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Our Staff’s 5 Favorite National Title Value Bets Before Major Conference Tournaments Begin

Our Staff’s 5 Favorite National Title Value Bets Before Major Conference Tournaments Begin article feature image

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tariq Owens

  • Five of our staffers are highlighting their favorite longshot futures bet to win the NCAA Tournament before major conference tournaments begin.
  • But we're doing it a little bit differently by offering a team with a similar profile to a favorite, but at a much better price.

Before the high-major conferences begin conference tournament play, we want to highlight the best value bets in the college basketball futures market.

Rather than selecting individual teams to discuss, we’ll instead by comparing two teams with similar statistical profiles — one of which boasts equal or improved futures value.

For our statistical profiles, we’ll be using three metrics — each sourced from Ken Pomeroy — to compare teams with similar playing styles and aptitude:

Adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO): Points scored per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponents

Adjusted defensive efficiency (AdjD): Points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponents

Adjusted efficiency margin (AdjEM): The difference between a team’s offensive and defensive efficiency

Eli Hershkovich: Texas Tech (33-1) over Michigan (16-1)

The Wolverines (17-14 against the spread) and Red Raiders (15-15-1 ATS) sit back-to-back in last week’s AP Top 25 (seventh and eighth), and they’re also very similar profile-wise.

Texas Tech owns the top-ranked Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (85.3 opponents’ points per 100 possessions) in the country while Michigan sits right behind them at No. 2 (87.1 opponents’ points per 100 possessions). Although John Beilein’s unit owns the 18th-highest AdjO compared to the Red Raiders’ 34th-ranked unit, the Big 12 program appears to have a higher ceiling at that end of the court.

Chris Beard’s troops have covered in eight of their past nine games, and they’re averaging 1.20 points per possession over that stretch. No, I wasn’t drunk while typing that. That’s right around Duke and UNC territory, too.

The 6-foot-6 Jarrett Culver (18.3 points per game) has taken his primary scoring duties to another level in the latter part of this span. Combined with their elite ball pressure on the other side of the ball, Culver and his ‘mates are in position to go on a deep NCAA tournament run following last season’s Elite Eight finish.

“We had guys betting them [the Red Raiders] as high as 200-1 earlier in the year,” John Murray, the director at The Westgate SuperBook, told the Behind the Bets podcast. “We’re down to 20-1. … Of the teams that can realistically win the national championship, they are our biggest loser in the future pool.”

Mike Randle: Mississippi State (100-1) over LSU (50-1)

From a roster construction standpoint, these two team are mirror images. Both present near Top-20 rankings for offensive efficiency and Top-50 on defensive efficiency. Mississippi State is flying under the radar because of its mediocre 9-8 record in SEC play. However, there is always a marginal Power 5 team that makes a deep NCAA Tournament run, like Syracuse (19-12, 9-9) in 2016, South Carolina (24-8, 11-7) in 2017, and Kansas State (20-13, 8-10) last year.

LSU (25-5) won the SEC regular season title and is the only team in the country that can claim wins over both Kentucky and Tennessee. However, the Tigers have lived a charmed life with a 5-1 record in overtime games, and now their chemistry has been drastically changed.  Head coach Will Wade has been suspended indefinitely and freshman Javonte Smart (11.5 ppg) was also suspended for the last game of the season.

Mississippi State ranks first in SEC play in both blocks and steals per game. The Tigers have also excelled from beyond the arc, shooting 37.1% as a team in conference games. And the most important piece to this value puzzle? The Tigers are coached by Ben Howland, who took UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-2008.

Mississippi State was a much better value bet before all the recent LSU news. Now? It’s a slam dunk.

Ryan Collinsworth: Buffalo (200-1) over Nevada (50-1)

Both of these teams rank among the top-15 most-experienced squads in the country, each led by a group of seniors who can score and gang-rebound. Buffalo made noise in last season’s tournament by upsetting 4-seed Arizona, and Nevada made it to the Sweet 16 before Loyola-Chicago ended their run.

