College Basketball Final Four Dark Horse Candidates: Wisconsin & 2 Others Offer Value
Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images. Pictured: Johnny Davis (Wisconsin)
As the calendar changes to the new year and January, conference play is finally underway across the country. Many teams are going through COVID-19 pauses and game cancellations — or will be going through them in the near future.
Now is a good time to take stock of the Final Four odds since we have a 10+ game sample on every team in the country. We can identify who’s trending up, who has a high ceiling, which mid-major can surprise and the potential teams to avoid.
Here’s three teams that stick out to me in the betting market right now (odds from DraftKings):
There’s a top-10 team that’s priced more like a top 14-16 team on DraftKings right now. This represents true value in the Final Four betting market.
Bruce Pearl’s Tigers have a ton depth and one of the best players in the country in Jabari Smith. After his stellar all-around start to the collegiate season, many mock drafts have Smith as the new No. 1 prospect in the entire world for next year’s NBA draft.
Walker Kessler is one of the most dominant defensive bigs in the country and is a major reason why Auburn is fifth in KenPom defensive efficiency, first in shot blocking and seventh in defensive adjusted ShotQuality allowed.
The backcourt is a bit small with guards at 5-foot-11 and 6-foot, but the ball pressure they can apply to get up underneath opposing guards and turn them over is impressive to watch. The Tigers force turnovers at an elite rate and have the athletes to run in transition, as well.
Auburn’s young team has the potential to get hot from beyond the arc and continue to improve as the season goes on. The Tigers already have proven how good they can be with a 15-point home win against LSU last week.
Buy now on the Tigers to make the Final Four and win the national title while the good numbers are still available.
Bart Torvik projects Auburn as a top-seven team right now, KenPom has it ninth and ShotQuality sees it as the fourth best in the country. The market is slow to catch up after a down year last year, but Pearl’s squad is as talented as any team.
No one will want the Badgers in their region come March.
Wisconsin has the ability to grind any game to a halt and force an opponent to play exclusively in the half court. The Badgers do not turn the ball over offensively, all of their possessions end with shots and there’s room for them to improve from beyond the arc as the season progresses.
Right now, Wisconsin isn’t a good shooting team and that limits their ceiling. But the Badgers do have an elite defense and an elite individual playmaker in Johnny Davis.
Davis didn’t play in the Badgers’ loss to Providence early in the season and didn’t play when Wisconsin nearly lost to Nicholls State at home. But when he has played, Davis has scored at least 15 in all 11 games and scored 20 or more points eight times.
For a team that can make anyone play in the 50s and 60s, having an elite scorer like Davis who can get 20 a game is massive. We’ve seen teams with elite defenses and one or two great scorers go on a deep March run in the past.
Also, the Badgers’ slow-paced style makes them a friendly underdog on a neutral court in March.
ShotQuality rates the Badgers as the No. 1 defense in the country, and that suggests this unit has a ton of positive regression coming in shooting against them.
If they start to knock off more big wins in the Big Ten, this number will drop, and I want to be in on the Badgers before that happens.
This article wouldn’t be complete without an ode to a mid-major, so I’ll pick the mid-major that has the potential to create matchup nightmares for its opponents.
Colorado State’s defense has some serious red flags based on interior defense and shot quality allowed. But the Rams’ offense is a thing of beauty, and they can shoot from everywhere on the court.
CSU has the best effective field goal percentage and 3-point shooting percentage in the country, and it should come as no surprise that last year’s best jump shooting team (Baylor) won the national title.
The Rams can go 4-out or 5-out on offense and run through David Roddy and John Tonje, two players who can shoot and score at all levels. They’ve got some shooting regression coming, but are still both 40% or better guys from beyond the arc.
The Mountain West is far from elite this year, but it’s relatively deep with solid teams and does present a lot of tricky, hostile road environments to challenge the Rams.
If Colorado State wins the conference — which it’s favored to do — the Rams’ odds could move considerably by the time tournament rolls around.
Only seven teams have a higher adjusted offensive ShotQuality. They’ve already notched wins against Creighton, Saint Mary’s and Mississippi State — all top-50 opponents — including two on a neutral court.
The Rams project as a 6-7 seed, with the potential to pick off one top seed if the matchup is right and make a run to the Final Four. It’s not likely to happen, but the Rams certainly are playing like a second weekend team and at +2500, no mid-major is more enticing right now.