It’s my favorite time of the year; college basketball season. It comes like a flurry, four quick months of insane action, culminating in one of the greatest events in all of sports. And while some detractors like to focus on the ‘meaningless’ of the regular season, since 68 teams get a chance to dance, I would argue passionately that those detractors are missing on an a fantastic journey. Plus, from a wagering perspective, with 350+ teams, there are SO MANY good teams that fly under the general public’s radar while the money flocks to more traditional “brand name” teams. That creates a great opportunity for us.
So without further ado, let’s approach this season preview from three persepctives; the best odds to cut down the nets, some teams from way off the radar that could provide some nice hedging opportunities come March, and some teams that aren’t likely to win the national championship but are likely far better than expected and could pick you up some easy winners in November and December.
2015-2016 NCAA BASKETBALL SEASON PREVIEW:
Kentucky 8-1 – Hard not to like this team as it has a lot of the same ingredients as last year’s nearly-perfect squad. A big man who is the potential number one overall pick? Check in Skal Labassiere. Veteran leadership to balance out the youth? Check, in Tyler Ullis and Alex Poythress. Dynamic wing talent? Check in Jamal Murray. The missing ingredient? A game-changing generational defender like Cauley-Stein. I think this Kentucky team could potentially be BETTER offensively, but could very well take a step back on D. 8-1 isn’t so great you have to pounce on it now. I’d wait a few weeks and see how the Cats look. If Marcus Lee can play the Cauley-Stein role, then watch out…
Maryland 8-1 – LOVE this line. This number could shrink once people realize how good the incoming freshman talent is to slot alongside Melo Trimble. He will truly have lots of toys to play with this season instead of feeling the onus for creating the majority of the offense. Dez Wells is gone, but the incoming talent MORE than makes up for it. And if Jake Leyman can be the third option on your team? You might just be the best team in college basketball. LOVE the Terps this year, even in a loaded Big Ten.
Duke 17-2 – Another team I like. I think if they beat Kentucky in the opener this line shrinks, so if you like the Blue Devils, now is a nice time to jump on board. Their incoming freshman class is a little behind last year’s, as they don’t have an immediate guaranteed interior scored like Okafor, but I like Brandon Ingram as a sleeper National POY candidate and I like Grayson Allen to take the leap to All-American level scorer. He is an exceptional athlete and lights-out shooter. With more freedom and confidence this season, expect him to become the next star people root against in Durham.
North Carolina 9-1 – Hold…. Hold…. Hold…. Only because people are likely to get down on this team when they take a loss or two without Marcus Paige. As long as he is coming back, this is a legit title contender. I’m gonna be greedy and see if this line will fatten up a bit into the low teens.
Virginia 10-1 – No. Simply, no. They aren’t winning a national title with that style. You have to score points to win, and now that referees are going to be charged with loosening up the flow of the game and cracking down on some of the physical play, expect Virginia to take a step back. 10-1 is terrible value.
Kansas 14-1 – BEST value on the board, with a caveat. Assuming Dialo is eventually cleared by the NCAA. I think he will be, and I think this might be the lowest price you see on KU all year. They have all the pieces in place, explosive NBA talent, veteran leadership, great coaching – add in Dialo and watch out. This is my favorite value play.
Cal 25-1 – LOVE this team as well. Cal might have the best freshman talent in the country with their awesome freshman class. This one might be a little slim at 25-1, but still a decent value play.
Gonzaga 25-1 – There is good value here as well. Yes, there are some questions on the perimeter replacing Pangos, but their front court, including Wiltjer, is the best in the country. 25-1 is good value for a team that projects as no worse than a #2 seed.
Villanova 28-1 – This is another good value pick. Villanova will win the Big East with several games to spare, and the reason to think that THIS year, their regular season success will translate in March? Jalen Brunson. They finally have a dynamic scoring guard to alleviate some of the playmaking responsibilities from Arcidiacano – a very good college player, but not quite ‘elite’ enough to carry them deep in March. Enter Brunson. Watch the results.
Oklahoma 40-1 – Good value pick as well. With Buddy Hield, a POY candidate and Spangler, they return plenty of offense. They will also get toughened up in a deep and talented Big 12 conference. 40-1 is good value for a potential Final Four team.
For the record, none of these teams are likely going to a Final Four, let alone winning a title. BUT if you can get some crazy odds on a team that is headed to Sweet 16, then things get interesting from a hedging perspective. Here’s the best bets for teams that can get to the second weekend in March.
Cincinnati 85-1 – This team pushed Kentucky in the Round of 32 last year, and brings back a ton of talent. They also bring back Coach Cronin. Expect UC to push UConn in the AAC. This is a decent sleeper at 85-1
Purdue 85-1 – Same thing for Purdue. They have the size in AJ Hammond and now they bring in Top Ten recruit Caleb Swannigan. This is a legit sleeper in the Big Ten and a team that could finish behind just Maryland and sneak into a top four seed. 85-1 looks really good with a top four seed, who usually enters the tourney no longer than 20-1.
Vanderbilt 100-1 – Ditto for Vanderbilt. Let everyone slurp LSU and Ben Simmons. Let the nation continue to believe Kentucky is the only SEC school that matters like it is a glorified West Coast Conference. But Vandy is GOOD this year. They finished the season about as well as any team in the country and return all their shooters. Love the value at 100-1 on another team that could legitimately be a top-four seed.
Valpo 220-1 – This one is a SUPER long shot, but this is my favorite mid-major team in the country. They have an interesting game against a good Rhode Island team today, but if they get through that one, they could legitimately win 27-29 games and earn a single-digit seed. They aren’t winning a title, but again, going back to my ‘if they get to the Sweet 16’ hedging philosophy, this one could be an interesting flyer.
George Washington 500-1 – Another LONG shot, and I’d be stunned if you can get this 500-1 after the upset of Virginia yesterday, but the odds-on-favorite to win a good Atlantic 10 conference could also be a second weekend team. It was the only 500-1 or higher that I could legitimately see winning a tourney game or two, so for the miracle-inclined or hedge-heavy sabermatricians, this is a decent value play.
All in all, it’s going to be a great season. My undervalued teams that people are ignoring are Purdue, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, Villanova and Oklahoma. My overvalued teams to watch out for are Michigan State, Virginia and Louisville.
It’s always completely useless to pick a Final Four before any brackets are released in March, but nonetheless, here is mine: Duke, Gonzaga, Maryland and Kansas, with Kansas and Maryland playing for the title and Kansas cutting down the nets. A great sleeper is Villanova. North Carolina might be the best team in the country, yet I am still sticking with Maryland and Kansas.
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Enjoy the season! I know I will – and be sure to check for daily picks and ruminations all season long.