College Basketball Betting: Long Shot Bets to Win the National Championship
College basketball has been tough on the eyes this season. With the 3-point line moved back, lack of superstar talent, referees “letting ’em play“, coaches of top-tier programs saying this, and efficiency being way down you end up with results like this, this, and, yes, even this. Another common theme has been the musical chairs played by this year’s “elite” as they rise and fall in the rankings on a seemingly daily basis. As bettors, rankings don’t mean much but this season, it’s perhaps a good indication that a lot of teams have a shot to reach the Final Four — and by “a lot”, I’m saying anyone currently in the top 50 should be considered “live.” Last year broke mold of the Final Four playing host to college basketball’s blue-blood elite as Texas Tech, Virginia, and Auburn all made it. Given how this year has played out, it’s likely we’ll see even more “newcomers” in Atlanta.
In terms of National Championship futures, many of the usual suspects reside at the top. Below are the six teams CRIS currently prices as 11-1 or better.
Michigan State +875
In a typical year, it wouldn’t be outlandish (perhaps even chalk) to assume as least half of the Final Four will be made up of those six teams. But this is no typical college basketball season. No, if there was ever a season to take a flier on a few long shots, 2020 certainly fits the bill. With that said, let’s take a look at a few teams that may not have the pedigree, record, ranking, or even look right now but have the potential to make a title run given the current wide open nature of college basketball.
Ohio State +8000
We’re less than a month removed from the Buckeyes being KenPom’s top ranked team. Now there’s a chance they don’t finish above .500 in Big Ten play thanks to a 2-5 start. The Buckeyes came out of the holiday break with blowout wins over Villanova and Penn State and were never really threatened in a neutral site win over Kentucky. But the Buckeyes collapsed late in back-to-back games vs. West Virginia and Wisconsin and then played three out of four on the road (all losses). They were no doubt exposed some but enough to warrant 80-1? The main hurdle will be winning enough games the rest of the way to earn a respectable seed. Even at 200-1, having a futures ticket on a play-in game participant isn’t ideal.
Losing Jordan Bohannon for the season was supposed to mark the end for the Hawkeyes but they are 5-2 in his absence and both losses were competitive and on the road. Iowa can obviously score and the emergence of Luka Garza gives them a high percentage scorer in the paint when shots aren’t falling from the outside. And while the defense can be suspect at times, it did recently hold Maryland to 49 points in a 70-possession game. Remember, Auburn was certainly more offense than defense (6th in the SEC in efficiency) and shot its way into the Final Four.
As we know, coaching matters come March and to me Eric Musselman is arguably the most valuable entity in all of college basketball right now. Arkansas was at one point 14-14 and 5-10 in SEC play last season before limping into the NIT. With much of that roster, Musselman has the Razorbacks well on their way to a tournament berth at 14-3 and 3-2. And I hate to cherry pick another Auburn comparison but like Pearl’s squad, Arkansas loves playing together and for their coach. And while the 4 out 1 under (sometimes 5 out 0 under) philosophy can be exploited by good defensive teams, the Razorbacks do some defending of their own with the nation’s 11th-best defensive efficiency rating.
As mentioned, in a normal season, teams with odds this high this deep into the season are iffy to even get into the tournament let alone win four games in March. But anyone who has watched college basketball of late is very aware that there are no clear cut elite teams and the talent and ability gap between no. 1 and no. 30 is as small as ever. As a result, I expect to see some new faces at this year’s Final Four.