With Selection Sunday less than two weeks away, the college basketball futures market is in its waning days.
Just enough time to declare it the Big 3 portion of the season.
Michigan has joined Gonzaga and Baylor in the short-odds penthouse. The Wolverines (18-1) were granted admission last weekend after Baylor lost its first game of the season to Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. That means the days of finding value for a Michigan Big Ten title and a national championship are likely over. Michigan futures tickets now come at Gonzaga-like prices.
The Wolverines clearly look like the best team in the Big Ten and can be had at a plus price of + 130 to win the conference tournament. But that is too low against three other top contenders in Illinois, Ohio State and Iowa and live dogs in the middle of the pack such as Purdue, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana. Getting past this field seems like it should come with a better return than USC + 185 gets for winning the Pac-12.
With a top seed seemingly locked up, not much financial incentive exists to take Michigan for the Big Ten title. An option is to take some of your anointed Michigan bankroll and put it on the + 375 for the national championship. Then, if the Wolverines are the second seed in the tournament and theoretically play Gonzaga for the championship, the remaining portion can go on a Wolverines moneyline play for an added kick.
Bettors should not look too deeply into the Baylor loss. Perhaps this will be a real-life example of the idea that it is better for a team to end a perfect season before making a playoff run.
Bookmakers were unfazed by the Bears’ recent slip in Lawrence after a 21-day hiatus and found no reason to offer any futures rebates. Baylor is still in the 3-1 ballpark to win the national championship at most books. Circa is catching attention by offering the Bears at + 650.
As with Michigan, if you are interested in making any Baylor plays, skip the deeply contested conference tournament. Seven of the 10 Big 12 schools could take home the conference title, so Baylor at -175 is not a favorable investment.
Meanwhile, Gonzaga finished its perfect regular season and looks to speed into the NCAA tournament without stopping for gas in Las Vegas during the West Coast Conference tourney. The Zags are the first team since Kentucky in 2014-15 to end the regular season without a loss. Can’t see any reason to play -2500 for yet another WCC title. Gonzaga has won every WCC championship since 2009, except for Saint Mary’s winning in 2012 and ’19.
On to what awaits in and around greater Indianapolis.
Based on these low odds, it will take a noteworthy upset to prevent all three from making the Final Four. All three come with a minus price at DraftKings to make it there — Baylor and Gonzaga at -305 and Michigan at -167.
So to help prepare for what awaits when the brackets are announced, here are some teams expected to be third seeds or lower that could stop one of them from making the Final Four. Keep your eye on these teams before filling out any brackets. This information might help you identify an underdog play early before the public jumps aboard.
The four teams slotted to be on the 2 line — Illinois, Alabama, Villanova and West Virginia — of course could steal a win from any team in the Elite Eight.
Who could beat Gonzaga?
Tennessee: Not that long ago, Tennessee was a top-10 squad. Now the Volunteers are in the position of being a mid-level team but well equipped to pull off a major upset. The Vols’ key ingredients are elite players Keon Johnson and Yves Pons, who can carry a team for long stretches, and a defense to counter a strong offense. Tennessee gives up an average of 63.1 ppg. That defense, ranked sixth in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency, could force Gonzaga (92.9 ppg) to play in the unfamiliar 70-point range.
Current projected seed: 5
USC: Tahj Eaddy has the ability to score, and Evan Mobley can be an interior presence to disrupt Drew Timme and Corey Kispert. The Trojans also have a top-20 defense, according to KenPom, and could make it a slower game and dictate the pace. USC’s defense creates an average possession length of 18.1 seconds, while on offense Gonzaga is the third-fastest team in the country at 14.1.
Current projected seed: 5
Iowa: The rematch win Sunday over Ohio State provides hope for the Hawkeyes. In mid-December, Iowa lost an entertaining shootout to the Zags 99-88. In that defeat, Iowa sniper Jordan Bohannon was in the midst of a shooting slump and contributed only two points, going 1-for-8. His production has improved since then, and just a couple of Bohannon 3-pointers could help Iowa pull the upset. Gonzaga was a 4.5-point favorite when they played Dec. 19. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Gonzaga, USC and Iowa in the same bracket.
