Tempting NCAA bet: Who are No. 1 seeds?

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One of the biggest topics of conversation in the college basketball betting universe this season is the difficulty of playing futures for Gonzaga and Baylor when both are such prohibitive favorites to win the national championship. The Zags easily brushed off San Diego over the weekend and are now + 275 at DraftKings, while the Bears, out of action since Feb. 2, are + 250.

Call it the 2021 internal dilemma for college basketball bettors. The basketball side of the brain says take one of these ultra-elite teams to win the national title. But the gambling portion somewhere deep in the cerebrum takes over and decides that the return on investment is too unsatisfying for a play.

Always prioritize the messages from the gambling side of the brain. Just look at last weekend’s Genesis Invitational, where the world’s top golfer, Dustin Johnson, was the pre-flop favorite at a crazy low + 600. Based on recent play, it sure looked like the dominant D.J. was the play to make based on just the eye test. Nonetheless, one player with single-digit odds in a field of over 100 great golfers is not always a wise wager.   

Bettors who looked for value and saw it with Max Homa at + 5000 were rewarded. Golf and college basketball futures have a lot of similarities. 

So for those looking for some national championship tournament futures action but hesitant to make a move with the looming presence of Gonzaga and Baylor, other options are becoming more available.

Books now have Gonzaga and Baylor versus the field, with these two teams a slight plus dog against 66 other squads. Nothing wrong with getting a small ticket for either side to have some fun come late March. I will gladly take the field. 

Another option for a tournament futures bet is which four teams will get No. 1 seeds. (All the odds used in this report are from DraftKings, the first book to offer this Selection Sunday wager.) 

There is so little doubt that the Zags and Bears will get two of these four spots that those behind the window do not want you playing them and have put -10000 next to their names.

That places bettors in the position of selecting teams for just two spots.

Well, make that one spot after Michigan’s impressive 92-87 win over Ohio State. The Wolverines are now 16-1 and 11-1 in the Big Ten. Expect the conversation this week to be focused on how close the Wolverines are to the second-best team in the country.

Michigan is presently -500 to get a No. 1 seed. Before beating the Buckeyes, the number was -305. The -500 is too high, generally speaking, for a CBB futures at this point, and it’s unappealing when taking into account what awaits the Maize and Blue.

KenPom projects Michigan to win all its remaining games: Iowa, at Indiana, Illinois and a home/away with Michigan State. However, all those games will have significance for Big Ten conference tournament seeding, and the highly motivated Hoosiers and Spartans need upsets to get off the bubble.

Listening to that internal voice, there is no reason to buy so high on Michigan. A loss or two likely keeps the Wolverines in a No. 1 spot — hence the high minus number. So hold off on making a bet in case a loss does create a price reduction.

Going on the belief that one spot is left for a No. 1 seed, here are five contenders.  

Ohio State: The Buckeyes are still very much in play for a No. 1 seed. Before the Michigan game, they were even money for a No. 1 seed. Now they sit at + 200. Hello, dip.

The tournament selection committee will focus on the Buckeyes’ nine Quad 1 wins, the most of any team in the country. Still, to get to the top of the line, OSU will need a few more wins to round out the regular season. 

Up next is a trip to East Lansing before home games against Iowa and Illinois. If Ohio State wins those games and at least one in the Big Ten tournament, it will get the top seed.

The possibility of multiple losses, though, deflates any value a 2-1 bet might have.

If you want to back the Buckeyes, might as well just roll over the moneyline each game and press it for a bigger payday.

Illinois: Should Ohio State fall in any of those games, Illinois would be the biggest beneficiary, especially the March 6 tilt when the two square off.

Expect Illinois to get a lot of media attention over the next two weeks. That’s what happens when a team is riding a seven-game winning streak and up to fifth in the national polls.

There is a lot to like at + 300 to get a No. 1 seed when the team is hot and often has the best two players on the court in Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn.

The problem in making this bet is the Illini’s final week of the season — three straight road games at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. Very hard to see Brad Underwood’s team going through that stretch unbeaten. Just one loss might quash that + 300 ticket.

The best way to play Illinois for a No. 1 seed would be to hold off and use any cash for this bet on a straight-up play against Ohio State at the end of the year. If the Illini are still riding a winning streak, the odds for a No. 1 seed will have dropped too low, but they likely will be a plus dog in Columbus.

Some history that points toward OSU or Illinois getting a top seed along with Michigan is that multiple teams from the same conference have received No. 1 seeds in the last two tournaments and three of the last four. However, it has happened to the Big Ten only once since 2000, and that was in 2001.

Alabama: No bigger cheerleader of Tide futures than me, but I can’t do it for this bet. Alabama is even money to be a No. 1. Just not enough upside here.

The Tide could still find a way to be a top seed even if they lose Wednesday to red-hot Arkansas. It would take two wins to end the season — at Mississippi State and home against Auburn — and then an SEC crown for a team likely to be the top seed in the conference tournament. The SEC is still determining how to award its regular-season championship based on the unequal number of games played this year.

Instead of taking Bama for a No. 1 seed, play the + 250 to win the SEC tournament. Or if you already have a Tide futures ticket, back that up with Arkansas + 650 to win the tournament. That is a fantastic price for possibly the second seed.  

Florida State: The Seminoles are + 200 for a No. 1 seed. Those odds appear to indicate that bookmakers have confidence they can run the table for the end of the regular season (at Miami, at North Carolina, Boston College and at Notre Dame) and get at least to the championship game of the ACC tournament. FSU has the length, the experience and the emergence of freshman Scottie Barnes to do all that.

If you have yet to make an FSU futures play, this is a good option because a top seed can still be obtained without winning the ACC tournament. That is why DraftKings is making this bet lower odds than FSU’s + 300 to win the conference championship.  

Villanova: The best value I see for a No. 1 seed is Villanova (+ 400). While FSU has lower odds for a No. 1 seed compared to winning its conference tournament, the Wildcats are the short favorites (+ 125) to win the Big East, but a No. 1 seed ticket nets successful bettors more than three times that amount.

Compared with the other teams listed, the Wildcats have the best chance to make it to Selection Sunday without a loss from now until then.

The only way Villanova gets a top seed is by first ending the regular season with wins at Butler, home against Creighton and at Providence. Going 3-0 is obtainable. The Wildcats will be poised to avenge their Feb. 13 loss to the Bluejays. Then a Big East title is needed, an accomplishment Jay Wright has done six times while coaching on the Main Line.

So if you think Wright can get Title No. 7, take some of your Villanova bankroll for the Big East tournament and use a piece of it for a No. 1 seed as well. This gives bettors a built-in price boost if the favored Wildcats win their conference and all the other power-conference contenders get beaten up along the way. It’s a scenario worth + 400 to see how it plays out.

 

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