March Madness Betting: Where Can You Find Value in the Futures Market?
Well, it was a heck of a first weekend (plus Monday) of the NCAA Tournament. We got all the madness we could ask for -- and then some.
Half of the 12 teams seeded 1 through 3 have already been sent home. We are guaranteed to have either an 8 seed or a 12 seed in the Elite Eight. There are as many 15 seeds left as there are 3 seeds. It's been that kind of tournament.
Let's take a look.
Houston to win the Midwest (+105)
Our model sees value in betting on Houston to win the Midwest Region. The second-seeded Cougars checked a lot of boxes heading into the Big Dance, and while they barely scraped by 10 seed Rutgers last time out, winning 63-60, their path in the Midwest Region has ended up being pretty nice -- at least on paper. Plus, key cog Dejon Jarreau was able to play in the Rutgers game after getting hurt in the first round. The Cougars will need Jarreau to get to the Final Four.
Our nERD-based rankings have Houston as the fifth-best team in the country. Loyola, the 8 seed in the Midwest, is the next-best seed left in the region. Houston has a nERD of 18.47, which means we'd expect them to win by that number against an average opponent on a neutral court. Loyola (14.65 nERD), Syracuse (11.15) and Oregon State (9.57) just aren't as good as Houston.
Does that mean Houston is a lock to cruise to the Final Four? Of course not. They may lose to 'Cuse in the Sweet 16. But Houston could win the region by playing four double-digit seeds if the Beavers topple Loyola. And even if Loyola wins, the Cougars' route out of the Midwest would bring them up against no team better than an 8 seed. Loyola isn't your normal 8 seed, but Houston's path could be much worse.
The Cougars are +105 to win the region, which implies odds of 48.8%. Our algorithm has Houston getting to the Final Four 62.9% of the time. Betting on Houston to come out of this region isn't as fun as rooting for one of the three Cinderellas left in the Midwest, but it's the right move going by our numbers.
Michigan to win the East (+155)
Similar to Houston, Michigan is favored to win their region, but our model thinks they aren't a big enough favorite. Unlike Houston, Michigan has a pretty stout group of teams left in their region.
Michigan takes on 5 seed Florida State in the Sweet 16 and would face either 2 seed Alabama or 11 seed UCLA in the Elite Eight. Michigan has a nERD of 18.91, the third-highest in the country. FSU (14.92 nERD), Alabama (17.23) and UCLA (13.36) are all good squads, so the Wolverines will have two tough games to get to the Final Four. Unless UCLA upsets Alabama, Michigan will have the toughest possible matchups -- by seed -- that they could get in both the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.
Our projections still really like them, though.
This is a Michigan team that ranks in the top 10 in both adjusted defense and offense, per KenPom. They're excellent. And while the likely absence of Isaiah Livers is a blow, Michigan answered the bell without him in the second round, winning by eight against an LSU team that led by nine at one point and committed only three turnovers.
The Wolverines are listed at +155 to come out of the East. That implies odds of 39.2%. We have Michigan winning the region 52.2% of the time.
Picking an Outright Champ
First, here are the title odds for the 16 teams still alive.
|Oregon State||+7000||Oral Roberts||+10000|
When I looked at the title odds, what first jumped out to me is how much oddsmakers love Gonzaga. A line of +155 implies odds of 39.2%. That's a big number. And then I checked out what our algorithm has for the Zags, and we like them even more. Our model projects Gonzaga to win the championship 41.6% of the time, which comes out to a line of +140.
The Zags are just that good.
And with Creighton (5 seed), USC (6) and Oregon (7) as the three other teams left in the West, Gonzaga could get to the Final Four without having to play anyone better than a 5 seed. We have them winning the West 75.3% of the time, which falls in line with their -300 odds to get to the Final Four, and even though Gonzaga is the overwhelming favorite, there is still some value in betting on Mark Few's bunch to win the title.
Another value is Houston.
As we covered earlier, the Cougars have -- at least going by seeds -- the easiest route to the Final Four among the five 1 and 2 seeds left. That matters a lot when looking at their odds to win the whole thing.
With a nERD of 18.47, the Cougars have a nERD rating within 1.0 point of every team left in the field except for Gonzaga, so if Houston gets to the Final Four, they'll be just as good as everyone else -- maybe better depending on who else is there -- with the exception of the Zags, which is exactly what you'd say for 1 seeds Michigan and Baylor. And if they have to take on the Zags, Houston wouldn't come up against Gonzaga until the title bout.
At +900 to win it all, Houston's implied championship odds are 10.0%. We have them cutting down the nets 12.4% of the time. Among the five teams at +1000 or better to win the crown, Houston and Gonzaga are the only two we give better odds to win it all than what their implied odds are at FanDuel Sportsbook.