Current projected seed: 3
Who could beat Michigan?
Florida State: The Seminoles could be the best team in the second tier behind the Big 3. They play fast on offense (eighth-best adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom) and slow teams down on defense. Michigan has emerged as a top-10 offensive and defensive team due in large part to the height of Hunter Dickinson, Franz Wagner and Isaiah Livers. The Seminoles are the tallest team in the country. Coach Leonard Hamilton has limited the playing time of star freshman Scottie Barnes. That could change in the tournament and allow Barnes more freedom to take over the game, which he is absolutely capable of doing. Lunardi has FSU in the same bracket as Michigan.
Current projected seed: 3
Virginia: No better team out there to win ugly than Virginia. But while on the topic of ugly, that is how the Cavaliers have looked lately. This late-season swoon could be an issue for the top-seeded teams as Virginia’s place in the tournament keeps falling. Virginia appears to be more like a tournament spoiler now than a tournament winner (+ 2500 at BetMGM). The presence of 7-foot-1 Jay Huff could be the difference against the Wolverines. If Huff is hot from the outside (41.5% behind the arc), he will draw out Dickinson and Wagner and create space, something most Michigan opponents haven’t had the luxury of seeing. With space, Sam Hauser will be able to score more, and the Cavaliers could win a game in the low 60s. That’s their well-telegraphed game plan. Keep an eye out on Huff in a matchup against Michigan or any other top-seeded team for an in-play bet. If he is making his shots from the outside, that is the Cavs team you want.
Current projected seed: 5
Tennessee: Once again, the defense makes this a team alive against anyone for a high-seed tournament upset.
Who could beat Baylor?
Houston: This could be the team that causes the most concern for those with Baylor futures. Baylor is the top 3-point-shooting team in the country. The Cougars are a top-5 3-point-shooting defensive team. If you want to take Circa’s + 650 price, you need to see where Houston lands in the tournament. Lunardi just happens to have the Cougars in the same bracket with the Bears.
St. Bonaventure: This is going way off the grid, but the Bonnies have some interesting metrics that bode well for a major upset. They are in KenPom’s top 40 for adjusted efficiency on both offense and defense. They shoot 3-pointers well (37.1%) and are good at stopping them on defense (30.2%). Keep this in mind for an early-round play on the Bonnies, who are also 11-4-1 ATS.
Current projected seed: 10
The Big 12 field: Due to stoppages, the Bears have played the fewest conference games. That means they were able to keep a spotless record for an extended period while the others were spreading losses around such an evenly matched group. More exposure to Big 12 foes is a genuine postseason concern for such a highly seeded team. West Virginia is slated to be a No. 2 seed.
Current other projected seeds: Kansas (3), Texas (4), Oklahoma (4), Texas Tech (6), Oklahoma State (6)
While we have tracked and analyzed conference tournaments that will begin soon, here are some long shots that might be worth a very small play for a large payout and could come in handy for some hedging. Use the golf futures logic with college basketball to include some bombs with top players.
All odds are from DraftKings.
American Athletic: Cincinnati + 7500
Atlantic Coast: Georgia Tech + 3000
Atlantic 10: Dayton + 1400
Big East: St. John’s + 8000
Big Ten: Purdue + 2000
Big 12: Oklahoma + 1000
Mountain West: Nevada + 2500
Pac-12: Arizona State + 2500
Southeastern: Mississippi + 4000
West Coast: Pepperdine + 5500
Over at the South Point
Chris Andrews and Jimmy Vaccaro recently hung two interesting bets. One is Gonzaga, Baylor and Villanova vs. the Field. Both sides are listed at -110.
And there is the Big Ten + 140 vs. the Field at -120.
Both plays would work well in conjunction with a Gonzaga future. If in Nevada, you can get both tickets at a small price and consider the cost an insurance premium payment for the Gonzaga ticket.