A 100-1 College Basketball National Title Future Worth Betting
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Travis Steele
Eli Hershkovich is an Action Network contributor from You Better You Bet Podcast on RADIO.COM Sports
Am I still shaking off emotions from my Texas Tech futures from last season? Absolutely not (cries internally).
Thankfully, another college basketball campaign is almost upon us.
There’s less value in the futures market than earlier in the summer, since we know the full list of NBA draft defectors and transfers who landed in prime situations.
For instance, Louisville brought back junior wing Jordan Nwora while seeing its opening odds dip (20-1 to 14-1), and Florida secured Virginia Tech grad transfer Kerry Blackshear and got the same result (60-1 to 16-1).
Here are the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2020 via the Westgate SuperBook.
- Michigan State 6-1 (opened at 7-1)
- Kentucky 7-1 (7-1)
- Kansas 8-1 (20-1)
- Duke 10-1 (8-1)
- Memphis 16-1 (80-1)
- UNC 10-1 (14-1)
- Louisville 14-1 (20-1)
- Florida 16-1 (60-1)
- Villanova 18-1 (14-1)
- Virginia 20-1 (7-1)
John Murray — Westgate’s director of race and sports — noted his sportsbook’s largest college hoops liability sits with Memphis. A pair of bets came in on the Tigers’ early futures price, and his book’s loss would be just under $200,000 if the Tigers cut down the nets in Atlanta.
“I know they’ve got a great freshman class coming in there for Penny Hardaway, but they’re not really — in my opinion — one of the true favorites,” Murray said. “That’s (current futures odds) just artificial pricing because we’ve got such a big liability on the Tigers.”
Murray is spot on, as the Tigers’ No. 1 recruiting class doesn’t automatically translate into success come March, especially with a second-year coach.
Duke is a perfect example, falling to Michigan State in the Elite Eight last season despite boasting arguably the greatest recruiting class ever. In fact, the Blue Devils nearly lost in the previous two rounds to more experienced teams (Virginia Tech, UCF).
When searching for value in the futures market, I’m eyeing under-the-radar teams that showed improvement down the stretch while returning an abundance of talent.
On top of that, longer odds could present a hedging opportunity if a team makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Here’s the team I’m targeting:
Xavier’s price (100-1) hasn’t shifted much at most books, and there’s loads of potential for the Musketeers in Travis Steele’s second season running the program.
Following an 11-13 start to last season, Steele’s unit (16-17-2 ATS) won 8 of its final 11 games, with one of those outright losses coming against Villanova in the Big East semifinals. It would’ve seen a dip in futures’ value if it hung onto a late lead against the Wildcats and secured a trip to March Madness with another victory.
The Musketeers’ campaign came to an end in a 78-76 overtime loss to Texas in the NIT, and the Longhorns went onto win the tournament.
Xavier’s late-season surge came at the defensive end, letting up 0.98 points per possession amid its run. KenPom has the Musketeers projected as the No. 18 team in college hoops, ranking No. 39 in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (AdjD).
All but one of last season’s Final Four participants finished top-10 in that department, and Auburn’s defense (No. 36) was refined by season’s end.
Steele’s bunch returns breakout candidate Naji Marshall, fellow junior Paul Scruggs and seniors Quentin Goodin and Tyrique Jones. The 6-foot-7 Marshall can switch onto any position while Scruggs and Goodin are two of the peskier guards in the conference.
Losing shot-blocker Zach Hankins (graduated) will hurt, but Jones’ development should showcase itself around the rim more than a season ago (4.1 block percentage).
Xavier welcomed in grad transfer Bryce Moore (from Western Michigan) and four-star combo guard KyKy Tandy, and both will play a role with their impactful ball-pressure.
The Big East’s remaining contenders (Villanova, Seton Hall and Marquette) all have their respective offenses revolving around the backcourt, so Xavier’s ability to limit dribble penetration should go a long way in its attempt to win the conference and earn a top-five seed.
Expect last season’s 16.2 opponents’ turnover percentage (45th-worst in the country) to be better with this upgraded defense.
At the other end, Xavier also added 6-foot-8 transfer Jason Carter, who will assist its frontcourt scoring without Hankins. But its entire offense stems from Marshall’s flashy skillset, representing a ball-handling, floor-spacing forward. Goodin and Scrugg’s backcourt experience should present difficult looks with an attack that can create off the bounce from multiple angles.
Moore’s perimeter shooting (39% in 2017-18 at Western Michigan) should help bolster its three-point arsenal from last season, too (33.1%). Overall, KenPom forecasts Xavier to deliver the 13th-highest Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AdjO) in college basketball.
Given Steele coached under now-Louisville coach Chris Mack, who led the Musketeers to an Elite Eight in 2016-17 before earning a No. 1 seed the following season, he’s in position to take an undervalued Xavier squad on a run in March 2020. Surprisingly, Steele’s squad is Westgate’s second-biggest college basketball futures liability, sitting in the six-figure range after opening at 80-1.
“We don’t want to see Xavier do well,” Murray said. “The value of those tickets will be what kind of draw they get in March. If they can have the bracket break their way, there’s no reason why that team can’t make a run to maybe the Elite Eight.”
If the Musketeers deliver a run like the Red Raiders accomplished last season, consider this investment an obvious success. Maybe I’ll hold back my tears this time around.