It's that time of the year, folks. The time where you are looking to start that magical ticket run and cash it like we did with Nova (25/1) 3 years ago and Virginia two years ago (18/1). We'll see if we can make it a three year run and there is plenty of good value out there. Hell, even last year we had value with our tickets after hitting Houston +400 to win the AAC.
We'll set it up this way. We'll run through my 5 favorite bets to make, I like taking a shot on a couple of teams for futures. We'll run through those I want to fade and why. We'll also take a look at some conference championship bets that are worth taking.
Feel free to fade as normal. Like someone I don’t have out there? Let me know too.
All line are from our friends at Penn National and the Barstool Sportsbook
Gonzaga (+900/+150 to make the Final Four)
The shortest odds we're taking are Gonzaga here. They are absolutely loaded and arguably the best team in the country heading into the season, even with the loss of Killian Tillie and Fillip Petrusev. The biggest thing is they bring back Joel Ayayi, who was testing the waters to pair with Corey Kispert and Drew Timme. Timme is the one everyone is assume breaks out this year and makes All-American teams. Oh, not to mention they add Jalen Suggs, who is a 5-star recruit and contemplated going pro right out of high school. Make no mistake, they will play with a ton of pace and they will score a lot. The question is if they improve defensively. And I know people see Gonzaga and immediately write them off because of lack of NCAA Tournament success. This team is fucking good.
Illinois (+1500/+300 to make the Final Four)
Get excited Carl. Get the orange helmet and Deron Williams jersey out. Kofi Cockburn (still a shame it's not pronounced the way it's spelled) and Ayo. Ayo is a legit NPOY candidate, even with Luka Garza returning. They do lose a bit of depth with Andre Feliz, Alan Griffen and Kipper Nichols all graduating/transferring, but they bring in Jacob Granderson from Holy Cross who averaged 14 a game. They have what everyone likes though with the star guard, experience with Trent Frazier and they can play a couple different ways. They can go big with Kofi and Giorgi or go small playing just one of them. Most importantly they made the switch defensively from jumping everything and blitzing and we saw that payoff last year. Love the way this Illini team is built.
Kentucky (+1500/+300 to make the Final Four)
Come on like we're not going to take Kentucky? It's rare to get them at 15/1 and we're jumping on this while we wait for Olivier Sarr's eligibility decision. If Sarr is deemed eligible, which he should thanks to the fact eligibility doesn't matter this year, this is a top-5 team in the country. I know they only return Keion Brooks, but Sarr is a double-double guy. BJ Boston and Lance Ware are two guys who are one-and-dones and can carry a team. Plus you just have to bank on Calipari in the NCAA Tournament. Since he took over Kentucky, nobody has more NCAA Tournament wins than him. You're always alive with Kentucky and I don't think we see them with better odds than 15/1.
Houston (+3000/+900 to make the Final Four)
You're giving me a top-10 team at +3000 and +900 to make a Final Four? Yeah I'm going to take that every day of the week. They have a monster 3-headed backcourt with DeJon Jarreau, Quintin Grimes and Marcus Sasser. Not to mention they have Caleb Mills and Cameron Tyson - both double digit scorers likely coming off the bench. Kelvin Sampson has turned Houston into a powerhouse in the AAC and they were a 3 seed just a couple years ago. Last year they were going to be a favorable seed as well, finishing top-15 on KenPom. If they can get consistent play from the frontcourt, they run away with the AAC and look to be a top-2 seed for me. I'm jumping all over this.
Texas Tech (+3500/+800 to make the Final Four)
Pretty simple here. Chris Beard is arguably the best game coach in the country. Look at what he's done at Texas Tech, a program with little success and has gotten them to a title game, one they probably should have won. He consistently turns lower recruits into NBA prospects and that defensive is no joke. They are behind Kansas and Baylor in the Big-12 but this is still a top-10 team. Marcus Santo-Silva, a transfer from VCU, is the exact type of center Beard loves to have defensively. They are going to be physical and let him protect the rim. Then you have Terrence Shannon and Kyler Edwards, one of which will take a massive jump. Give me Chris Beard at +3500 and let's go to Whataburger.
Longshots to take
Texas (+5000/+1150 to make the Final Four)
My biggest fear here is Shaka Smart. He hasn't lived up to the hype at Texas and that's because of the disconnect between his coaching style and what Texas wants. You can't run Havoc while recruiting top guys. Havoc works with 3-stars that buy into the system for 4 years. At Texas he has to recruit with the big boys. That said they have the talent this year to make a big time run. They give you a weird look running three point guards in Andrew Jones (who beat cancer and is an awesome story), Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman. They bring back Jericho Sims at the center spot who runs the high pick and roll and dives immediately to the rim. More importantly they have a ton of balance and depth. If Shaka can be the Shaka at VCU at all, this team is going to make a run. They'll be ranked in the preseason so we'll take the shot on them here.
Seton Hall (+8000/+1900 to make the Final Four)
Yep, despite losing Myles Powell I still like this Seton Hall team. They have good size in the starting lineup with Bryce Aiken (Harvard transfer) being the only guy under 6'5" out there. We also saw Seton Hall play without Myles Powell last year and get a quality win over Maryland, so we know a little bit of life without him. Mamu comes back to give them the offensive star, he just needs to be better defensively. But we're talking longshots here. Why not take Seton Hall at +8000 for a small amount?
Conference Champion bets
AAC - Houston (+175)
Typically the AAC comes down to Houston or Cincinnati and I don't love the UC team this year. You saw what I said about Houston already, so don't need to go too deep here. Like I said, they are a top-10 team and getting them at +175 is something I'm jumping ALL over.
ACC - Florida State (+300)
The ACC is pretty wide open this year. Virginia is the favorite and rightfully so, but don't sleep on Florida State. Scottie Barnes is a big time recruit and a hell of a player. Adding him to that system with M.J. Walker and Raiquan Gray? Sign me up for that. Leonard Hamilton always has Florida State competing in the regular season too. That's the key here. There's going to be an unbalanced schedule so you hope that FSU catches a break over Virginia, Duke and Louisville. At +300 we'll go with the Noles.
Big 10 - Illinois (+355)
The Big 10 is WIDE open this year. People love Iowa, I don't really love them. People love Wisconsin too and rightfully so after they won a share of the title last year and return nearly everyone. But I'm looking at a bit of regression for Wisconsin since they won 5 of the last 8 games by single digits. That has to balance out at some point. Yeah, MSU has Izzo and Hauser, but Cassius Winston was just so important to them. Give me Ayo and give me +355.
Pac-12 - Oregon (+435)
Yeah, the Pac-12 still plays basketball and I can't believe I'm saying this but we're going with Oregon despite losing Peyton Pritchard. Those odds are just too good with the best coach in the conference. They do return Will Richardson and Chris Duarty, both of whom averaged double digits last year. They are bringing in Eric Williams, Eugene Omoruyi and Amauri Hardy via transfer and they all averaged double digits. If they can get LJ Figueora a transfer, then this team is absolutely loaded and +435 is a steal. Plus who do you trust in the Pac-12? UCLA? Arizona State? Give me Oregon.