College Basketball Futures: Betting Value on Kansas & Johnny Davis (Feb. 16)
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images. Pictured: Christian Braun (Kansas)
Kody Malstrom: While most single people on Valentine’s Day looked out the window in despair, I spent my day crying in my pillow knowing that football will not be back for another seven months.
With that said, we are now approaching March, and I couldn’t be more excited for college basketball.
It’s time to sharpen up our futures portfolio for the tournament. You should be accustomed to this piece that Mike and I put together on a bi-weekly basis.
Here’s our full national title card:
- Oregon: +10000
- Illinois: +2500
- Colorado State: +20000
- Xavier: +10000
- Houston: +3500
- Arizona: +3000
There's a mixture of intriguing hedge pieces for some serious returns, and a couple of teams with the potential to make a deep run.
The list above doesn’t include other pieces we may have taken, which can be found on our respective Action pages under Futures.
As we get closer to March, let's add a few more bets, including some for the Wooden Award.
National Championship Picture
Kody Malstrom: The beauty of working for Action is that we are surrounded by brilliant sports betting minds alike.
One of them — who you may know — is Stuckey, a fellow car bombing drinking enthusiast who is responsible for 20% of my liver failure. He recently put out a brilliant piece on 11 teams who have an actual shot at cutting down the nets.
That list contained a team I will write about today: Kansas.
Throughout most of the season, I pegged the Big 12 as a two-team race between Baylor and Kansas. While I still think both are highly capable of a deep run, Baylor is facing serious injury concerns and was smashed by 24 by the Jayhawks earlier this season.
Kansas has been one of the most dominant offensive units this season, currently ranking third in AdjO, per KenPom. They play seven players meaningful minutes, with three of them scoring in double figures, including potential Wooden Award winner, Ochai Agbaji.
Agbaji has all the capabilities of putting Kansas on his back en route to a deep tourney run. He's scoring 19.9 points and hauling in 5.2 rebounds per game. He's also shooting 43.5% from 3 and 50.1% from the field.
He doesn’t do it all alone, though, as he's accompanied by Christian Braun (15.3 PPG) and forward Jalen Wilson (10.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG). This team is oozing with talent on offense, as it has paced the Big 12. KU leads the conference in points per game (79.5) and in field goal percentage (49.2%).
The Jayhawks have been battle tested all season. They have a record of 21-4 (10-2), with one of the toughest strength of schedules in the country.
They boast an impressive resume of wins against Baylor, Texas Tech and Michigan State, with close losses at Texas and at Texas Tech. KU was beat down by Kentucky, but I regard the Wildcats as one of the top teams in the country.
The “drawback” of the Jayhawks has been their defense — a unit that is ranked 37th in AdjD. It's not the worst unit, but it's not elite by any means.
They can be prone to lackadaisical sloppy play while giving up easy baskets and losing large leads in a hurry. Hopefully, Bill Self will have them motivated for the tournament, though.
Simply put, when this team is clicking on both ends, it's one of the most dangerous units in basketball. At +1500, I will take that ticket with potential hedge opportunities in the Final Four or National Championship.
Wooden Award Picture
Mike Calabrese: Unlike the Heisman Trophy, the Wooden Award has not been pigeonholed by position. Since 1990, all but three Heisman winners either played quarterback or running back.
By contrast, the Wooden Award has crowned 12 “bigs,” seven point guards, seven “wings" and six centers since 1990.
Suffice to say, it’s an equal opportunity award. And that holds true this season.
According to FoxBet, the top-10 favorites to win the award are spread out between five bigs, four wings and a center.
Oscar Tshiebwe (16.2 PPG, 15.3 RPG) currently sits at +350 as the market favorite, but it’s worth noting that if he were to win, he’d be the lowest-scoring Wooden Award winner since Anthony Davis in 2012 (14.2 PPG).
Tshiebwe is the top dog right now by virtue of his rebounding prowess, which opens the door, in my opinion, for him to be flanked by a higher-scoring player that offers Wooden voters more “wow factor.”
Here are two players that I think could make a move down the final stretch and edge out Tshiebwe at the ballot box.
Mike Calabrese: To say that Davis has come out of nowhere would be an understatement. The homegrown Wisconsin talent has tripled his scoring output, while doubling both his rebounding and assist totals year over year.
He is the Badgers’ offensive engine, and is carrying them to the verge of a Big Ten title. Wisconsin now sits a half game out of first place in the conference with every opportunity to leapfrog Purdue and Illinois in the coming weeks.
Of the Badgers' five remaining games, they have a pair of layups (Minnesota, Nebraska), a home tilt against Michigan, a road revenge spot against Rutgers and a pivotal showdown against Purdue sandwiched in the middle.
It sets up for Davis to showcase his immense talent on the way to a title, and that’s the kind of stage that voters associate with eventual winners.
Davis has already stepped up in huge spots this year, including a 30-point outing against Houston, a 37 and 14 outburst at Purdue and a 22 and 15 night in a losing effort against Illinois.
There will be no room for morale victories — even with huge stat lines — so that means Davis and the Badgers would either need a clean sweep of their final five games or a 4-1 showing with a win at Purdue. However, I think they have the goods to get it done.
At 6:1, I’m at least willing to find out.
Mike Calabrese:Evan Miyakawa is a data scientist who has created ratings for college basketball teams and players. Among the many interesting data projects he’s cooked up in the past year has been his “indispensable” ratings.
This notion is baked into voting on every major individual award in sports, whether that language is explicitly stated in the rules of said award or not. No player in the running for the Wooden Award has a higher indispensable rating than Cockburn, checking in at sixth nationally.
Year over year, Cockburn has improved his production, seemingly across the board. He registered more “stocks,” increased his points per game average by nearly four points and he's raking in more rebounds, as well (+1.9 over ‘20-’21).
When he hits his scoring average (21.5 PPG), Illinois is undefeated. When he fails to hit 19 points or more, the Fighting Illini are decidedly more mortal (4-3 SU). He is everything to a team that is currently seeded on the four-line, according to BracketMatrix.
Like Davis, a regular season title would go a long way in helping Cockburn leapfrog Tshiebwe, whose Kentucky Wildcats are all but drawing dead in the SEC regular season title race (1.5 GB and the tiebreaker working against them).
Can Illinois get it done with a final stretch that features five opponents with winning conference records?
That is a difficult question to answer, but given the fact Cockburn will be the first 20 and 10 player from a major conference since 2018, I believe there is a path to the Wooden Award that doesn’t necessitate his team winning a regular season conference championship.
Any number better than +400 is generous enough to roll the dice on the most well-rounded big man in college basketball.