College Basketball Betting: 10 Longshot Bets to Win the NCAA Tournament
March is finally here and the madness is not far behind. Some conference tournaments start as early as this week while Selection Sunday is less than two weeks away. It’s been a volatile college basketball season. This year, more than any in recent memory, as many as 25 teams have a legitimate chance to cut down the nets. Let’s look at 10 teams outside of the favorites that not only have the ability to make a deep run but offer a nice payout as well.
The Arizona Wildcats are perhaps the best dark horse heading into the NCAA Tournament. Arguably the best team in the PAC-12, the Cats have the makeup of a championship team. The Wildcats are ranked 32nd or better in both offensive and defensive efficiency according to KenPom and faced a top 50 strength of schedule. Nico Mannion is a freshman of the year candidate and has the talent to lead this team to the Final Four. There is a reason the Wildcats are the 17th-best team in KenPom’s rankings.
Gonzaga and San Diego State receive much of the mid-major attention but there is one team people are mistakenly forgetting to mention. The BYU Cougars boast one of the best offenses in the country and have crept up to 11th in KenPom’s rankings following last week’s 13-point win over Gonzaga. The Cougs have three overtime losses and another by a single point and are battle tested thanks to a tough non-conference schedule (San Diego State, UCLA, Houston, Kansas, Utah State, and Virginia Tech). And a blowout win over Pepperdine on the road on the heels of that marquee victory over the Zags shows this team is focused and peaking at the right time.
Way under the radar, the Cougars are one of only seven teams to rank inside the top 22 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Houston is a team that could have one of six players go off on any given night which makes them a tough team to defend. Multiple weapons, a deep bench, and an elite defense are three common ingredients for teams that succeed in March. Houston has all three.
Noted for its defense, the Badgers have found their groove on the offensive end as they recently crept into the top 40 in offensive efficiency. But a March run will be predicated on frustrating opponents with a slow tempo and a suffocating defense. Look no further than Virginia’s title run last year. Wisconsin resume doesn’t look as impressive but they also played in the toughest and deepest conference in the country. This is a team no one wants to play in a one-and-done environment.
Another team out of the elite Big Ten, the Illinois Fighting Illini have put together one of the more surprising performances in the country. Currently sitting in third, Illinois has a number of big wins over teams like Penn State, Michigan, Indiana, Purdue, Rutgers, and Wisconsin. Illinois ranks in the top 50 in both offensive and defensive efficiency as well as strength of schedule. They play solid defense and rebound the ball well. They also have three players averaging at least 10.9 ppg including stud Ayo Dosunmu (16.4 ppg). Their odds are almost an insult for a team that could certainly reach the second weekend of the tournament and possibly go on a big run from there.
Texas Tech 100-1
Different personnel, but the results have been similar for Texas Tech who reached the Final Four last season. The Red Raiders once again have one of the best defenses in the country (10th in efficiency). And while the offense isn’t elite, it should be noted they rank second in the Big 12 in efficiency; a conference that top to bottom was the best from a defensive perspective. Overall, here’s a team with tournament experience, great outside shooting (38.5% from 3 vs. Big 12), great free throw shooting (75.7%), and a top-tier defense to rely on when the shots don’t fall. Not a bad combo.
Back in mid-January it looked like Virginia might not even make the Big Dance. Now the defending champions are starting to play better with wins in nine out of their last 10. The scoring capability isn’t the same as last year following the departure of their three highest scorers but the defense remains elite. Virginia is second in defensive efficiency and allows the fewest points per game in the country (52.6). Mamadi Diakite, Kihei Clark, and Braxton Key are going to have to do almost all of the scoring if they want to make another run this year. However, with that defense and the experience from last season, it wouldn’t shock me to see this team advance to the third weekend.
Colorado is another team that is a bit of a surprise this season. The Buffaloes rank inside the top 50 in both offense and defense efficiency while playing the 47th-toughest schedule. They have balance as well with four players capable of knocking down shots from deep and a low post scorer in Evan Battey. They remind me a little of 2018’s Villanova squad that was perimeter oriented but could get in the paint when needed. Colorado’s stock has taken a bit of a hit after three straight losses but don’t them out.
Marquette is the opposite of some of the teams on this list like Texas Tech or Virginia. The Golden Eagles like to play fast-paced and pile on the points more than play defense. Marquette is 13th in offensive efficiency thanks to one of the best players in the country in Markus Howard, who is averaging 27.6 ppg. Howard will have to be Kemba Walker-like if he wants to lead the Golden Eagles to the Final Four but he is certainly capable of doing it if he gets enough help from the supporting cast of Sacar Anim and Koby McEwen. There’s similarities to last year’s Auburn team that wasn’t elite defensively but caught fire in the tournament and was a point away from playing for a National Championship.
Arizona State 365-1
Talent-wise, you aren’t going to find many if any teams at this price that are on Arizona State’s level. The Sun Devils are led by Remy Martin (19.6 ppg) but also feature Alonzo Verge Jr. (14.2 ppg), Rob Edwards (11.3 ppg) and Romello White (10.3 ppg). There’s not much beyond that but while depth is nice to have this time of year, all four of those players are capable of carrying ASU to victory. It’s odd to see Arizona State’s defense (37th) rank ahead of its offense (119th) but the potential to score from multiple spots on the floor is there. They play fast and are reckless at times, but it’s a gritty bunch that have shown a knack for winning ugly.