Preseason NCAA Basketball Futures Odds & Picks: Our Staff’s Best Bets for 2021
Joe Murphy/Getty Images. Pictured: Tyson Etienne (1) of the Wichita State Shockers at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tennessee, home of the Memphis Tigers basketball team.
It’s almost time. Meaningful college basketball is officially back on Tuesday with a plethora of games and the traditional blue-blood event of the Champions Classic.
Before we dive into individual matchups, what is our staff eyeing from a futures perspective before the season tips off?
Here are our 11 best bets for the college basketball season.
2021 College Basketball Futures Picks
The team logos in the table below represent each of teams that our college basketball betting staff is betting in the preseason conference and national futures markets. Click individual team logos throughout this article in order to navigate to a specific betting pick discussed herein.
|Specific bet recommendations come from the sportsbook offering preferred odds as of writing. Always shop for the best price using our NCAAB Odds page, which automatically surfaces the best lines for every game.|
Don’t get it twisted, this Texas team is going to be a powerhouse. There are few coaches as consistent as Chris Beard.
Beard brings seven transfers and a top-50 freshmen class with him for his first year at the helm with the Longhorns. Tack on Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey returning for one more year, and a National Championship is a realistic goal.
Despite a complete makeover from last season, the Longhorns will be one of the deepest teams in college basketball.
Marcus Carr is a prolific scorer and will take over the floor general duties left behind by Matt Coleman III. Dylan Disu, Tre Mitchell, Christian Bishop and Timmy Allen all produced at their previous destinations and make up Texas’ frontcourt.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention former five-star prospect Devin Askew, too.
Texas checks all the boxes for a National Championship contender. They are led by one of the best coaches in college basketball who is known for deep runs in March. They have enough experience and star power to run with anyone.
But above all, they will be a defensive stalwart, much like Beard’s previous teams.
I grabbed some Texas stock earlier and at +1500, I think it’s still worth a play. This number has dropped over the last few months as hype grows around the Longhorns. They are among the country’s elite teams — as the price indicates — and will only get more expensive as the season progresses.
Even with a potential slow start out of the gate, I expect Texas to gel with time. Come March, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this number nearly halved.
Trust the veteran experience this team brings and back Beard in his pursuit for a National Championship.
Pick: Texas +1500 to Win National Title (Bet to +1200)
Last season, I watched the Gonzaga-Baylor National Championship at my local casino sportsbook. There was a packed crowd with people hooting and hollering for both sides all game. It was an enjoyable experience, especially for those with Baylor tickets.
While most people celebrated, I was already back to work on my phone eyeing 2022 National Championship futures.
After numerous drinks consumed and an instant bet on my Tar Heels to win it all as I do every year, I decided to focus more on the board and see where the value lied.
From early on, my attention was brought to Purdue +2500. I took an early piece with hopes that Trevion Williams would de-commit from the NBA Draft and return with eligibility. My hopes came true.
Now, I am even more in love with this future.
Purdue returns all its starters, some of its bench and it bolstered its depth with two top-100 recruits in Trey Kaufman-Renn and Caleb Furst. This will be a very deep squad, one that will be pushing Big Ten-favorite Michigan to its limits.
Head coach Matt Painter has shown in the past that he can lead the Boilers on a deep run in the tournament. That run was a Carsen Edwards-led team that lost in narrow fashion to Virginia in the Elite Eight. That one still stings.
With Williams returning, Zach Edey gaining more experience and depth to rival anyone, this Purdue squad is poised to make a deep run once again come March.
I grabbed the opener at +2500 and I would play this down to +1600, which can still be found at DraftKings.
Pick: Purdue +2500 to Win National Title (Bet to +1600)
By Doug Ziefel
This Memphis Tigers team is not only the best team in their conference, but is one of the best teams in the nation. They are evenly priced with Houston when they should be the clear favorites.
Penny Hardaway may have his deepest and most complete roster yet.
He brought in two of the top freshmen recruits in the country, the premier one being Emoni Bates. The 6-foot-9 small forward can do it all.
Paul Biancardi, ESPN’s national recruiting director said, “Bates is considered one of the most gifted offensive players in the game.”
Bates will be joined by the seventh-overall recruit in the nation, Jalen Duren. Duren possesses an NBA frame with a well-developed post game and the reputation as an intimidating defender and shot blocker.
