As crazy as it sounds - and it will sound crazy to anyone immersed in football right now - we are just two weeks away from the start of college hoops season.
Like literally, two weeks from today, we will have Michigan State facing off with Kansas, and Duke and Kentucky in the Champion's Classic. From there, the schedule doesn't really slow down until early April (at which point, it's Portal SZN baby!).
Anyway I'm getting ahead of myself, but as we inch closer to the start of college hoops season, it feels like a good time to re-visit the national title odds and see what teams have moved up and down, which teams have value and which teams you should stay away from. As soon as the games start, these lines will start moving quickly, so it's time to hop in and get some value while you can.
So who are some teams that I love, and a few that I suggest you stay away from?
Below are a couple, but before we get to those teams, a few notes:
First off, if I don't mention your team, it's not because I think they're terrible. It's just because I don't feel great about the odds one way or the other.
Two, for some context, here is my most recent Top 25.
Three, the odds for this list are presented via DraftKings Sportsbook.
Good Value: UCLA (+1400)
Gonzaga (+650) and Michigan (+1200) are actually the two favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook, but I have to be honest, I don't see a ton of value there. Getting the Zags at essentially 6-1, with everyone they lost, doesn't appeal to me, nor does a Michigan team that will rely on several freshmen this season in hopes of repeating as last year's Big Ten regular season champ. I'm not saying the Wolverines can't win it all. I just don't love the odds.
UCLA is third in these odds though, and that my friends, I can get behind.
One, it's a simple math equation. I actually believe that UCLA should be a pretty consensus No. 1 team in the country - they literally return every single player from last year's Final Four run, and also add a five-star freshman (Peyton Watson) and one of the best transfers in college hoops (former Rutgers center Myles Johnson). So if I can get the third best odds, for what I believe to be the best team, I've got to jump on it.
Beyond that, I'd also say this: Within the first two weeks of the season, UCLA plays No. 4 Villanova at home, and No. 1 Gonzaga on a neutral court in Vegas.
Should they win both (or at least the Gonzaga game) I expect their odds to plummet before we even hit Thanksgiving.
Point being, get in now, while you still can.
Stay Away: Memphis (+1500)
For the millionth time, everyone thinks that I hate Memphis, and for the millionth time I can unequivocally say I don't. What I can tell you is this: While they have one of the five most talented rosters in the sport, they don't have a single player on their roster who has ever played in an NCAA Tournament game, and their head coach has never coached in one either.
Now I'm supposed to believe that they're essentially the equivelant to Villanova (which returns four starters for a coach who has won multiple national championships?) which is 14-1? Or Duke, with maybe the greatest coach of all-time, who is also sitting at 15-1? Sorry, I just don't buy it. I just find it hard to believe that - again, as talented as this team - that they'll win six, single elimination games, when it matters the most.
However, because I'm a man of the people, if you really do like Memphis, let me say this: Wait a few weeks and see how they look early season. They don't have any marquee games early where, if they win, the odds will drastically shift (like someone beating UCLA or Gonzaga). And if they lose a few games, the odds might plummet.
Again, no one loves Memphis more than I do. The barbecue. BB King. Everything. So just figured I'd put that out there.
Good Value: Texas (+1500)
While Memphis has a hastily thrown together, insanely talented roster, they also have a head coach who has never coached a single NCAA Tournament game.
Texas has a hastily thrown together roster, with a head coach who has made two Elite Eight's and coached in a national title game.
Therefore, I'm not really as worried about Texas as say Memphis, when you consider that Chris Beard has a track record of piecing together a roster in the spring and summer having them ready to compete at the highest levels come March and April.
So yeah, Chris Beard has done it before, and here's the craziest part: His 2021-2022 roster is unequivocally the most talented he's ever coached. Its two leading scorers are back from last year (Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey), and they added an All-Big Ten guard (Marcus Carr), All-Pac 12 wing (Timmy Allen) and three double-figure scorers in the frontcourt who transferred in this off-season (Dylan Disu from Vanderbilt, Christian Bishop from Creighton and Tre Mitchell from UMass).
