Playing college basketball futures is one of the riskiest moves in sports wagering.
It is difficult to predict the winner of a game right before tip-off. It is even harder to forecast how long stretches of a season might play out. And with COVID-19 issues still lingering, college basketball futures are once again a tenuous market.
But don’t be discouraged. While there is a good chance that futures plays made in the fall need to be checked for a status update, there is also the possibility that sportsbooks, currently focused on football, are not adjusting their outlook for the season as fast as dedicated college basketball bettors.
It is unlikely that bettors will catch the books napping when it comes to the power conferences, but let’s look further down the conference hierarchy to see if any current futures numbers are lagging. A good spot for a second look at conference futures is the Atlantic 10.
I was a strong advocate (and consumer) of St. Bonaventure futures during the preseason. The Bonnies had the returning cast to not only win the conference but possibly make a run in the NCAA tournament. But injuries and COVID-related shutdowns have taken away any momentum for the A-10 favorite.
In October, most books had the Bonnies around even money to win the conference. While they remain the favorite, lackluster play and the health of star guard Kyle Lofton (ankle) has pushed that number higher (+ 140 at DraftKings, + 120 at BetRivers).
In their last game, an 86-49 drubbing by Virginia Tech on Dec. 17, Lofton played 26 minutes and scored just three points. That came after he missed three games with a high-ankle sprain. Perhaps the presence of big man Osun Osunniyi is why the books still have the Bonnies on top. Regardless of the rationale, they don’t look like the favorites and bettors should act accordingly.
The value in the Atlantic 10, a conference hit hard by COVID issues, now lies elsewhere on the board. Currently, the team that stands out is Davidson (+ 600 at DraftKings).
When it comes to futures, bettors must be willing to pivot. Some don’t, and that’s OK, but I’m always open to the possibility of buying an insurance policy. Davidson at + 600 seems like the perfect pivot.
KenPom has Davidson ranked 55th and the Bonnies 67th. NET Rankings places Davidson 42nd and the Bonnies 112th. Sagarin has Davidson 58th and the Bonnies 70th. And Haslametrics: Davidson, 38th; Bonnies, 102nd.
Analytics don’t translate exactly to wins, but the rankings certainly tell a different story than the betting boards.
Another way to see the value in Davidson is to compare other conference favorites with the team right below them on futures boards. Using DraftKings odds, here are some other conference favorites priced at less than 2-1 and the odds of the next closest team.
— AAC: Memphis + 170, then Houston + 200
— ACC: Duke -120, then North Carolina + 650
— Big East: Villanova -120, then UConn + 600
— Big Ten: Purdue + 160, then Illinois + 500
— Big 12: Baylor and Kansas + 180
— Mountain West: Colorado State + 155, then San Diego State + 220
— Pac-12: Arizona and UCLA + 135
Let’s take away the four closest races and look at the three conferences with prices similar to the top two teams in the Atlantic 10.
Duke in the ACC, Villanova in the Big East and Purdue in the Big Ten are in a comparable position oddswise as St. Bonaventure, with much shorter prices than their nearest pursuers.
Using KenPom’s rankings, Duke is 23 spots higher than UNC, Nova is 13 spots higher than UConn and Purdue is 11 spots higher than Illinois.
The distance between St. Bonaventure (67th) and Davidson (55th) is similar, but it is the second choice that is 12 spots higher than the favorite.
On the court, there's plenty to like about Bob McKillop’s team, including an impressive win against Alabama and a top-25 rating in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. With a potent scoring duo of Hyunjung Lee and Big Ten transfer Foster Loyer, Davidson has been held under 70 points just once this season. Lee is the second-leading scorer in the conference at 17 ppg and Loyer is 11th at 15.2 ppg.
Also working in Davidson’s favor is that Richmond, expected to contend in the Atlantic 10, is already 0-2 in conference play. That leaves Saint Louis (+ 600) and Virginia Commonwealth (+ 850) as the other best options.
What happens during the last week of January and the first week of February might help determine the A-10 title. The Bonnies are home against Davidson on Feb. 1 before a difficult trip to Richmond and Saint Louis. The Wildcats play a weak LaSalle squad on Jan. 29 before the Bonnies game, then play at George Washington and at home against Saint Joseph’s. This stretch favors Davidson.
Still, between now and then, the schedule may change. And the uncertainty of a pandemic lingers. But having Davidson at + 600 should help calm some nerves.