The wait is finally over! The 2017-18 NCAA men’s basketball season is upon us! In this article, I will be taking a look at the futures market for the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Early in the season is the best time of the year to make these futures bets, as late in the season the prices will get much sharper. I will review some of the favorites that I think have favorable numbers, and also highlight a couple of long shots that I think show value. Let’s get started!
Below are the current consensus odds to win the NCAA championship:
|Saint Mary’s, CA||40/1|
As you can see, there is a lot of variability in the lines this season. In years past, we had some teams that were overwhelming favorites entering the season. That is not the case this year, and the field is as wide open as I can remember, which means there are lots of opportunities to find value further down the board.
Not surprisingly, the top of the board this year is comprised of college basketball royalty. Duke is the favorite, and that makes sense, as they open the season as the number-one team in the country. Duke is followed closely by other college basketball blue bloods Michigan State, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Kansas.
As has been the formula recently at Duke, this team will be comprised of several one-and-done freshman superstars, and a couple of veteran leaders. Controversial returning star Grayson Allen will keep the team in the headlines all year long, but the squad’s best player will likely be freshman Marvin Bagley. Bagley is drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant, and while that talk is surely premature, he is a 7-footer with range, and is going to be near impossible to defend on the college level.
Duke seemed to better in the era where you held on to your players for a couple of years, and Coach K hasn’t been able to adjust to having a whole new team every season. Yeah, I know he has gotten two National Titles in the past 8 years, but they also have had very early exits in the tournament for three of those years. It has been boom or bust for the Blue Devils for the last decade. This year feels like a good one, but with such a bad price at just 5-1, I think you would be better off finding more value somewhere else. We will see what this team is made of early on with a matchup against Michigan State. If the Blue Devils impress in that one, it may be worth reevaluating this number, but right now they are a tad overvalued.
The Spartans of Michigan State are another well-coached team that are used to finding success in March. Led by head coach Tom Izzo, Sparty can take five random bodies to the tournament and end up in the Final Four. When Miles Bridges decided not to jump to the NBA after exploding on the scene as a freshman last year, it immediately set National Championship goals for the Spartans. State will rely heavily on what could be the conference’s top freshman in Jaren Jackson Jr., and needs him to adapt to the next level in a hurry if they are going to live up to their lofty goals. Izzo is the man, and I will never doubt his ability, but this team seems a bit overvalued for the talent they have. Let’s keep looking.
Now here is a team that I think shows some value. The Wildcats were a two-seed last year in the NCAA tournament before getting shocked by 11-seed Xavier, and are poised for another top seed this year. Led by my pick for National player of the year, Allonzo Trier, the Wildcats are going to lead a Pac 12 that will likely be down a bit after sending Oregon to the Final Four last season. Trier missed the first 19 games of the season last year while suspended, and the team didn’t quite have enough time to really gel and make a run at the title. That won’t be the case this year, and I expect Trier to dominate the Pac 12. Arizona will also have the best freshman in the conference in DeAndre Ayton. Ayton is a seven-footer and was the number-two-rated recruit in the country coming out of high school. That dynamic duo could lead Arizona to its first National Title since 1997. At 8-1, I would back the Wildcats to win it all.
Head coach John Calipari has made a habit out of loading up with young talent and then unloading them into the NBA after one season. Coach Cal has perfected the one-and-done player in the one-and-done era. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows for the Wildcats, as when you have your entire roster turn over every year, sometimes you just can’t get your act together fast enough, even with all the talent in the world. That is the big question mark for Kentucky again this season.
Will Calipari be able to get them playing together as a team and make another run to a National Title? Or will it be 2013 all over again, where Calipari had all kinds of talent and didn’t make the NCAA tournament? I am leaning towards this being a respectable team and a top-four seed, but in my estimation, they should not be ranked nearly this high at this point. Show me you can play together first, then I will bite.
The returning National Champion Tar Heels are expected to compete once again to win it all. Roy Williams’ squad took a big hit when Joel Berry, their best-returning player and the best point guard in the country, broke his hand while playing video games in the offseason. Yeah, you heard that right, he got mad while playing video games and will now miss several weeks. If Berry were with this team from the start, I would love the Tar Heels as repeat champs. They have a great mix of veteran leadership and young talent, and coach Roy Williams is as good as it gets. The injury to Berry makes me a little worried, though. This team will struggle without him running the offense, and with him missing so much time, it’s impossible to know how long it will take to get him in a rhythm with the rest of the team when he returns. I expect some early-season struggles for the Heels, so if you like them to win it all, I would hang back a couple of weeks and wait for this number to rise.
The Value Plays
Here I will go over a couple of teams that aren’t favorites to win it all, but offer so much value and upside that they are worth a shot. With the way the NCAA tournament is structured, if you can get a team into the Sweet 16 as long shots, the hedging value can be incredibly profitable.
This number blows my mind. 16-1 to win it all? I love that number, and I have jumped all over it and would suggest you do as well. What else could Wichita have done over the last couple of years to show you they are legit contenders to win it all? They have made the tournament five straight years, and have gone to a Final Four, and continue to be dismissed and disrespected by the college basketball elite. They are averaging 30 wins a season over that stretch, and have now moved on to a bigger, tougher conference, the American Athletic Conference, and should have plenty of good games to get them ready for a deep run in March. Head coach Gregg Marshall is bringing back a lot of last year’s 31-win team, and it is stocked with upperclassmen. I couldn’t like Wichita more for a deep run in March this season, and love this number.
They had made the tournament an astounding 18 consecutive seasons, but didn’t have any Final Four banners to show for it. Those days are over, as Mark Few and company busted through that glass ceiling last year in a run to the National Championship game. It was a big monkey off his back for Few, and I see them enjoying another very strong season in Spokane. There are a lot of questions about this team, as they lost Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss to the NBA, but there were a lot of questions about last year’s team as well, and we all saw how that worked out. This team is a classic Few squad, with several upperclassmen to lead the team and a couple star freshman and transfers to fill out the lineup. Will the Zags put on the slipper once again this year and finally bring home a trophy? Only time will tell, but at 25-1, they show some excellent value.
All I can say is that I am glad college basketball is back, and I can’t wait for the season to hit full swing. Be on the lookout for my individual game breakdowns this season, where I will be telling you what games to target and what side you want to be on. Good luck and happy betting!