Outside of their starting five, the Tigers have potentially one of the best sixth men in Alex Lomax. The junior guard is the team’s floor general, as he led the unit in assists last season while also being regarded as a top-tier defender.
Speaking of defense, which has been the calling card of Hardaway’s program, Memphis is projected to be the No. 1 team in defensive efficiency rating, according to Bart Torvik.
The combination of elite defense and tremendous offensive potential not only gives this Memphis team the ability to win its conference, but even contend for a national title.
Pick: Memphis +250 to Win AAC
The Bellarmine Knights are priced as the seventh-shortest odds to win the ASUN regular-season title. I find this insane for a team that came up just one win short last year — not to mention that game was their first coming off of a COVID pause and was against the best team in the league
The Knights return 11 of their top 12 scorers from a season where they led the league in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom. Two of the six teams with better odds than Bellarmine are in their first year as members of the league and coming from lesser conferences.
Outside of just odds, I love this play because Bellarmine is still in its transitional period for the ASUN. They are not eligible for postseason play outside of the conference, so a regular-season championship is one of the highest achievements possible for this team.
I expected to see Bellarmine’s regular-season odds within the top three, maybe top five at worst. Liberty is obviously the best team in the conference while Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky in my opinion are at a similar level to Bellarmine.
The latter two teams are in their first year in the conference, though. I expect them to have trouble against the Knights like the rest of the league had last year.
Meanwhile, Lipscomb, Stetson and FGCU are just not as good as the Knights.
Give me the Knights on what I think are inflated odds to win the ASUN regular-season title.
Pick: Bellarmine +1800 to Win ASUN (Bet to +1500)
The Xavier Musketeers have missed the Big Dance the past three seasons. Head coach Travis Steele will be feeling the heat to return to the NCAA Tournament in his fourth season.
For a program with a decorated past of not only making the tourney but inflicting a significant amount of damage along the way, this is a critical season.
Fortunately for Steele and Xavier, the pieces are there.
After finishing last season with a 6-7 record in the Big East, Xavier looks to regroup and return with a proven veteran roster. It welcomes back its top-seven scorers from last season.
Returning Second Team All-Big East selections Zach Freemantle and Paul Scruggs will anchor the frontcourt and backcourt, respectively. High-major transfers Jack Nunge from Iowa and Jerome Hunter from Indiana will only bolster what is one of the top rosters in the Big East.
Returning and transfer production will only improve a Musketeer team that scored 74.8 points per game last season, which ranked third in the Big East.
In November, the Musketeers will face Ohio State, Iowa State, Memphis and Virginia Tech. This difficult schedule will help iron out any growing pains before Big East play starts. Xavier will be battle-tested by the time its Dec. 21 tip-off with Villanova takes place.
Xavier will be one of the most complete teams in the Big East behind Villanova. The hang-up for the Wildcats this season is going to be their ability to reload after losing Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to the NBA.
Graduate student Collin Gillespie is the unquestioned leader of the Wildcats and will be back for his final season after suffering a knee injury. Villanova will be a very good team, but there are production issues to backfill, creating a feasible path for Xavier to steal one or two wins from it.
The Musketeers have everything in place to make a serious push for the Big East Conference Championship. I am projecting Xavier to finish a close second in regular-season play, which puts a regular-season conference championship firmly in its sight.
The Musketeers are +800 to win the Big East, which is simply too long for the caliber of talent this team will be showcasing this season.
Take Xavier to win the Big East regular season at +700 or better.
Pick: Xavier +800 to Win Big East (Bet to +700)
By Jim Root
I know, I know – only +120 as my favorite future bet? Live a little, Jim!
Of course, +120 is actually pretty terrific value considering the variety of other lines out there: DraftKings has this at -105, FanDuel is at -115 and Barstool is all the way at -155.
That’s the thing — I agree with all of the other books.
Villanova is the clear best team in the conference and with Jay Wright on the sideline, you know the Wildcats are going to play smart and execute. Over the past eight seasons, Wright and Villanova have won the Big East outright six times, tying for first and finishing second the other two years.
Quite simply, Wright knows how to dominate this league.
Of course, it helps that Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels returned for their super senior seasons.
Gillespie is an extension of his coach on the floor and he is the only one of three 2020-21 Big East Players of the Year to return to school (yes, there were three — weird, I agree).
Samuels, meanwhile, is mega versatile defensively and an efficient monster on the offensive end.
