Examining the best futures bets for college basketball

January 12, 2023 11:20 AM
Zach_Edey

Even though the college portion of the season is over, football is still dominating the betting market at this juncture of the winter. The large shadow cast by football in terms of betting interest and media coverage, well, that’s good news for those wagering on college basketball. 

The CBB futures board hasn’t been picked over by the public yet since so many are thinking Super Bowl, not March Madness. With more elbow room to move around, let’s examine the CBB futures board to see what value plays remain. 

All numbers, unless noted otherwise, come from DraftKings since it consistently offers Final Four odds. 

Look back before moving forward 

The first step bettors should take prior to adding any futures is to reassess their portfolios which were likely created in October. Since conference outrights still won’t be decided for a while and the tournament is months away, examine in the broadest sense. What is the ratio of teams in the portfolio that have exceeded preseason expectations versus those that seem like disappointments? 

Unfortunately, North Carolina, Kentucky and Crieghton are likely giving bettors some level of doom about their portfolio. That is certainly how I feel about my preseason UNC and Bluejays plays. The Tar Heels are stuck in the middle of the ACC pack, while Creighton went through an awful six-game losing streak. Yes, the opportunity is there for contrarian bettors to come in now and get these once prized teams on a major dip for a national championship (North Carolina +3500; Creighton +4000; Kentucky +4500); however, that doesn’t need to happen anytime soon. For those with tickets already on them, just hope for a late-season turnaround. Time and money would be better spent on identifying teams that appear they can make a surprise run to a national title, or on conference regular season outrights since the field is smaller and the payout comes out sooner. 

As for those teams providing optimism for bettors who took an early chance on them, that honor goes to Purdue, Connecticut, and Tennessee. The Boilermakers were 66-1 in early November to win the national championship since they no longer had Jaden Ivey and needed to rely mostly on big man Zach Edey. So far, it has worked out well since they are the current Big Ten favorite (-130 BetRivers) and so is Edey for the Wooden Award (-110 DraftKings)

The Huskies began the season in the 80-1 range to win the national championship but now look like one of the most complete squads in the country. They have the height in Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan that pairs well with the backcourt of Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson Jr. and Tristen Newton. 

Rick Barnes once again has his Volunteers playing some of the best defense in the country, by default, which makes them a contender for the national championship. 

Too late to jump aboard?

My feelings about Purdue mimic the marketplace. Good story, good team, very good big man in the middle with the inside track to win the conference, but there is no compelling reason to make any wagers on them now. Bettors are getting no value in less than even money for a conference outright. There are still five other Big Ten contenders who can win it. Looking towards March, no matter what they are doing now, Matt Painter has a terrible track record of turning regular-season wins into deep tournament runs. 

Even after spending so much time atop the rankings (to which bettors should only pay cursory attention towards) Purdue (+1800) still has higher odds than Houston (+650), Kansas (+1200), Tennessee (+1200), Alabama (+1400), UConn (+1400), Arizona (+1600) and UCLA (+1600)

Now though is a good time to consider plays on UConn and Tennessee since a No.1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament is obtainable and will be popular recommendations when public bettors start zeroing in on college basketball. The Huskies have the best combination of a top 10 KenPom rating for both offensive and defensive efficiency (a must for contenders) compared to these aforementioned favorites. Using timing as a component here, it is a positive that UConn has lost three of its last four games. There's value in a futures ticket for a national championship and one for the Final Four (+350)

Remember, betting on a team to win the national championship is different than how it deals with conference play since travel, rivalries, and hostile playing environments are much different in January than March. Kansas had a two-game conference losing streak last year which led many to discount its national championship hopes. 

As for Tennessee, the defense is the best in the country according to KenPom, but the offense is around 30th in the nation. Since the Vols are playing like a team that can get a No.1 seed, a ticket for the Final Four (+330) seems much more realistic to get and then store away. The reason being any wager under 3-1 for the Final Four is less than appealing for what is basically a 3-game parlay (with the elimination of the lopsided first-round contest). If the Vols do in fact get a No.1 seed, the Final Four odds will be much closer to +100.

There is absolutely no value on the overall favorite Houston for both the national championship or the Final Four (+160) odds. Even if a bettor thinks Houston can win the national championship, it doesn’t mean a wager needs to be placed on them. A futures play must be a combination of a realistic chance of winning AND value. There should also be enough room odds wise, to allow for at least the thought of hedging once tournament seedings are announced on Selection Sunday. Save the bullets for Houston in tournament games. 

Conference outrights 

At this point, there are around 12-15 conference games remaining. So much of betting on conference futures now is about timing—getting a good number prior to a game or stretch of the season that could alter the league standings. 

That is why bettors should contemplate Xavier (+150 BetRivers) to win the Big East. Even though UConn (+300 BetRivers) looks like a strong national championship contender, it has three Big East losses while the Musketeers are undefeated and atop the conference standings alongside Providence (+650 BetRivers)

Sean Miller has immediately turned Xavier (back) around and is ready for one of the conference’s biggest games to date on Saturday when Marquette (+250 BetRivers) comes to the Cintas Center. The Golden Eagles are also exceeding expectations; however, this game is slightly in Xavier’s favor according to KenPom.  

After Saturday, Xavier will then be noticeably favored against DePaul and Georgetown. That current +150 number will likely go away. Backing Xavier for a conference outright is also based on Providence running into some upcoming losses against Creighton, Marquette, and Butler. 

Similar odds and timing are in play for Virginia (+180 BetRivers) to win the ACC. I’m normally not one to latch onto favorites, but an ACC outright futures ticket on Virginia revolves around its defense that once again is spectacular and how the end of its conference schedule is laid out. 

Relying on the defensive mentality of Tony Bennett, who has a piece of five regular season titles since 2014, is even more important this year where upsets are happening on a nightly basis in the ACC. 

Currently, Clemson (+450 BetRivers) is atop the conference standings, but that is mainly due to it starting out the season with the weaker side of the schedule before the tougher games come. Then comes the surprising wildcard Miami (+350 BetRivers). The teams with the big names and expectations, UNC and Duke, are in the 6/7-1 range right next to Pittsburgh

The Cavaliers already have two losses but the timing is in their favor for a wager now since the gauntlet stretch of the Clemson season has yet to take place and Miami’s turn to do likewise is in early February. Obviously, bookmakers know this as well. However, since these two teams are above the Cavs in the standings but below them on the odds board, any Virginia win before those stretches will reduce its odds even more.  

KenPom has Virginia winning all its remaining games except the contest at Chapel Hill in late February. Of course, that might not happen, but it does give a sense that bookmakers are going to keep backing Virginia moving forward. 

Making a wager now is a value move since the plus number is still available. 

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