the odds board should keep the favorites steady through the first month of the season. It’s doubtful one team will pull away from the pack and force books to lower the odds because of increased liability. 

These other favorites, unlike Kansas, have been relatively quiet in the portal and will look to move forward with blue-chip recruits and returning players. 


Other Big 12 Movements 

Texas (+2500 Circa; +2200 DraftKings)  landed perhaps the biggest name other than Dickinson with sharpshooter Max Abmas returning to his lone star roots. The former Oral Roberts star should help the Longhorns contend for a regular season conference outright championship and give bettors an option with slightly higher odds than Kansas. Texas also got a boost when Dillon Mitchell withdrew from the NBA Draft to play another year in Austin. 

Before anyone considers handicapping Big 12-related futures, first the conference terrain needs to be surveyed. The expanded real estate and extended travel might create an opportunity for as many as eight teams to contend. The conference welcomes  Houston, BYU, Central Florida and Cincinnati while Oklahoma and Texas already have one foot out the door on their way to the SEC.

If this travel and continuity create some chaos, then a team such as West Virginia (+5500 DraftKings; +4300 Circa) could be a longshot to examine. 

Bob Huggins’ offseason mishap trumped the work he did in the portal prior. That might turn some less than detailed public-minded bettors off from the Mountaineers. Huggins will miss a few games at the start of the season, but, for the most part, that controversy has dissipated. When the coach returns, he will have a veteran, transfer-heavy roster to contend with. 

The new names include Kerr Kriisa, the 3-point bomber from Arizona and long-armed Syracuse shot blocker Jesse Edwards. They will join a pair of New York City-tough guards in Omar Silverio and Jose Perez. Having Edwards in the middle should accelerate the WVU defense with pressure from their guards.

If the Mountaineers can take care of business in Morgantown, one of the hardest trips to make, and ride Kriisa and Edwards to some surprise wins, they could contend in a conference that should see the big names knock each other off on a weekly basis. Just look at what Kansas State did last year, challenging for a regular-season crown based on the contributions of transfers. 

Houston and Baylor will once again be in contention while they rearrange their rosters. Houston (+2200 Circa; +2000 DraftKings) is jumping into the deep end of the Big 12 pool without Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark (who transferred to Arkansas). Jamal Shead has put his name in for the draft but did not hire an agent. They will get LJ Cryer from Baylor and Damian Dunn from Temple to help. The Bears (+4300 Circa; +3000 DraftKings) lost Cryer but scored a major win by getting the highly coveted Rayj Dennis from Toledo. 

When the books start offering conference outright odds, my eyes are going first to the middle of the stacked Big 12 odds board because the teams below the top tier, like WVU or TCU (+5500 Circa; +4500 DraftKings), now with Jameer Nelson Jr. (Delaware) and Ernest Udeh Jr. (Kansas), will have plenty of value.


Shooting Range 

Perhaps the best commodity available for teams in the transfer portal is experienced scorers. There is no shortage of them, and shooters/scorers can be difference-makers in a number of betting markets.

The CJ Fredrick train is making another stop, this time in Cincinnati (+25000 Circa & DraftKings) after layovers in Iowa and Kentucky. He will help the Bearcats compete in their new conference but not enough to get bettors’ attention this far out.  

Joe Girard is a name to keep in mind as he jumps from the Syracuse Orange to the orange of Clemson. His 3-point shooting (over 40% last season) could keep the Tigers (+20000 DraftKings; +15000 Circa) in contention for a 2024 conference title. 


Moving South

In the SEC, Kentucky will once again look to lead with an elite recruiting class. The problem from a betting standpoint is the return of John Calipari who has become a fade target.

Without Brandon Miller, Alabama (+3300 Circa; +2200 DraftKings) should take a step back. The Tide picked up perennial transfer Aaron Estrada and Latrell Wrightsell (Fullerton). Neither will move the regular season market when it opens. 

Here are some transfers who can do what is so important in the SEC—score from anywhere on the court. 

Denver Jones moves on from Florida International to Auburn (+5500 Circa; +4500 DraftKings) where Bruce Pearl can use his perimeter skills. 

