College Basketball National Title Contenders: Futures Odds for UConn, Arizona & Virginia Tech
Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images. Pictured: Kerr Kriisa (Arizona)
The year may be winding down, but the college basketball season is just ramping up.
Most teams are entering their Christmas breaks and will be beginning or resuming their conference schedules when they return. They’ll be fighting to get into the NCAA tournament, and it’s never too early to think about who’s going to cut down the nets in Houston.
When I think about national title futures, there are a couple of things I like to consider.
The first thing is: which team do I feel strongly about winning two games in the first weekend? After that, matchups and seeding will play a pivotal role in determining who can win the required six games.
For example, in the South Region, it’s possible that a second-seeded Kentucky is matched up with a third-seeded Duke. Now, that would lead to a high-level Sweet 16 game. However, the two schools are often popular futures bets for many casual bettors, and one of their season’s will end that night.
The second is teams that are top-20 in both Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. That’s usually a strong indicator of which teams can the win the national title, and Kansas, last season, is the latest example.
Now, not every team that I mention in this piece will fall into that category, but UConn does.
UConn began the year unranked, but has vaulted up to No. 2 in both major polls.
Last month, I saw an interesting factoid that made me first think of the Huskies as a national title contender. It said the last three UConn teams that made it through November undefeated made the Final Four, and the last two won the title.
UConn not only got through November undefeated — it’s still undefeated, and it’s done so in dominating fashion. UConn has won all 12 games by double digits this season and is outscoring opponents by 26.2 points per game.
That includes top-50 victories over Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State, Florida and Oklahoma State, and a top-100 victory over Butler on Saturday.
Forward Adama Sanogo was the Preseason Big East Player of the Year, and he’s playing like it so far. He’s averaging 19.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and is shooting 62% from the field.
Guard Jordan Hawkins is averaging 14.2 points per game and shooting 41.7% from 3.
Highly-touted freshman Donovan Clingan is averaging 9.9 points and seven rebounds as one of the nation’s top sixth men.
The Huskies are seventh in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and third in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. That means they fit the profile of a typical national champion so far.
Additionally, Villanova is having a down season by its usual standard. That does not mean the Wildcats will not win the Big East, but they’re +1500 right now.
UConn has established itself as a heavy favorite to win the Big East at -150. A regular season title — along with a possible conference tournament title — could help the Huskies earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
That would help the Huskies earn a more favorable path.
UConn is a program that’s used to playing for and winning national titles. The Huskies have won four national titles in the last 25 years. This year’s bunch will have an excellent chance to cut down the nets if they remain healthy.
I will buy the Huskies at +1200 on DraftKings.
Last season, Arizona was +5000 in the preseason to win the national title. In year one of the Tommy Lloyd era, Arizona went 33-4 and earned a No. 1 seed before losing in the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats exceeded expectations so much that even making it to the Sweet 16 felt like a disappointment. Then, Bennedict Mathurin, Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko left for the NBA.
Yet, the Wildcats have not missed a beat, at least offensively.
Arizona ranks first nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, 2-point field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage.
Forward Azuolas Tubelis is averaging 20.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Center Oumar Ballo has moved into Koloko’s spot in the starting lineup, but has actually been more productive offensively. He’s averaging 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds a night.
Guards Pelle Larsson, Courtney Ramey and Kerr Kriisa are all double-digit scorers, while Kriisa paces the team with 6.7 assists a game.
However, the Wildcats are just 67th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. Arizona’s offense is great, but defense wins championships. It will have to get better on the other end to win the national title.
I have confidence that will happen, though. Lloyd has proven to be an excellent head coach already in his young career. The Wildcats were also 21st in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency last season.
Arizona has proven already it can handle top-flight competition. It has four AP Top 25 wins over Creighton, San Diego State, Indiana and Tennessee.
Arizona has the look of a team ready to make another deep run. I will buy the Wildcats at +1600.
The ACC has long been among the nation’s top basketball conferences, but last season was a down year for the league … or so we thought.
The conference saw three teams make the Elite Eight, and Duke and North Carolina advanced to the Final Four. Miami (FL) led eventual national champion Kansas at halftime before collapsing in the second half.
Miami finished as KenPom’s No. 41 team, ranking 19th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and 107th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
Enter Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech is off to an 11-1 start and is up No. 21 in the AP Top 25. The Hokies are up to 24th on KenPom, and they have the 17th-most efficient offense.
The Hokies have four double-digit scorers, led by guard Sean Pedulla, who’s averaging 17.3 points and four assists per game.
Forward Grant Basile is averaging 14 points and 5.6 rebounds a night. He presents a matchup problem, standing at 6-foot-9 while shooting 41% from 3.
Like Miami last season, Virginia Tech is excellent at protecting the ball. It ranks fourth nationally in turnover percentage (Miami was seventh last season).
Miami was more disruptive defensively than the Hokies are, but the Hokies have a better overall defense and have more size to compete on that end.
Rival Virginia is resurgent this season, but I expect Virginia Tech to finish in the top four of the conference, along with Virginia, North Carolina and Duke.
A top four finish may earn the Hokies a four or a five seed.
At their current odds, the Hokies are well worth the flier. They are +9000 on FanDuel.