Experienced College Basketball Teams Worth a Futures Bet: Don’t Sleep on Nevada
- In the one-and-done era of college basketball, having experienced upperclassmen can be the difference between a deep run in the tournament and a quick out.
- Nevada is poised to make more magic in March with a large crop of returning players.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski adopted the one-and-done philosophy in 1999, entering the realm with Corey Maggette. Twelve seasons later, the program has seen at least one freshman enter the NBA draft every year with the exception of the 2012-13 season.
Krzyzewski’s squads began averaging three one-and-done prospects two seasons after that. The Blue Devils’ recent run has resulted in just one national title, though, which was led by freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones in 2015.
Of all the teams in last season’s tournament field, 63% boasted a top-190 finish in KenPom’s Experience Factor. Earn a trip to March Madness and bizarre outcomes occur, typically through the Elite Eight and occasionally in the Final Four (Butler, 2010-11).
No. 7 seed Nevada, No. 11 seed Loyola-Chicago, No. 13 seed Buffalo and No. 16 seed UMBC — who all fell within the crop — demonstrated just that last season.
Higher seeds’ experience remains just as crucial. No. 1 seed Kansas and No. 3 seed Texas Tech rode it to the Final Four and Elite Eight, respectively.
Which programs’ experience could pay dividends this season? Let’s find out.
*Odds via Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook unless otherwise noted
Nevada Wolf Pack
- Final Four Odds: 11-4
- National Title Odds: 12-1
The Wolf Pack’s 22-point comeback against Cincinnati in the Round of 32 pleased many live bettors, and their 14 upperclassmen are bound to make another push. Nevada is built around graduate transfers, including twins Caleb and Cody Martin (North Carolina State) as well as Jordan Caroline (Southern Illinois).
The program has Ken Pom’s top Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AdjO) rating at 116.8, but their success will likely be determined by Lindsey Drew, who’s still finding his form after rehabbing from a season-ending Achilles injury.
- Final Four Odds: 100-1
- National Title Odds: 500-1
The Crimson are in position to end their four-year March Madness drought this season with 13 upperclassmen.
Junior forwards Seth Towns (No. 16 in Shot Percentage; No. 38 in Possession Percentage) and Chris Lewis (No. 88 in Block Percentage; No. 89 in Effective Field Goal Percentage; 60. 3 EFG%) form a sound one-two punch in their frontcourt. Harvard’s 54th-ranked Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (AdjD) — a team’s estimated defense efficiency versus an average Division I offense — should stymie its opponents as well.
- Final Four Odds: 9-4
- National Title Odds: 10-1
Killian Tillie — one of the Gonzaga’s 10 upperclassmen — is expected to miss the Bulldogs’ non-conference slate after undergoing stress fracture surgery. Gonzaga wouldn’t appreciate losing ground on a higher seed, but the sharps would jump on them come March.
The Bulldogs’ current futures don’t provide much value. If they lose a step, an elite unit led by Tillie, Josh Perkins and Rui Hachimura could very well cash in.
Sophomore Zach Norvell Jr., who is one of the top bets across college basketball to breakout, deserves an honorable mention even with underclassmen status.
West Virginia Mountaineers
- Final Four Odds: 8-1
- National Title Odds: 40-1
The Mountaineers lost Jevon Carter, the most recent leader of head coach Bob Huggins’ Press Virginia, along with a skilled scorer in Daxter Miles Jr.
Nevertheless, the team has accumulated nine upperclassmen (eight juniors) with the likes Sagaba Konate, who is second in the nation in Block Percentage last season, and Esa Ahmad. West Virginia will need guard James Bolden to take the next step, representing the lone returning backcourt contributor.
Michigan State Spartans
- Final Four Odds: 5-1
- National Title Odds: 25-1
Former Spartans’ Jaren Jackson Jr. and Miles Bridges both shifted to the NBA, but Tom Izzo’s bunch still enters this season with eight upperclassmen.
Juniors Cassius Winston, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford should be ready for expanded roles. Winston exhibited the highest ceiling last season as one of Michigan State’s finer shot hunters down the stretch.
The 6-foot, 185-pound point guard placed No. 9 across the sport in True Shooting Percentage (68.0%), as well as No. 2 in Assist Rate (43.7%). If it wasn’t for typical tournament-buster Syracuse in the Round of 32, the Spartans had a defense that could have carried them further in the Big Dance, yielding the second-lowest AdjD.
- Final Four Odds: 250-1
- National Title Odds: 1000-1
*Odds via 5Dimes
The Bulls are coming off their upset win over Arizona last March while boasting 10 upperclassmen, eight of whom are seniors.
The group manufactured the 34th-best AdjO and combined to assemble a high-volume firearm, accumulating the 16th-highest Adjusted Tempo, which are possessions per 40 minutes against an average DI tempo.
If CJ Massinburg, who has the 62nd-best Offensive Rating on KenPom, continues to refine his game, look out.
St. Joseph’s Hawks
- Final Four Odds: 125-1
- National Title Odds: 500-1
*Odds via 5Dimes
The Redhawks, who are projected to land behind top-dog Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10, have nine upperclassmen. After the Redhawks’ top two scorers Shavar Newkirk and James Demery graduated, redshirt junior Lamarr Kimble must improve upon his 41.9 EFG% from two campaigns ago.
Kimble missed all but one game in 2017-18 with a foot fracture. Redshirt sophomore Charlie Brown Jr. also returns following a campaign-ending broken wrist.
Experienced SEC Teams
- Tennessee’s Final Four Odds: 5-1; National Title: 25-1
- Mississippi State’s Final Four Odds: 20-1; National Title: 100-1
- Auburn’s Final Four Odds: 8-1; National Title: 40-1
I’ve already touted Tennessee and Mississippi State. The two programs boast eight upperclassmen apiece, including Tennessee junior Grant Williams, who is the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.
How about Auburn, though?
The Tigers have nine juniors and four seniors, guided by Bryce Brown, and own the 26th-highest AdjO entering the season. Don’t count out Bruce Pearl’s core despite his failure to reach the Final Four in his 14 campaigns on college basketball’s sidelines.
Experienced AAC Teams
- Central Florida’s Final Four Odds: 40-1; National Title: 200-1
- Houston’s Final Four Odds: 40-1; National Title: 200-1
- Cincinnati’s Final Four: 15-1; National Title: 80-1
UCF’s potential with 11 upperclassmen — including the 7-foot-6, 310-pound Tacko Fall — was revealed in the underrated college hoops’ programs. But Houston deserves the most consideration in this category, retaining 12 upperclassmen.
Junior guard Corey Davis Jr. guides the crew, as he notched the 65th-highest Offensive Rating on KenPom last season.
Cincinnati, a defensive stalwart under coach Mick Cronin, could surprise with seven upperclassmen in the mix, too.