Best Bets: Which longshot national title futures hold value?
During the 2018-19 college basketball season, we will be taking deeper dives into the betting markets now that sports gambling has been legalized outside of the state of Nevada.
To kick the season off, we are going to break down National Title futures and which bets are worth your time and money.
Here are the best longshot bets, teams with odds that payout better than 100:1 to cut down the nets in Minneapolis in April.
REMINDER: A bet of $100 on +200 odds would win $200. A bet of $100 on +10,000 odds would win $10,000. A bet of $1 on +20,000 would win $200.
NOTE: These odds come via the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.
I’m higher on Marquette than most people seem to be, and that’s because Marquette has one of the most potent offenses in all of college basketball. They are one of just five teams to finish in the top 12 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric over the course of the last two years, joining Duke, Kansas, Villanova and North Carolina. With Markus Howard and Sam Hauser back and joined by a slew of talent, young players that have spent a year or two under Steve Wojciechowski, it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Golden Eagles don’t finish near the top offensively again this season.
The reason Marquette has struggled as much as they have the last two years is that they are also a trainwreck defensively.Only six high-major programs finished below them in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings: Washington State, East Carolina, South Florida, Tulane, Memphis and Iowa. Only four teams reached the NCAA tournament with a worse defensive rating — Texas Southern, LIU Brooklyn, NC-Central, Iona — and Iona, a No. 15 seed, was the only tournament invitee that was not in a play-in game.
But Marquette has made some changes. They’ve added Joseph Chartouny, a transfer from Fordham that has finished among the league leaders in steals the last three years, while Ed Morrow is now eligible, a physical frontcourt piece that can defend the rim and rebound the ball. They should be improved defensively, and the truth of the matter is that teams that are good enough defensively and elite offensively are the ones that win national titles.
Marquette checks those boxes this season, and at 200:1 odds -- where there are 48 teams that are currently getting better odds -- they are more than worth the bet.
The Huskies are another team that is not getting enough hype heading into the season.
Coming off of Mike Hopkins’ first season in Seattle, Washington looks like a sneaky-favorite to win the Pac-12 this season. They surprisingly won 21 games a year ago and were in the mix for an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament until a late-swoon down the stretch of the season. Perhaps the best news is that not only will Washington bring everyone from that team back -- including the most slept-on freshman out west in Jaylen Nowell -- but Washington will now be heading into their second season playing this 2-3 zone that Hopkins, a former Syracuse assistant, has fashioned.
Put another way, Washington was ahead of the curve last year before the players on the roster really had a feel for what a season in this system was going to be like. And assuming that zone continues to improve, we’ve seen what Syracuse has been capable of doing in March when they shut people down defensively. Why can’t Washington do the same? At +20,000, the risk is getting paid off.
CENTRAL FLORIDA (+50,000)
UCF was one of the best defensive teams in all of college basketball last season. They finished eighth nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and that was despite Tacko Fall -- their 7-foot-6 center and one of the nation’s most lethal shot erasers -- playing only 16 games. They struggled, finishing just 19-13, because they could not score, and that was due to the fact that Fall was far from the only UCF star that missed a lot of time. B.J. Taylor, a contender for AAC Player of the Year this season, played in just 16 games as well. Aubrey Dawkins, a transfer from Michigan, missed the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury.
With essentially everyone back this season, I fully expect UCF to win the AAC, push for a spot in the top 25 and, potentially, enter the NCAA tournament as a top four seed. That is very much in the range of outcomes for the Knights, and if you can stomach betting on Johnny Dawkins, at $10 bet could win you $5,000.
The Friars are a borderline top 25 team in my mind, and their head coach -- Ed Cooley -- is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the country that doesn’t get the credit he deserves. There is quite a bit of young talent on this roster as well as a handful of former four-star recruits that are ready to come of age; Makai Ashton-Langford and Alpha Diallo, specifically. As a program with the 49-best odds to win the national title, they are worth a look.
CLEMSON, TCU, LSU, MISSISSIPPI STATE (+10,000)
Individually, I don’t love any of these bets for a variety of reasons, but I do believe that they are worth mentioning here. All four are going to enter the 2018-19 season as consensus top 25 teams -- TCU and Mississippi State might sneak their way into the top 15 -- and all four are currently getting the 30th-best odds to win the national title.
Put another way, Vegas is telling you there are somewhere between 30 and 48 teams in college basketball better than these four, while the coaches and the media within the sport are saying that there probably aren’t 25 better than them. If you love any one of these four teams, you are getting pretty good value on this bet.