Big East Conference Futures: When to Bet UConn, Creighton & Villanova

Big East Conference Futures: When to Bet UConn, Creighton & Villanova article feature image

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: UConn’s RJ Cole.

The college basketball futures market is more fluid than ever.

With COVID-19 cancellations and postponements the new normal, the sharp bettors look to seize the moment on the exact right time to invest on tournament futures for their favorite teams.

There is so much variance in the number of games played by Big East Conference teams, assessing the validity of their record and schedule is critical to identifying postseason tournament value.

Here are my thoughts on three of the most popular Big East futures for both the conference and NCAA tournaments.

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UConn Huskies 

The Huskies have battled through the absence of star guard James Bouknight and three separate COVID-19 pauses and are now peaking at exactly the right time. The Huskies are 13-6 overall, including 10-6 in conference play. They enter Saturday's home game against Georgetown having won five of their last six games.

Bouknight returned on February 16 to give UConn the elite scorer it needs to win in March. Bouknight (20.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 80.3% FT) has scored 20 or more points in three of the past four games.

His absence allowed other players to grow into enhanced roles. Rhode Island transfer Tyrese Martin (11.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 35.7% 3P) was a consistent double-digit scorer during Bouknight's absence. Howard transfer R.J. Cole (12.9 PPG, 4.1 APG) and senior forward Isaiah Whatley (7.9 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 2.8 BPG) have increased their offensive impact throughout the season.

The Huskies' success is still based on defense. They rank first in Big East play in adjusted defensive efficiency, block percentage, and effective field goal percentage allowed.

The Huskies feature athletic and long defenders such as 6-foot-9 freshman Adama Sanogo, who tallied 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal in the team's 69-58 win at Seton Hall.  Head coach Danny Hurley's emphasis on on-ball pressure is reflected by three players averaging more than 1.2 steals per game.

Connecticut is currently available at +500 to win the Big East Tournament at FanDuel, a very attractive price.  They are also currently 50-1 to win the national title, a nice value for a team that is finally healthy.  I would consider both bets for a Connecticut team that plays elite defense, is on a winning streak and has a player who can take over any game in the tournament.

Bets:  UConn + 500 to win the Big East Tournament; +5000 to win the National Championship

Villanova Wildcats

As the preseason favorite in the Big East, it was difficult to find value on a Villanova futures bet throughout the season. With the recent news that starting point guard Collin Gillespie is lost for the season with a torn MCL, the outlook is even worse for the Wildcats.

BREAKING: Villanova's Collin Gillespie has suffered a torn MCL and is expected to miss the remainder of the 20-21 season, per release.

— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 4, 2021

Currently, BetMGM has the Wildcats at +400 to make the Final Four and +900 to win the national title, but those odds will certainly rise with Gillespie's injury.

Even after an inexplicable 73-61 loss at Butler, the Wildcats still earned their third consecutive regular season Big East championship at 11-3. Villanova endured a three-week COVID pause in early January, but still managed to avenge losses to St. John's and Creighton.

Head coach Jay Wright's squad is prolific on offense, ranking first in conference play in adjusted-offensive efficiency, third in 3P percentage (36.3%), and first in free-throw efficiency (80.1%) per KenPom.

Even without Gillespie, Villanova features three players shooting 38% or better from 3P, highlighted by Caleb Daniels (39.6% on 91 attempts) and Cole Swider (38.4% on 73 attempts).

However, the Wildcats' defense has been surprisingly poor, ranking last in effective field goal percentage allowed and ninth in 3P% allowed in their 14 Big East games.

The loss of Gillespie is too much for the Wildcats to overcome, and I don't even trust them in the conference tournament setting. There is no value in backing a shorthanded Villanova team that has yet to play elite defense all season.

Bets:  None, no value

Creighton Bluejays

The Bluejays are a very talented team, but handicapping their betting value is tricky. There is uncertainty for the Bluejays, as they just announced the suspension of head coach Greg McDermott due to insensitive comments.

Creighton has suspended head coach Greg McDermott from all team activities — including Saturday’s regular-season finale against Butler — because of racially insensitive comments made after a recent loss.

— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) March 5, 2021

Creighton has the ability to get incredibly hot from the field, a foundational piece of a great futures bet. This was illustrated in their early-season performance against Villanova. The Bluejays shot 71.4% (20-of-28) from 2P range, and 46.2% (12-of-26) from beyond the arc.

Creighton has great guard play, led by preseason Big East Player of the Year Marcus Zegarowski (14.7 PPG, 4.6 APG) and senior guard Denzel Mahoney (13.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 34.% 3P). They are one of the few teams with the offensive efficiency to match anyone in the country, ranking first in conference play in effective field goal percentage (55.3%) and 2P efficiency (55.8%).

The Bluejays rarely turn the ball over and are much improved on defense. Creighton is currently second in the Big East in adjusted defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage allowed.

At 17-7 overall and 13-6 in conference play, their Big East Tournament odds will likely go even lower than the current +175 with a home win over Butler on Saturday. With Villanova now without Gillespie, there is a case to be made that the Bluejays will be the favorite to win the conference tournament.

Assuming the suspension to McDermott doesn't linger beyond the immediate suspension, Creighton has all the tools to make a very deep run in the NCAA Tournament. However, with the current uncertainty, I would not support a Big East Tournament bet on Creighton as the favorite.

With strong guard play and 3P explosiveness, Creighton is a nice pick for a Final Four run. I don't think the Bluejays have a complete enough team to win the National Championship, but I like the +500 odds at DraftKings to reach the Final Four.

Bets:  Creighton to reach the Final Four +500

St. John's Red Storm

The team with the sixth-longest odds on the board is worth a serious look. 

Mike Anderson’s Red Storm are 15-10 overall, including 9-9 in conference play. St. John’s has a unique style with a group of talented players who relentlessly attack the basket off the dribble. 

Sophomore Julian Champagnie (19.8 PPG, 39.6% 3-point) is a brilliant scorer, with 10 games of 20 or more points.

Point guard Posh Alexander (11.1 ppg, 2.6 spg) is a versatile two-way player who continually disrupts the opposing offense. He missed the Red Storm's last game against Providence, but is expected to return for the tournament. 

Juniors Greg Williams Jr. (9.3 PPG, 44.4% 3-point) and Vince Cole (9.1 PPG, 35.5% 3-point) are dangerous wing players who open the floor with deep efficiency. 

The Red Storm’s defensive pressure is relentless, as illustrated by their 37th-best ranking in defensive turnover percentage, per KenPom.

With consecutive late-season conference losses to DePaul and Villanova, the Red Storm's conference tournament odds have stabilized at +4000. The Red Storm make their free throws at a 74.7% rate and are shooting a solid 35.2% from beyond the arc against Big East competition. 

With the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, St. John’s certainly has momentum as the home team. With the question marks surrounding Villanova an Creighton, the Big East Tournament is more wide open than ever. That certainly supports the rationale for a lottery ticket bet with the Red Storm in the battle for 2021 Big East supremacy.

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