Best National Title Future Bets: Which Defenses Can Carry Teams Into March?

Best National Title Future Bets: Which Defenses Can Carry Teams Into March? article feature image

Rich Barn. Pictured: Syracuse Orange guard Tyus Battle (25).

  • Advanced defensive metrics have proven to be a good measure of a team's championship potential over the past decade.
  • Eli Hershkovich looks at five teams with favorable odds and strong defenses, that can make noise as the season wears on.

Before shooting down the adage that “defense wins champions,” get this. The past 11 national titles were claimed by teams with a top 20 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rating. AdjD represents a program’s approximate defensive efficiency vs. an average Division I offense, determining its points allowed per 100 possessions.

The metric is so critical during March Madness because it highlights defenses that are truly capable of clawing back from a deficit. Trading buckets back-and-forth can only achieve so much.

Tennessee’s 76-73 win over Gonzaga on Sunday was a prime example. The Vols faced a nine-point deficit with 6:15 left against the No. 1-rated Adjusted Offensive Efficiency in college basketball. But Rick Barnes’ No. 12-ranked AdjD denied the heck out of Bulldogs sharpshooter Zach Norvell, forcing stops on two of the next three possessions before tying the game less than three minutes later.

Tennessee’s national championship odds have spiked to 20-1, though, and there’s not much value with its odds unlikely to shoot up anytime soon.

Nevertheless, let’s dig into some teams that are worth betting on before conference play is underway.

>> All odds as of Thursday morning. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NCAAB odds and track your bets.

Auburn Tigers (33-1)

The Tigers (No. 17 AdjD) are one of the most tenacious teams in the nation, generating the highest Block Rate (22.7%) and second-best Steal Percentage (13.8%) in DI.

The return of 6-foot-11, 260-pound Austin Wiley has given Auburn much-needed shot-blocking presence, forcing teams to operate much of their offense from the perimeter. Forward Daniel Purifoy, who was ruled ineligible with Wiley amid the NCAA corruption investigation last season, is expected to return Saturday as well.

Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Arizona Wildcats guard Dylan Smith (3), Auburn Tigers center Austin Wiley (50).

Auburn will likely need Tennessee to stumble down the road to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Still, Bruce Pearl is very capable of leading his bunch on a deep run.

Syracuse Orange (50-1)

The Orange (No. 10 AdjD) appear to be rounding into form with 6-foot-5 point guard Frank Howard back in the lineup after missing their first four games (left ankle injury). They own the lengthiest unit in the country, aiding their 2-3 zone while helping produce a 22.4% turnover rate — the 35th-highest in Division I.

I don’t expect their value to decrease the rest of the way, and we’ve seen Jim Boeheim’s zone constantly fluster opponents in March — just ask Michigan State.

Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Morehead State Eagles guard A.J. Hicks (0), Syracuse Orange forward Elijah Hughes (33).

Elijah Hughes’ (14.2 points per game) two-way emergence isn’t being discussed enough, either, as the 6-foot-6 East Carolina transfer nearly doubled his steal rate from last season (2.9% this season compared to 1.6%) and increased his Effective Field Goal Percentage (53.5%) by 11.3 percentage points from his freshman campaign.

Florida State Seminoles (66-1)

Florida State (No. 16 AdjD) has proven last season’s Elite Eight run was no fluke, and Leonard Hamilton’s group has even bolstered its Turnover Rate (24.3%) by 4.9 percentage points.

It’s led by Florida State’s 40th-ranked Steal Percentage (11.4%), as guards Trent Forest (3.9%) and MJ Walker (2.5%) have sparked a quick-paced offense via their sound on-ball defense.

Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Michigan Wolverines center Jon Teske (15), Florida State Seminoles guard M.J. Walker (23).

The Seminoles will be strengthened in the near future with 6-foot-8 forward Phil Cofer returning from a foot injury, which has kept him on the sidelines throughout the non-conference slate. Their potential is only about to spike from here on out.

Maryland Terrapins (66-1)

The Terrapins (No. 33 AdjD) haven’t hit the sweet spot yet, but this team is full of potential with one of the top front lines in college hoops.

The 6-foot-10 underclassmen duo of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith have lifted Maryland to the 18th-highest team Block Percentage (18.2%) in DI, as well as the 26th-lowest opponents’ Offensive Rebounding Rate (23.5%).

Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Maryland Terrapins forward Bruno Fernando (23).

Maryland’s value would’ve improved if it pulled off the upset in a 76-71 loss to Virginia on Nov. 28, but Mark Turgeon’s club still proved it can compete with an elite defense. Its 62-60 road loss to Purdue gifted bettors with another opportunity to capitalize. Take advantage before the Terps make some noise once Big Ten play resumes.

TCU Horned Frogs (100-1)

Similar to Maryland, the Horned Frogs (No. 23 Adj) sit just outside the top 20 AdjD rankings. They’re led by the 23rd-rated eFG% (42.6%) in the country, yielding the 12th-lowest 3-point percentage in the process (27.8%).

A key cog in TCU’s stifling crew is the 6-foot-2 Jaylen Fisher, who missed the second half of last season after tearing his right meniscus.

Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: TCU Horned Frogs guard Jaylen Fisher (0), Oklahoma Sooners guard Rashard Odomes (1).

Fisher’s on-ball defense is good enough to shutdown opponents’ lead guards, which he proved against SMU’s Jahmal McMurray and USC’s Derryck Thornton in recent affairs.

Texas Tech (No. 4-ranked AdjD) is considered the top candidate to challenge Kansas in the Big 12, as Red Raiders coach Chris Beard has guided his team towards contention in what was assumed to be a rebuilding season.

I wouldn’t count out TCU from finishing top three in the conference, though.

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