Jalen Cook’s scoring led Tulane to a 20-win season a year ago. He jumps to the bigger program 90 minutes away on the bayou with hopes of elevating a rising LSU (+35000 Circa; +20000 DraftKings) squad. 

Auburn should be priced in the mid-level tier for the SEC regular season odds while LSU will be a longshot.

The SEC market is going to be centered on Arkansas (+2500 Circa; +1800 DraftKings) which last season never found enough chemistry with its heralded recruiting class. This year Eric Musselman will rely more on the veteran transfers. Former Cougar Tramon Mark is joined by Khalif Battle (Temple), Keyon Menifield (Washington), El Ellis (Louisville) and Jeremiah Davenport (Cincinnati).   

Musselman has been successful with transfers in the past and will start the season with the expectation of winning the SEC en route to a high tournament seed. The Razorbacks are a good option to build a futures portfolio around - they have the coach, veteran talent and odds that should fall as the season progresses - elements bettors need when making an early investment.  This won’t be the same team that burned many bettors last year.


Out West 

Arizona (+2800 Circa; +2000 DraftKings)  lost Kerr Kriisa but gained Caleb Love (North Carolina with a brief layover in Ann Arbor). Nice pickup, but unlike Arkansas, bettors should use last year’s tournament failures as a variable when handicapping the Wildcats. Tommy Lloyd looked flummoxed against Princeton, and his team was much different outside a familiar Pac-12 setting. 

The Wildcats will be highly ranked and near the top of the odds board all season. No reason to jump on them early, or at all for that matter. 

UCLA's (2500 DraftKings & Circa) odds are more reflective of its past accomplishments than its current rebuild.

USC (+4000 Circa; +3000 DraftKings) did very little in the portal but made waves getting Bronny James to commit. 

San Diego State (+8000 DraftKings; +12500) will rely more on continuity while looking for some help from Reese Dixon-Waters (USC).


Big East 

Connecticut and Marquette (+2000 Circa; +1800 DraftKings) should battle it out for preseason mentions as the team to beat in the conference. From a futures betting standpoint, first look a little deeper because of what Creighton and Villanova did in the portal.

The Bluejays (+3000 Circa; +2500 DraftKings) keep Ryan Kalkbrenner and Baylor Scheierman while adding Steven Ashworth (Utah State), Isaac Traudt (Virginia) and Jonathan Lawson (Memphis).

Without much fanfare, Ashworth could become the top-performing portal player in 2023-24. He has the offensive skills to become a breakout star in Greg McDermott’s system. 

Cam Whitmore leaving for the NBA is a major blow for Nova (+3000 DraftKings: +2800 Circa). They will have a new-look starting group including Hakim Hart (Maryland), Tyler Burton (Richmond), TJ Bamba (Washington State) to go along with Lance Ware (Kentucky). 


50 and Over Crowd

If a bettor is going to make a CBB futures bet in the offseason it should be a smaller amount with high odds so it doesn’t disrupt the bankroll for those college football games on the horizon. Starting point needs to be at least 50-1 and higher. Also, be realistic, higher odds teams are likely best used for a possible hedge piece - if and when they make the tournament.  

That makes St. John’s (+10000 DraftKings; +8000 Circa) an option to consider prior to the start of the season. 

After what occurred last March, moving forward the tournament is going to be filled with lower seeds teams that talent-wise (because of the portal) aren’t far behind the top seeds. The same phenomenon is occurring in the current college baseball tournament.  Bettors should then be making longshot plays while they are still longer than long. 

Rick Pitino is quickly doing Pitino-like things in Queens. He brought in the Ivy League player of the year Jordan Dingle, Zuby Ejiofor, formerly of Kansas, and some of his former Iona players. Pitino’s revamp of the Red Storm roster earned him the fourth-best transfer class in the country according to 247Sports.  

This new crew should compete in a loaded Big East and get a tournament bid. If they do get in, this triple-digit ticket will then have the value bettors hope to have when they make a wager this far out.

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