Futures odds are fun to monitor throughout the season in any sport, but they’re particularly interesting in college basketball, where the NCAA Tournament ideally gives you a chance to hedge any futures bet you placed in the season’s early months.
After all, no one realistically thinks a team like Purdue will win the title this year at 75-to-1 odds. But if the Boilermakers make a surprise run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight? That presents you with a nice guaranteed-profit opportunity.
Since the first odds were released in mid-October, several teams have made moves — either forward or backward — based on their early-season performance. Some are baffling (Duke to first overall), while others make much more sense (like Missouri rising or Pittsburgh falling).
Scroll all the way to the bottom for my “Best Value” pick.
DUKE | Open: +875 | Current: +250
Breakdown: The Blue Devils opened with the fifth-highest odds to win the national title, and that seemed about right. Now — after a 9-1 start — they’ve moved into a tie for the highest odds with Ohio State, which beat them 85-63 on Nov. 29.
The explanation for this simply has to be that Mike Kyzyzewski is the best in the country at getting his team to peak in March. Because this team has flaws, most notably in its perimeter defense, where offensive playmakers like Austin Rivers haven’t yet learned how to defend against dribble penetration.
MISSOURI | Open: +10000 | Current: +2800
Breakdown: At the beginning of the season, there was all kinds of value to be had in Missouri, a team with plenty of experience but entering its first season under coach Frank Haith, who was enduring off-the-court drama with the Nevin Shapiro allegations at Miami.
But the players have taken to Haith’s system, and he’s found a way to brilliantly utilize the Tigers’ influx of talent at the guard position to overwhelm opponents athletically. Missouri is third nationally at 85.4 points per game, but the Tigers are first nationally in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.23 points per possession.
A team that is so thin along the front line is always susceptible to an early-round upset if it gets bitten by foul trouble, but at these odds it still seems like there’s some decent value in Mizzou.
MICHIGAN | Open: +4500 | Current: +2000
Breakdown: The Wolverines have the added benefit of being led by a tournament-proven coach in John Beilein, who consistently gets his teams to overachieve in the games that matter most.
Michigan’s start to the season hasn’t been overly impressive, with wins over Memphis, UCLA and Oakland and losses to Duke and Virginia. But this team has the talent to make a run, and opening them at 45-to-1 was just too much.
* * *
NORTH CAROLINA | Open: +275 | Current: +400
Breakdown: No, the Tar Heels haven’t nose-dived down in these futures odds after losses to UNLV and Kentucky early in the season, but they are behind both Duke and Ohio State now after opening the year as the odds-on favorites.
If you’re looking to max out the value in placing a futures bet on this flush-with-talent team, now might be the time. Just scanning the rosters, it’d be hard to make the argument that Duke has a better chance than North Carolina in 2012. And it’s not like the Heels are coached by a homeless guy. Roy Williams already has two national championships on his resume, and there’s a good chance he’ll have a third by April.
LOUISVILLE | Open: +850 | Current: +1200
Breakdown: This is one that doesn’t make much sense, given that Louisville is still undefeated and has good-but-not-great wins over Butler, Long Beach State and Vanderbilt in the early going. The Cardinals have moved up to fourth in both polls and are sixth in the country in scoring defense, allowing only 52.7 points per game.
Perhaps this is merely a correction of the market from the beginning of the season, when bettors thought Louisville was overvalued at the fourth-highest odds. Rick Pitino hasn’t won a title since 1996 with Kentucky and hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2005, but he has one of his most talented teams of the past few seasons.
PITTSBURGH | Open: +2200 | Current: +3500
Breakdown: After a home loss to Long Beach State dropped them from the Top 10, the Panthers have reeled off seven consecutive victories, but none of them were over particularly formidable opponents. A road win at Tennessee or a victory over Oklahoma State on a neutral court is probably the biggest feather in Pittsburgh’s cap to this point.
The bottom line is, this team was overvalued at the beginning of the season. Even when the Panthers are among the most talented teams in the nation, they have trouble with early round upsets and have never made a Final Four.
If you’re betting a team solely for the purposes of hedging down the road, Pittsburgh’s tournament history makes it a very risky option.
* * *
WISCONSIN | Open: +6600 | Current: +4500
Breakdown: Call me crazy, but how can the Badgers still carry a better payout than teams like Texas, UCLA, Memphis and Notre Dame? It makes zero sense.
Bo Ryan has to be one of the most underrated coaches in America. No matter the talent, the guy gets his players to play ferocious defense, and it’s a style that translates well to winning in March because it’s not shooting dependent. Ryan has never made a Final Four, but he’s appeared in four Sweet 16′s and one Elite Eight, and you know eventually he’s going to break through.
College hoops statistician Ken Pomeroy has Wisconsin rated No. 1 in his power rankings, as the Badgers lead the country in scoring defense (44.9 points per game) and allow only 33.5 percent field-goal shooting.
If you’re looking to present yourself with a great hedge opportunity when Wisconsin makes a run in the tourney, it’d be wise to scoop up the value now before the odds continue to rise.