College Basketball Preview: The Best Value Picks Outside the Top 5 Favorites
As we continue to look for good value for the upcoming college basketball season, sometimes it is best to look outside of the favorites. While they are the favorites because they appear to have the best chance to win it all at this point in time, these teams are not a sure thing. And chances are if you are betting on college basketball, you know the amount of variance from season to season and that the randomness of the NCAA Tournament can turn a favorite to a loser and a middle of the road team into a winner at any moment.
Looking back at some of last season's preseason odds, only one of the top nine favorites made it to the Final Four, and only one of the top five made it to the Elite Eight. Last year's champion, Villanova, was 10th, at 20/1, and the runner-up, Michigan, was 17th -- 40/1 -- behind the likes of Oregon and USC, who did not even make the tournament.
This is not a way to pick on the oddsmakers because anybody who gambles also knows its hard to predict the future, but it just shows that if you dig a little deeper, sometimes you can find some overlooked teams to wager on.
Using preseason odds from the FanDuel Sportsbook and preseason rankings from Kenpom.com as a barometer, here are some teams that appear to have good value as they go overlooked for the top powerhouses.
Virginia surprised us in many ways last year. The ACC preseason media poll had them ranked sixth before they ran off 31 of 33 games en route to an ACC regular season title and tournament championship. Then, after entering the NCAA Tournament as the number one overall seed, they became the first 1 seed to ever lose to a 16 seed when they were throttled by UMBC. But I'm sure the poor fans in Charlottesville are tired of hearing about that, so we will move on to the good stuff.
This season's Cavaliers team is projected to finish second by the ACC preseason media poll and appear to be hard to overlook. Kenpom has them ranked second, even above Duke, according to their adjusted efficiency metric. This is in large part due to them returning four players who averaged 20-plus minutes per game, including two of their three leading scorers, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome. Add in the respect given to coach and defensive mastermind Tony Bennett, and there is no reason to short UVA entering the season.
The natural knock against Virginia is their lack of tournament success, but that can be a tricky thing. If you asked the analysts before the 2016 NCAA Tournament, many of them would have said Villanova also lacked recent tournament success, and now they have won 13 of their last 14 tournament games and 2 national titles. Virginia has been too good to keep having these types of tournament troubles forever, so getting them at 14/1 is good value.
North Carolina Tar Heels
The North Carolina Tar Heels are looking to make a charge back into national title contention after a little bit of a down year for their standards, though they grabbed a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. A second round exit in the tourney, coupled with the loss of Joel Berry and Theo Pinson, would typically have a team feeling down, but UNC has reloaded with its first top 10 recruiting class since 2014, according to ESPN, and bring back Naismith Player of the Year candidate Luke Maye.
Their odds landing at 12/1 presents solid value as their adjusted efficiency is nearly even with Duke, who is currently going at 5/1. The Tar Heels are returning three starters, Maye, forward Cameron Johnson and guard Kenny Williams, who will likely be joined in the starting five by their two five star recruits, forward Nassir Little and guard Coby White. Trusting UNC will also be a bet on those freshmen, however, senior leadership and the coaching of Roy Williams should have them on the right track from the start.
UNC once again gets to quietly enter the season as one of the best teams in the nation because they do not have the flashy recruiting classes of Duke and Kentucky, but their status as a blue blood makes them hard to overlook and a North Carolina team this solid is rarely this far down the list of favorites.
Now we're really starting to get to some value! We keep the ACC theme going with Syracuse , who is coming off another season where they lived squarely on the bubble, and when it popped, they fell into the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. In typical 'Cuse fashion, the Orange made the most of their invitation, reaching the Sweet 16 -- only to get outlasted by Duke.
Syracuse did not lose any key contributors from last season, returning their entire starting five, but most importantly their three leading scorers. Guards Tyus Battle and Frank Howard, combined with forward Oshae Brissett, accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Orange's points a season ago and may need to exceed that total to push Syracuse to the next level this season.
While the offense is important, this team will again be driven by its defense. Kenpom has Syracuse ranked eighth in adjusted efficiency, in large part due to their third-ranked defense. The zone has become a staple of coach Boeheim's, and he is going to have a team fully experienced in running his system. Add in the fact that Syracuse is typically a very good tournament team and there is a recipe for success in Syracuse.
Another ACC team? I promise this is the last one, but Clemson certainly belongs on this list. The Tigers return three starters from a Sweet 16 team a season ago, and it's that could have seen more success if it weren't for the Donte Grantham injury.
Clemson will go as far as their seniors take them this year, but they were able to add three four-star recruits and transfer Javan White, who nearly averaged a double-double at Oral Roberts last season. Guard Marcquise Reed was the Tigers' leading scorer last season and will likely add to his 15.8 points per game, as he will be the number one option for the entire season. Add in a guy who nearly averaged a double-double last season in forward Elijah Thomas and 37 percent three point shooting from guard Shelton Mitchell, and this Clemson team has a chance to improve upon that this year.
Clemson is a bit more of a sleeper compared to the three teams listed above them, only being voted to finish sixth by the ACC media poll, but as was stated above, they picked Virginia to finish sixth last year so maybe it's a good sign. Entering the season, Kenpom has the Tigers ranked 14th, so when compared their odds at 85/1, they appear to be better than perception would say.
Kansas State Wildcats
Picking any team at 100/1 may look crazy, but there is absolutely a case for the Kansas State Wildcats to make a serious run at cutting down the nets this season. The Wildcats made a surprise run to the Elite Eight last year before getting ousted by everybody's darling Loyola-Chicago, and they are returning six guys who started 20-plus games for them last season.
K-State was voted to finish second in the Big 12 preseason poll and rank 12th in adjusted efficiency. Last year's leading scorer and rebounder Dean Wade (16.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG) is one of three seniors back for a Wildcats team that went 10-8 in the always tough Big 12, which once again led the nation in Conference RPI. Furthermore, fellow star senior and top defender Barry Brown decided to pass on the NBA Draft and return to Manhattan after averaging a shade under 16 points per game last season.
The 'Cats look like tremendous value considering their lofty odds and potential to be great this season. In past seasons, finishing second in the Big 12 gets a team at least a 3 seed in the tournament, so grabbing a team with that type of potential at 100/1 right now would be a solid long-shot wager.