Home SportsNCAAB Buying or Selling Title Odds of Every AP Top 10 Men’s College Basketball Team

Buying or Selling Title Odds of Every AP Top 10 Men’s College Basketball Team

by Ryan

Kerry Miller

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme  Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

One favorite to win the 2021 men’s NCAA tournament (Baylor) hasn’t made it to the Final Four since 1950, and the other (Gonzaga) faces constant criticism from the general public for never winning a title.

Is it worth investing in either of those teams’ national championship odds?

What about the rest of the current Top 10 in the AP Top 25?

Using the latest title odds from DraftKings as of Tuesday morning, we’ve meticulously pinpointed which teams are good value buys and which ones you shouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

To reiterate: The buying/selling verdict is based on the current gambling odds. Just because we’re buying Virginia at 25-1 and selling Gonzaga at roughly 3-1 doesn’t mean we think the Cavaliers are more likely to win it all, nor that we would necessarily pick them to beat the Bulldogs on a neutral floor. (We already saw how that game went back in December.)

Rather, it’s all about trying to decipher proper value, using a combination of biggest strengths and weaknesses to figure out which teams have the best shot at a deep run regardless of path.

Teams are listed in ascending order of current AP ranking.

No. 10 Villanova Wildcats

Title Odds: +1100

Reason to Buy

The players change, but the system doesn’t.

Villanova still has one of the most lethal offenses in the country, making three-pointers at a 38.2 percent clip while taking 45.0 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. Those numbers aren’t quite as great as when the Wildcats won it all in 2018 (40.1 and 47.5 percent, respectively), but no one lives and dies by the three quite like Villanova.

The Wildcats also boast the second-most turnover-averse offense in the nation. Combine that with all the three-point success and Villanova ranks fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom.

Reason to Sell

Villanova’s defense is quite bad. The 86-70 loss to Creighton over the weekend was the most vivid example, but it has been a consistent issue, particularly since the Wildcats returned from their long COVID-19 pause.

Villanova has allowed an effective field-goal percentage of 53.8, which doesn’t even rank in the top 300 in the nation. It is easily the worst mark among teams with any realistic hope of an at-large bid. And while Auburn also had a pretty ugly mark (51.7) when it made the Final Four in 2019, at least the Tigers were among the best at getting blocks and steals. Villanova is also well below the national average in both those areas.

Verdict: Selling. Aside from Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan, Villanova has the best odds of winning the title, and that shouldn’t be the case. I can appreciate this line being a little off because the Wildcats have won two of the last four national championships, but teams this bad on defense never win it all.

No. 9 Oklahoma Sooners

Title Odds: +2000

Reason to Buy

The Sooners can clearly hang with anyone. In the past four weeks, they won home games against Kansas and Alabama, won road games against Texas and West Virginia and, despite playing without starters Austin Reaves and Alondes Williams, almost messed around and won a game at Texas Tech.

All those games were nail-biters, so some lot of good it did Oklahoma in the KenPom and NET rankings, where margin of victory reigns supreme. But the Sooners have shown they are capable of defeating just about any style of opponent, largely because they do such a great job of committing neither fouls nor turnovers.

Reason to Sell

Oklahoma doesn’t have much of a rebounding or shot-blocking presence, it has shooting percentages only marginally better than the national average, and it has had several downright awful performances in the three-point defense department.

More than half of Oklahoma’s games have been decided by seven points or fewer, and it’s beyond difficult to comprehend how the Sooners have been this consistently successful against quality opponents as of late. Yes, Lon Kruger is a great coach, and yes, limiting fouls and turnovers is a great way to create an advantage. Nevertheless, it feels like there’s a bubble about to pop here.

Verdict: Selling. Entering play Monday, Oklahoma wasn’t in the top 25 in adjusted offensive efficiency or adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. This line is probably fair for the ninth-best team in the country, but I’m having a hard time believing Oklahoma is actually the ninth-best team.

No. 8 Alabama Crimson Tide

Title Odds: +2000

Reason to Buy

No one can make it rain quite like Alabama. Back in mid-January, there was a four-game stretch in which the Crimson Tide shot 66-of-143 (46.2 percent) from three-point range. That’s an average of 16.5 makes on 35.8 attempts. After cooling off for a couple of weeks, they had an outrageous 18-of-30 (60.0 percent) performance in Saturday’s win over Georgia.

And that’s not even this team’s biggest strength. Alabama ranks second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency. Despite playing at a breakneck pace, the Crimson Tide only allow 70.1 points per game thanks to excellent perimeter defense. Not only are opponents shooting 28.5 percent from three-point range against them, but they average 8.5 steals per game.

