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College Basketball Betting: Picking National Champions Isn’t As Obvious As It Seems


The statistical profile of college basketball’s National Champion is almost always impressive, particularly if you look at the final product. With a few exceptions — most notably UConn’s titles in 2011 and 2014 — a majority of National Champions finished the season ranked inside the top 10 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings. This shouldn’t come as a shock. In order to win six games, teams generally need to be playing at an “elite” level on both ends of the court. But what’s interesting is not every National Champion was statistically “elite” prior to the start of the Big Dance. Thanks to the incredible amount of data compiled by Mr. Pomeroy, we’re now able to go back and look at each title winner’s statistical profile prior to the postseason. Here’s what we found…

Year – National Champion (Adjusted Off Rank, Adjusted Def Rank)

2018 – Villanova (1st off, 22nd def)
2017 – North Carolina (4th off, 25th def)
2016 – Villanova (15th off, 7th def)
2015 – Duke (3rd off, 37th def)
2014 – UConn (57th off, 12th def)
2013 – Louisville (17th off, 1st def)
2012 – Kentucky (2nd off, 6th def)
2011 – UConn (21st off, 27th def)
2010 – Duke (4th off, 5th def)
2009 – North Carolina (1st off, 37th def)
2008 – Kansas (1st off, 3rd def)
2007 – Florida (2nd off, 14th def)
2006 – Florida (13th off, 18th def)
2005 – North Carolina (3rd off, 6th def)
2004 – UConn (11th off, 10th def)

Only four of the last 15 National Champions began the NCAA Tournament ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. When attempting to project who will cut down the nets, most prognosticators will rightfully attempt to isolate teams that can win with both offense and defense. Ironically, teams that fit that profile do in fact win National Championships but they don’t always scream “title winner” heading into the Big Dance. Take last year’s Villanova squad. In Big East play, Villanova allowed 1.05 points per possession — the league’s best mark but a mediocre one compared to, say, Virginia, who allowed 0.89 ppp vs. the ACC. But the Wildcats held four of their six tournament opponents to less than 0.95 ppp. They finished the year with the nation’s 11th-best adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. A similar but even more pronounced example was Duke in 2015. The Blue Devils were a good but not great defensive team during the regular season. They ranked 7th in the ACC in league play but held their first five tourney opponents to less than 0.90 ppp. Again, Duke’s final body of work looks elite (3rd off, 11th def) but bettors were perhaps leery that the Blue Devils could win six games without having a stout defense to fall back on.

My takeaway with this exercise is that we know whoever wins this year’s title winner is going to be pretty damn good. In fact, there’s a high probability that they currently reside within Ken Pom’s top 20. But not every winner is going to have that flawless statistical profile come tournament time. Duke, Virginia and Michigan State are the only three teams that currently rank in the top ten on both offense and defense — and all three are very capable of winning this year’s title. But teams like Tennessee (40th defense), Michigan (37th offense) deserve to be in the discussion as well. The Vols may have a “poor” defensive profile but like Villanova last year, they have the capabilities of playing “elite” defense come March. The same holds true for Michigan who struggles at times to score but also netted 84 and 76 vs. North Carolina and Purdue earlier this season. And the bonus is, unlike Duke (2-1), those teams have a lot more value in the futures market (Tennessee 10-1, Michigan 14-1). So when you’re considering a team to bet to win this year’s National Championship, be sure to keep an open mind and consider what a team can do not just what they’ve done.

Andrew Lange

With significant market influence, Andrew Lange has produced a decade-long 58% winning rate on over 750 selections in college basketball. Using a low volume, high return approach, Lange's results in the NFL have been equally impressive with a 61% mark and over +49 units of profit on a 1, 1.5, and 2-unit scale since 2012.