Justin Moore and Bryan Antoine have significant untapped upside, as well, which will be needed to replace the departed Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
The Wildcats’ primary weakness is interior defense. That flaw flared up frequently last year, with Villanova’s 2P% defense being the worst in Wright’s tenure — the first time it has ever crept above 50%. Unless freshman Nnanna Njoku is ready for big minutes, that issue will persist.
Fortunately, few Big East foes possess the interior dominance to truly punish Nova. Plus, Villanova’s deep arsenal of offensive weapons and versatile wings should be enough to offset that — as they were last year.
The lack of a clear secondary contender sweetens the pot. UConn is widely thought of as the Big East’s No. 2, but while the Huskies’ defense will be elite, they have major questions offensively.
St. John’s has a talented pair in Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander, but Mike Anderson has a bevy of newcomers to incorporate.
Xavier and Seton Hall have talent, but Travis Steele has yet to point the Musketeers in the right direction and the Pirates could have scoring issues of their own.
No other Big East team resides inside of the top 20 at KenPom or the AP poll.
You can make the argument that Villanova has the best player and the best coach in the conference.
With Wright’s track record and Gillespie’s leadership, +120 is tremendous value to back the Wildcats.
Pick: Villanova +120 to Win Big East (Bet to Even)
Scrolling through the futures markets available this season, this line jumped off the screen. When I saw multiple books were offering it at the same number, I jumped on it.
Illinois is absolutely going to miss All-American playmaker Ayo Dosunmu, but the cupboard is far from bare in Champaign. Brad Underwood returns 63% of last year’s minutes played — the fourth-highest in the conference.
Kofi Cockburn is a preseason All-American. Trent Frazier is back for a fifth season and on the short list for conference and national Defensive Player of the Year honors. Alfonso Plummer transfers in from Utah, having scored 14 points per game in the Pac-12, to help fill the void left by Dosunmu’s departure.
Most importantly, this projects to be a breakout year for Andre Curbelo. The shifty guard showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman last season and should receive the keys to the offense this year. With Cockburn as a pick-and-roll partner, Curbelo will spark the Illini offense to great heights this season.
The Fighting Illini are listed at a modest +700 to win the Big Ten, the fourth-highest odds in the conference. Yet, KenPom and Bart Torvik’s preseason projections have Illinois ranked No. 5 nationally.
That value is too good to pass up.
Pick: Illinois +700 to Win Big Ten (Bet to +550)
By Matt Cox
Western Kentucky may be the most talented mid-major in all of college basketball. That, in and of itself, warrants a closer look at +700 to win the Conference USA regular-season crown.
For starters, the C-USA is a deep, parity-ridden 14-team field. There appears to be a clear-cut top three, but upwards of eight teams could make a legitimate push if all breaks right. That simple dynamic is partly why the Tops are priced at a bargain.
As for the Tops themselves, the market sees a team that lost nine players off of last year’s roster. That includes three starters, one of which was interior destroyer Charles Bassey, a former McDonald’s All-American.
Finally, Keith Williams, a Cincinnati transfer and potential C-USA Player of the Year frontrunner, is currently facing eligibility hiccups as he awaits the NCAA to clear him for takeoff.
Those concerns are quickly mitigated by the rest of this loaded roster. Rick Stansbury is a talent vacuum, and Williams is just the tip of the iceberg.
New additions Jairus Hamilton (Maryland) and Jaylen Butz (DePaul) were both key cogs at power conference programs. Fifth-year senior Josh Anderson was a high-end four-star prospect, a rare blend of blue-chip pedigree and seasoned experience.
Rising sophomore point guard Dayvion McKnight was a high-end three-star prospect and former Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky.
Incoming freshman Zion Harmon is Stansbury’s latest catch, another top-100 prospect with untapped potential. And Williams, who should be green lit by conference play, is another heralded recruit with dominant alpha dog upside.
The convenient knock on WKU is, ironically, Stansbury himself, who’s often disrespected as an X’s and O’s tactician. Rather than litigate that subjective debate, let’s get to the bottom line. Has Stansbury done it before?
In short, yes. Despite the “underachiever” perception permeating around this program, WKU hasn’t finished lower than second since 2017, Stansbury’s first year at the helm.
Nitpick Stanbury’s lack of sophistication at your own peril.
