College Basketball Betting: 4 Teams to Target for the 2019 National Championship
We are now less than 10 days away from the month of March. And you know what that means: it's almost tournament time.
Yes, March Madness is almost upon us, and Selection Sunday is in 25 days. 25 days, people!
But before you get yourself all worked up about watching game film, looking at the numbers or doing whatever it is you do to get ready for bracket season, it's that time of year -- before conference tournaments are played out and seeds are set -- where wise bettors are taking cracks at their favorites to win it all. So if you're doing the same you've come to the right place.
Here, we're looking at the top 50 teams (and ties), according to FanDuel Sportsbook's title odds, and using advanced numbers and betting odds (from a variety of sources) to find four undervalued teams to target when betting on this year's championship team.
Let's get to it.
Michigan State +1800
The Michigan State Spartans are quite an interesting case. While they are 21-5 on the year and 12-3 in Big Ten play, they have and will continue to deal with injuries -- the most notable a season-ending foot injury to junior guard and starter Joshua Langford. But some point to Nick Ward's hand injury as a bit of a blessing in disguise. The 6'9" forward is expected to be out indefinitely, and during this time the younger Xavier Tillman should get full starter's minutes while freshman Thomas Kithier gets substantial run off the bench.
Tom Izzo's crew has operated primarily eight deep, but two other players have over 140 minutes played, and that's not including Kithier (98 minutes). The team could be more well-rounded by regular season's end, though it's more likely they'll head into the Big Dance absent a conference title.
That's exactly where the value lies, in looking ahead past the struggles without Ward. But if there's one thing the Spartans know it's defense. According to KenPom.com, Cassius Winston and company are seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 89.4 points per 100 when adjusted for a schedule that holds the second-toughest opponents by average offensive efficiency. A lot of that has to do with the presence of Tillman, Ward and Kenny Goins down low, as the trio has helped Sparty to the top defensive field goal percentage (47.1%) at the rim while they have blocked 17.1% of rim attempts (12th) as a team, per Hoop-Math.
Largely due to their top-notch defense, Michigan State sits fourth in our power rankings and checks in at the same spot in the ranks of KenPom's adjusted efficiency margin, ESPN's BPI, The Power Rank's predicted margin of victory and Sports Reference's Simple Rating System. Still, they are tied for seventh in championship odds at FanDuel Sportsbook and have shorter odds (+1000) at both WestGate and William Hill. Take the discount and play the long game.
Dipping down to Nevada takes us to the second or third tier -- depending on how you're looking at it -- where the Wolf Pack have an implied probability of 2.7% to win the title following last year's run to the Sweet 16. That figure is actually up from 1.6% at the open, when WestGate listed them at +6000 odds, which tied them for 15th among all teams compared to a tie for 11th at this point in time. Even that might be low, though, as WestGate and William Hill have them at +2500 (10th) and +1800 odds (8th), respectively.
Why exactly should you buy in to Eric Musselman's squad? At 24-1, they average 82.5 points per game and 115.4 per 100 possessions behind four double-digit scorers and two others averaging at least 7.3. Between them, brothers Caleb and Cody Martin put up 30.1 points, 8.2 assists, 9.2 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks a night. But it's senior forward Jordan Caroline who is the heartbeat of the team, averaging 18.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists en route to 4.3 win shares and a 22.1 player efficiency rating (PER).
Nevada is between 14th and 17th by the measures of the other four sites mentioned above, but we have them 12th, which is right around their place in odds. Plus, that's not accounting for all the weight put on the poor strength of schedule (114th per KenPom) they have as a result of playing in the Mountain West. It's always something talked about come tournament time, but the on-court talent is there, and it shows in the nation's 19th-ranked offense and 26th-ranked defense. They've beaten the teams that have been put in front of them; just don't wait for them to pile up too many more wins, or the odds won't be anywhere near where they are now.
For as much success as the Wolf Pack had a year ago, Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats enjoyed even more. On their way to a second title in three years, they defeated the Michigan Wolverines in commanding fashion (79-62) and won 36 of 40 games. Accordingly, WestGate listed them in a three-way tie for the second-best odds (+800) -- to Duke -- to win this year's championship. Since then, they've experienced some ups and downs and have seen their implied win probability go from 11.1% to 2.0% at their current odds (+4900).
How can you not like the value? The 'Cats are 20-6 overall, and at 11-2 they are in the driver's seat in the Big East conference. They aren't the highly efficient defense they were a year ago (they're just 74th in defensive efficiency), but their offense's 118.6 points per 100 possessions is 11th by KenPom's calculations. Much of their success can be attributed to their 68.6% conversion rate at the rim (tied for 12th), in which big men Eric Paschall (77.5%), Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (78.8%) and Jermaine Samuels (73.0%) have all played pivotal roles.
Overall, 'Nova is 23rd in our rankings and in the same 20-22 range among the other four rating systems. Their odds mirror their standing in most metrics, but they are getting substantially more love at the other books, where they are +3000, indicating a 1.2% spike in implied win odds. When you can get that combined with a return of $4,900 for every $100 bet -- on the defending champs to boot -- it's a steal.
If you're more risk-seeking and eyeing a higher return, the Buffalo Bulls are your team. They will get you a cool $10,000 for every $100 laid on their odds at FanDuel Sportsbook, and while those are shorter returns than at the other two books we've looked at, they are still 30th among all schools. Therein lies the angle.
For us, Buffalo is 19th and currently a 6 seed, per our Bracketology page. However, our models are not alone in their love for the 23-3 and MAC-leading Bulls. SR's Simple Rating System has them a bit lower (33rd), but the other three are in agreement that they are the 22nd or 23rd-best team. So, for the most part, they have out-performed their odds to this point, even after opening at +100000 (yes, that's another zero).
For comparison's sake, the Bulls are 10 spots higher than the Florida Gators, who check in at the same odds. And when compared to Ohio State, TCU and VCU -- the others at +10000 -- they are the far superior team.
What makes Buffalo so good is their efficiency on both ends while playing at the nation's sixth-fastest pace. They do allow 71.4 points a game, but their defensive rating is 94.5 and when adjusted their 94.7 mark is 31st. Their offense is eight spots higher en route to 85.9 points per game. Their biggest strength is in transition, where they take 32.9% of their shots from (fourth) but still rank 37th with a 61.2% effective field goal percentage.
Come March, their fast-and-furious style will be tough for bigger teams to keep up with, and that's worth betting on at these juicy odds.