Reason to Sell

Red-hot Alabama is so much fun to watch, but ice-cold Alabama shows up a little too often to make anyone feel comfortable betting on this team to win six straight games.

In its five losses, Alabama scored a combined 317 points on a tracked-by-KenPom 375 possessions. One game at 84.5 points per 100 possessions? Alright, fine. These things happen. Five games at that average, though, is cause for concern. And that explosion against Georgia over the weekend actually ended a five-game stretch in which Alabama averaged less than one point per possession.

Alabama also commits an inordinate number of live-ball turnovers, allowing nearly nine steals per game. And this is a problem that is getting worse, not better. Eleven of Alabama’s last 12 opponents have tallied at least nine steals.

Verdict: Buying. Villanova won it all in 2016 and 2018 by catching fire from three for a few weeks. Auburn went to the 2019 Final Four by doing the same. And this Alabama team is built to do something similar. I definitely worry about what happens on the inevitable night when the deep ball just will not fall, but the predictive analytics clearly indicate the Crimson Tide are capable of defending their way to victory.

No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers

Title Odds: +2500

Reason to Buy

The reigning national champions are up to their old tricks.

Virginia is always excellent on defense, but Tony Bennett’s most successful teams have been the ones that could actually shoot. (A novel concept, I know.) The Cavaliers have had an effective field-goal percentage of 53.0 or greater just three times in KenPom history: 54.8 when they made it to the 2016 Elite Eight, 55.2 when they won it all in 2019 and a remarkable 57.4 this year.

That’s quite the turnaround from last year’s team, which couldn’t hit water in the ocean. But that’s because last year’s team didn’t have transfers Sam Hauser or Trey Murphy III, who are shooting a combined 87-of-190 (45.8 percent) from three-point range. They also didn’t have the fully evolved version of Jay Huff, the 7’1″ center who is doing a doggone fine impression of 2014-15 Frank Kaminsky.

Reason to Sell

Virginia is 0-3 against teams in the NET/KenPom Top 40, and all three losses were hideous. The Cavaliers were decimated by Gonzaga in a 98-75 blowout, were outscored 29-5 during a 10-minute stretch in the second half of their 65-51 loss to Virginia Tech and got stomped from the opening tip by Florida State on Monday night.

This team is also terrible at offensive rebounding, terrible at getting to the free-throw line and terrible at forcing turnovers. It’s little wonder things can get ugly in a hurry because this is not a team that can manufacture points or swing the momentum with fast-break buckets.

Verdict: Buying. The lack of quality wins is more than a little concerning, but how can you not like these odds for the team that won it all two years ago and still has the starting point guard (Kihei Clark) from that championship roster?

No. 6 Houston Cougars

Title Odds: +1400

Reason to Buy

Houston’s defense is nasty. We’re talking, like, peak “Press Virginia” nasty. The Cougars rank top-30 in block percentage, steal percentage, two-point field-goal defense and three-point field-goal defense. Opponents have averaged just 57.3 points per game against them, which is the second-lowest mark in the nation.

The Cougars are also one of the best offensive rebounding teams, getting back slightly better than two out of every five misses. Because of that combination of stingy defense and second-chance opportunities, Houston gets up 10.3 more shots per game than its opponent—and does so with a greater rate of success, to boot.

Reason to Sell

For a team that attempts a ton of three-pointers, the Cougars are just OK at actually making them. In fact, if you exclude the game against Our Lady of the Lake, Houston doesn’t even rank top-200 in effective field-goal percentage.

Texas Tech and West Virginia are in that same general vicinity, so the Cougars aren’t alone in the “good teams that don’t shoot well” camp. However, those Big 12 teams have struggled against a much more difficult schedule. The only other top-50 defense in the AAC belongs to Memphis, and Houston hasn’t even faced the Tigers yet.

Houston’s aggressive, physical brand of defense also results in a lot of free-throw opportunities for the opposing team. The Cougars have allowed an average of 22.7 free-throw attempts against D-I opponents.

Verdict: Selling. I like this Houston team, but not this much. No matter how good your defense is, at some point, you’re probably going to need to shoot your way past at least one player or team who refuses to be guarded. I’m not sure Houston is built to pull off a W like Virginia’s win over Purdue in the 2019 Sweet 16—or basically any of the games in 2016 and 2018 when Villanova made triple after triple.

No. 5 Illinois Fighting Illini

Title Odds: +2000

Reason to Buy

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Kemba Walker carrying Connecticut through five wins in five days in the loaded Big East tournament and then winning the NCAA tournament. That means this is the 10th consecutive year of all of us wondering: Who is this year’s “Kemba candidate?”

There’s no question that guy is Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu.