Pick: Western Kentucky +700 to Win C-USA (Bet to +500)
Colorado State only finished a half-game behind San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference standings last season, even though the Aztecs were a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament and the Rams settled for an NIT bid.
College basketball is all about returning production and few teams have as much as Niko Medved’s squad. The Rams rank 24th in the country in returning minutes and have one of the more intriguing mid-major roster constructions in the entire country.
The ability to go five-out on offense is something most defenses don’t see. Do-it-all 6-foot-5 big man David Roddy adds important rebounding and passing ability from the interior to help combat the Rams’ lack of size.
Bigger and more athletic teams can give the Rams nightmares — like Memphis did in the NIT Semifinal — but no one in the Mountain West this year is a bad matchup for the Rams.
Nevada should be improved, but San Diego State is losing a lot of players (185th in returning minutes) and Utah State will be without Neemias Queta and Marco Anthony, two key starters from last year, and head coach Craig Smith, who left for Utah.
Colorado State is led by its shifty yet sharpshooting guard in Isaiah Stevens, who made significant passing and shooting improvements from his freshman to sophomore year and could improve further.
Roddy is difficult to move on the block and plays bigger than he is and Adam Thistlewood is an excellent shooter who could improve his consistency in his fourth year with the program.
Add in Dallas Baptist grad transfer Chandler Jacobs, who was headed to Texas Tech before he changed his mind, and Medved’s squad can absolutely compete in a wide-open MWC.
The Rams have probably the best offense in the league, an excellent home-court advantage in Fort Collins, a coach who’s a rising star and a ton of returning production.
At +400, they’re worth a bet.
Pick: Colorado State +400 to Win MWC (Bet to +300)
Wagner is wildly mispriced at +600 to win the regular-season NEC crown.
The Seahawks look to repeat as regular-season champions after finishing 13-5 in conference play last season. They lost to Mount St. Mary’s in the conference tournament in a matchup that included two of the top defensive teams in the league.
Wagner opened last season with a 1-5 record, including two close losses to Bryant on the road. The program regrouped, winning 12 of its final 13 conference games. Bashir Mason’s squad owned the top offensive efficiency ranking and grabbed offensive rebounds on 35% of its misses.
The Seahawks return four double-digit scorers, including three super seniors in Alex Morales, Elijah Ford and Will Martinez.
Morales is the reigning NEC Player of the Year and shot 36% from behind the arc last season.
KenPom has the Seahawks seeded in the top slot of the Northeast Conference heading into the 2022 season.
Bryant is seeded slightly below them and serves as the betting favorite to win the conference. But the Bulldogs connected on 38% of their 3-point attempts last season, including a 10-game stretch in which they hit 42%. They’re due for some regression in that manner, and teams should improve on the 28% they shot from behind the arc against Bryant.
The NEC has seen some improved teams in the middle of the pack, but they will all be chasing Wagner.
Pick: Wagner +600 to Win NEC
By Ky McKeon
New Mexico State is priced with the second-shortest odds to win the WAC behind Grand Canyon (+310), last year’s conference champion.
Oddsmakers have made the error of relying too much on last season’s wonky COVID-ridden results as a jumping off point for this season.
NMSU finished just 7-6 in the WAC last season, admittedly not great. But context matters here. Due to COVID rules, the Aggies were forced to move out of the state of New Mexico to practice and hosted “home games” in a high school gym in El Paso, Texas.
Chris Jans has dominated the WAC during the other three years of his head coaching tenure. His Aggies have finished 16-0, 15-1 and 12-2 over those three seasons and were regular-season champs in every single one of them.
This year, NMSU has arguably the most talented team in the league. The Aggies add two power-conference transfers in Nate Pryor (Washington) and Teddy Allen (Nebraska). They also bring back three All-WAC caliber players in Jabari Rice, Donnie Tillman and Johnny McCants.
I’ll take +325 with that roster any day and twice on Sunday.
Digging one step further, GCU is mispriced as well. The Lopes should still be a good team, but they lost their two best players from last season.
The WAC preseason media poll has New Mexico State ranked first and Grand Canyon ranked third. KenPom rates the Aggies No. 109 heading into the year and the Lopes at No. 149. Bart Torvik has NMSU at No. 96 and GCU at No. 144.
Any way you slice it, New Mexico State to win the WAC regular season title at +325 is an incredible value.
Pick: New Mexico State +325 to Win WAC
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