If anything, there is a fear that Texas has *too many* good players, something I discussed with Carr on this week's Aaron Torres Podcast. Maybe I'm a sucker, but I really did buy into his answer below.
Stay Away: Purdue (+1600)
Listen, I don't think there's any debate that Matt Painter is one of the elite head coaches in college basketball. And it's not as though there isn't a recent precedent of a team that returns everyone, off a really good team, that suffered a first round upset the year before, going on to win a title.
That was Virginia in 2019, a team that ironically beat Purdue in the Elite Eight. And Purdue almost has the exact same make-up as those 2019 Cavaliers.
Still, I can't get behind the Boilermakers as a title contender, especially not at these odds. Maybe a Final Four. But not a title winner.
At the end of the day, Purdue returns everyone off last year's team, which is the reason they are starting the year ranked so high. They know each other, and there should be no real drop off from last season). But as time goes on and the more talented teams likely start to gel (the Kentucky's, Texas's etc.) will the Boilermakers be able to keep up?
I'm not sure.
And I just believe there is better value on the board.
Good Value: Kansas (+1600)
Quite possibly, my favorite bet on the board. Bill Self's best teams historically are the ones that might not be as deep with high-end NBA talent, but instead, have lower ceiling guys who have been in the program, know him and know what expectations are.
Well this year the Jayhawks returns basically every key piece off last year's team, including a pair of All-Big 12 caliber players (Ochai Agbagi and David McCormack). They also return Jalen Wilson, a wing with NBA potential who averaged double-figures last year, and added a bunch of pieces as well. Most notably that includes Remy Martin, an All-Pac 12 guard who averaged 19 points each of the last two seasons.
Two years ago, the Jayhawks were an overwhelming favorite heading into the 2020 NCAA Tournament that never got played.
I think they'll have a chance to run it back in 2021-2022.
Good Value: Illinois (+2000)
One thing I love in national title caliber teams, is a core group of players that have been together, dealt with NCAA Tournament disappointment before, and return largely intact with a renewed sense of purpose.
Which is why, I present you Illinois, which checks all those boxes. Returns most of their core? Check - everyone except Ayo Dosunmu. Regular season success last year? Check - won the Big Ten postseason title and earned a No. 1 seed. NCAA Tournament disappointment - I'd say so, losing in the second round of the Big Dance as one of the tourney favorites.
It's not just about Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo, but also role players like DaMonte Williams, Trent Frazier and Coleman Hawkins as well.
This team can absolutely win it all.
Good Long Shots with Value (Where You Can Eventually Hedge)
One thing I always like to do is look at teams a bit off the radar, who I'm not sold are national title good - but good enough to make a deep run, where you can eventually hedge your bet, and make some money even if they don't win the title. A few come to mind:
UConn (+6500): Yes, the Huskies lose star James Bouknight, but they return everyone else. And that core - RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin, Adama Sanogo - all gained valuable experience when Bouknight was out of the lineup with injuries last year. This is the second best team in the Big East, and I fully expect them to win a few games come tournament time.
Auburn (+6500): One thing that I love when taking these long shots, are teams that - while they might not end up with a great seed - could give people problem come tournament time. Auburn is one of those teams. The combination of Walker Kessler and Jabari Smith - two seven-footers who can stretch the floor - is just something a lot of teams won't see over the course of the regular season, and could give opponents major problems come tourney time. Bruce Pearl told me that Auburn has the "best frontcourt in America," something that could be scary for the teams they see in March.
Indiana (+9000): Another team like Memphis that has a roster of guys who've never played in the NCAA Tournament, and a coach who has never coached in an NCAA Tournament game before either. But what they do have is "second weekend talent." And if you go ahead and throw down here, there is a good chance you can get quite a nice return if the Hoosiers end up making it to the second weekend.
By the way, fun fact: The last time the Hoosiers won a national title, was 1987, when the Final Four was in New Orleans. Well, 35 years later, guess where the Final Four is? New Orleans.
So you're saying there's a chance?!?!?!?
Not really. But I love the value at 90-1.
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