The Wolf Pack feature two excellent wings in Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline, who combine for 37.3 points per game. However, Buffalo counters that production with CJ Massinburg, Jeremy Harris and Nick Perkins, who combine to average 46.6 points per game.

Both squads boast experience, chemistry, and high effort, but Buffalo separates itself with its poise and consistency. In one of its worst offensive games this season against Toledo, Buffalo put its head down and continued to play as if winning was never in doubt. That game is indicative of how stalwart and composed the Bulls have been this season.

Nevada, on the other hand, has lost two of its last six games (against San Diego State and Utah State). In both of those matchups, the Wolf Pack could not reign in their emotion and relied too much on isolation offense down the stretch.

At 200-1, Buffalo is a steal here. Meanwhile, the Wolf Pack concern me after underperforming all season in a weak Mountain West Conference.

Stuckey: Washington (300-1) over Syracuse (100-1)

I recently added a half-unit on Washington at its updated odds. The Huskies have struggled of late in a very down year for the Pac-12, but I think their recent skid can be attributed to a few factors:

  • Shooting regression: They were shooting above their heads during the start of conference play.
  • Complacency: They have had everything wrapped up in the conference (regular season title/No. 1 seed) which I think drove a dip in focus.
  • Familiarity: Teams are clearly having more success when facing Washington for the second time. Clearly, seeing that vaunted zone once better prepares teams to face the Huskies in a second meeting.

Well, you won’t have to worry about complacency in the NCAA Tournament. And in regards to that third point, teams won’t have such a luxury starting next week.

Washington’s head coach Mike Hopkins spent 20 years as an assistant under Jim Boeheim and brought that same exact zone to the West Coast. And similar to what we’ve seen from the numerous Orange tourney runs in March, that unique zone will be a nightmare to face in a tourney setting in an unfamiliar gym.

Washington is Syracuse West. In fact, the Huskies are the only team running zone on defense at a higher clip than Syracuse (95.4% vs. 93.3%) and they are doing it with better efficiency.

Like ‘Cuse, the Huskies give up a ton of offensive boards, but they force teams into more bad shots on those second chances. UW is only allowing 0.804 points per possession, which is in the 97th percentile nationally.

The Huskies check a lot of boxes for me when it comes to making a run in the tourney:

  • Unique scheme.
  • Experience: UW ranks No. 1 in the nation in minutes continuity, per KenPom, which looks at the percentage of minutes by players on a team this year compared to last. The national average is around 50%; Washington is over 90%.
  • X-factor: Matisse Thybulle is arguably the most disruptive defender in the country and can dominate a game from that end of the floor.
  • Value.

I think the Huskies recent slide and the struggles of the Pac-12 are creating value in the market for a team that nobody wants to face in March. Remember that this Washington team lost by just two on the road at Gonzaga earlier this season. It can make a run in March with that zone and experience.

Collin Wilson: VCU (300-1) over Kansas State (30-1)

From a KenPom perspective, these teams are virtually the same. Kansas State does win out by a slim margin on the Adjusted Efficiency metrics on both offense and defense, but it’s the underlying factors that make VCU a value play. Luck and out of conference strength of schedule are both factors in KenPom, and both categories favor the Rams. VCU is mid-pack in the Luck department, while Kansas State ranks in the top 30. As a college football analyst that loves second order win total, the Wildcats have been fortunate with a 7-1 record in games determined by 7-points or less.

While Kansas State has had the tougher slate in conference play, VCU ranks top 80 in comparison to the Wildcats slipping just within the top 200. Some of those non-conference games include losses to Marquette and Tulsa. VCU is known for its defense, but a similar KenPom ranking to Kansas State does not paint a full picture.

The Rams are top 40 in blocks and top 100 in offensive rebounds, two categories the Kansas State defense is in the bottom half of all 353 teams. VCU also limits opponents to an offensive rating of 87.7, second-best in all of college hoops.

Teams have an effective Field Goal percentage of 42.8% against VCU, tied for second-best with Virginia and just shy of Texas Tech. Kansas State ranks just 64th in the same category.

Do not sleep on this VCU team, which is steamrolling the Atlantic 10 Conference.

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