College Basketball National & Conference Futures: Betting Value on Oregon & Purdue (Feb. 2)
Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images. Pictured: Eric Hunter Jr. (Purdue)
Mike Calabrese: We’ve now entered the stretch run of the regular season — a time in which books and public opinion seem to simultaneously coalesce around a small group of true national title contenders.
This year appears to be no different, as nine teams have worked their way into the 6:1 to 15:1 payout range. But is there value outside of that cluster of contenders? Could we see another Cinderella run or two to the Final Four?
Let’s take a closer look.
National Championship Picture
Mike Calabrese: As the final horn sounded on Dec. 18, an eight-point loss to No. 1-ranked Baylor was officially in the books. Despite a valiant effort — which included a second half lead over the Bears — the Ducks had dropped another game at home and stood at 6-6 on the season.
The narrative on Oregon’s season was all but written at that point. The Ducks were sloppy with the basketball and hadn’t found consistent scoring options outside of senior guard Will Richardson.
They had been crushed by BYU and Houston in the opening weeks of the season, and this loss to Baylor was further proof that they’d never get over the hump.
But only a foolish college basketball observer would completely write off Dana Altman. After all, Altman has been a head coach since the late 1980s, and during that time, he’s won seven Coach of the Year honors across four different leagues (SoCon, Big 8, MVC, Pac-12).
He’s also reached the Sweet 16 in five of his last seven Big Dance appearances. He’s a brilliant in-game tactician, whose hybrid match-up zone defense has proven time and time again to be a major problem to prepare for on short rest.
The Altman factor aside, Oregon has completely turned things around since that Baylor loss. The Ducks are 7-1 SU and 5-3 ATS since Dec. 18. That includes a pair of top-five (at the time) wins in Los Angeles over UCLA and USC.
How have they done it? They’ve gotten their turnover issues under control, winning the TO battle in seven of their last eight games by an average margin of +2.88.
Jacob Young has also taken a major step forward as the Robin to Richardson’s Batman. The senior transfer from Rutgers has contributed 15 points and over two steals per game during this run.
This newfound backcourt balance has helped Oregon improve to 25th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
Schedule-wise Oregon has six games in the next two and a half weeks against teams that have an average ranking of 99th in KenPom’s ratings.
If the Ducks can navigate the favorable slate and win five of those contests (three home/three away), they’d hit a stretch of games — at Arizona and home against UCLA and USC — with the chance to really improve their seeding.
As it stands the Ducks are a true bubble team, with most brackets slotting them as a 12-seed currently.
Given their schedule — which balances easy wins and opportunities to collect victories over highly-ranked programs — I foresee the Ducks entering the Pac-12 Tournament on the projected eight- to 10-seed line.
At 100:1, I’m more than happy to add a team playing great basketball with a proven winner on the sidelines calling the shots.
Kody Malstrom: Going into this year, I was touting my Purdue +2500 National Championship ticket and even wrote about their conference odds in our first installment of this bi-weekly piece.
Weeks later, the Purdue shine faded away. However, the Boilermakers are still the Big Ten’s No. 1 team.
First off, it’s a long season. Away games are a pain — especially in conference play — and players tend to go cold here and there. No one is perfect — even Purdue, which has dropped games against Rutgers at the buzzer, vs. a good Wisconsin team and against an Indiana squad I can’t seem to figure out.
With each passing calendar day, the results have shown this may be a two-team race for the Big Ten title: Purdue and Illinois. We saw the two teams go at it earlier this season in a double-overtime thriller, with Purdue pulling away for a 96-88 win.
The Boilermakers’ offense is the most dominant unit in basketball, ranking first in AdjO, per KenPom. They have some of the best depth in the nation, as 10 players contribute meaningful minutes and four score in double figures.
They are led by star guard Jaden Ivey, who averages 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Ivey has shown he can take over late, as we saw with his buzzer-beater against Ohio State.
He’s a lethal shooter from deep — drilling 43.6% from 3 — and someone you can rely on with the ball in his hands in a tight game.
He’s complimented by the best duo of big men in Trevion Williams and Zach Edey, who impose their wills down low. Williams is a more all-around type of big man, while Edey is a monster-sized, slightly-polished big that swallows every rebound in sight.
While the Purdue offense is elite, the defense has some serious work if the team wants to be a more stable squad. Ranking 87th in AdjD, Purdue has struggled to cover the perimeter and has been prone to blowing leads late in games due to lackadaisical play.
I’m not a fan of taking futures at such a small number, but I believe in Purdue that much. The Boilers possess some of the best qualities you can ask for in a tournament style of play, as they have depth and size to get easy buckets.
They are near the top of every Big Ten category. They are still No. 1 in the conference in AdjEM, per KenPom, six points higher than No. 2 Illinois on a neutral court.
What to Watch For
Kody Malstrom: Listen, Auburn is legit. Myself and plenty of others can admit the Tigers flew under the radar and shocked the nation.
For those who have Auburn +6000 or better, kudos.
While Auburn is the SEC’s top team, Kentucky isn’t too far behind. In fact, KenPom disagrees. In his rankings, Kentucky would be favored over Auburn (-1) on a neutral court at the time of writing.
The loss of TyTy Washington Jr. hurts, but it’s next man up for the Wildcats. They possess plenty of depth, as they still maintain Kellan Grady and Sahvir Wheeler in the backcourt.
Kentucky is still first in the SEC in scoring, first in rebounding (thanks, Oscar Tshiebwe), first in field goal percentage, first in 3-point percentage, tied for first in assists and top-five in blocks per game.
The Wildcats lost to Auburn in their lone matchup, but this is a rematch we hope to see in the SEC Tournament. With a nice number at +900, we could hedge on Auburn — if they do face off with a tight spread.
I will hold off for now — in case Alabama upsets another top-tier team — as we could get Kentucky at a better number.
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