In Friday night’s overtime win over Nebraska—less than a week after he went for 21 points, 12 assists and 12 rebounds in a win over Wisconsin—Dosunmu did everything down the stretch. Between the final four minutes of regulation and the overtime period, he shot 6-of-7 from the field and made all four free-throw attempts for 17 points while the rest of the team missed both its field-goal attempts and shot 4-of-8 from the stripe.

And while Dosunmu can be a one-man show when needed, he also has one of the best big men in the country at his disposal in Kofi Cockburn. Cockburn has recorded a double-double in 14 of Illinois’ 19 games and is averaging 18.9 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in Big Ten play. Illinois has, hands down, the best one-two punch in the country.

Reason to Sell

The two stars are great, but who else is going to show up for the Illini?

Dosunmu and Cockburn had a combined line of 52 points, 16 rebounds, six assists, four blocks and four steals Friday, and they still almost lost to a Cornhuskers team that had lost 26 consecutive games against Big Ten foes. If the supporting cast provides that little support against a Sweet 16-caliber opponent, Illinois is liable to get destroyed.

Also, this perimeter defense is just not good. Five times already this season, Illinois has forced fewer than 10 turnovers while also allowing its opponent to shoot at least 38.9 percent from three-point range. The Illini almost lost a November game to Ohio because of it.

Verdict: Buying. Illinois is too inconsistent and too dependent on its two stars to be one of the favorites to win it all, but Dosunmu and Cockburn are enough to cut down the nets at least once in 20 tries. The Illini should arguably have the fourth-best title odds. Getting them on the tier of teams with the eighth-best odds is nice value.

No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes

Title Odds: +1100

Reason to Buy

Ohio State has true road wins over Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Maryland and Notre Dame, plus a neutral-site victory over UCLA. That’s seven Quadrant 1 wins away from home. The only other team with at least seven Quadrant 1 wins, regardless of venue, is Gonzaga. Impressive stuff from the Buckeyes.

They’ve managed that because of remarkably efficient offense.

Aside from tempo, pick any stat—effective field-goal percentage, offensive rebounding, free-throw rate, etc.—and Ohio State’s offense ranks top-100 in the nation, per KenPom. That sort of across-the-board success is highly unusual. Even the super-efficient Gonzaga, Iowa and Baylor each have at least one category in which they rank outside the top 100. It’s tough to stifle a team with no weakness.

Reason to Sell

You don’t need a National Player of the Year candidate to win a national championship, but you do need someone who can put the team on his back in the clutch or when the going gets tough.

Who’s “that dude” for Ohio State?

Maybe E.J. Liddell (15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game), but he probably wouldn’t be first-team All-Big Ten if the season ended today. And with the exception of that magical run to the Final Four by Loyola-Chicago in 2018, these “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” teams don’t usually last long. After all, this tournament is about stars shining brightest at the perfect time.

On the more statistical side of things, Ohio State has had more than its fair share of duds on defense. Giving up 85 to Iowa or 81 to Illinois was fine. Giving up 85 to Notre Dame and 79 to Penn State was much more concerning. That’s something to keep an eye on with regular-season games remaining against Michigan, Iowa and Illinois.

Verdict: Buying. I mean, 11-1 odds on a projected No. 1 seed? With this many quality wins? Are you kidding me? I don’t love the Buckeyes as a championship threat, but you also can’t convince me that Baylor and Gonzaga are more than three times as likely to win it all.

No. 3 Michigan Wolverines

Title Odds: +650

Reason to Buy

Michigan has the best two-point defense in the country. Two years ago, Michigan State and Texas Tech ranked second and third in that category, respectively, when they met in the Final Four. That year’s national champion, Virginia, also had an excellent interior defense.

In addition to that strength, the Wolverines have shot the ball quite well, boasting the seventh-best effective field-goal percentage in the country. In fact, they currently have the second-widest gap between offensive effective field-goal percentage (56.8) and defensive effective field-goal percentage (43.1). Only Gonzaga’s gap of 14.0 percent is wider than Michigan’s 13.7 percent.

Reason to Sell

Have the Wolverines been appropriately battle-tested?

You would think the first-place team in the Big Ten would have a bunch of great wins under its belt, but they have yet to face Iowa, Illinois or Ohio State. The Wolverines did smoke Wisconsin (at home) and Purdue (on the road), but they also got pummeled at Minnesota and struggled early in Sunday’s road game against Wisconsin.

Granted, that game in Madison was Michigan’s first in more than three weeks, but you have to at least wonder about a team that has not faced a projected No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

Verdict: I can’t decide. Prior to Sunday’s game against Wisconsin, Michigan was listed at +1000. At that line, I loved the Wolverines. But +650 on a team that has yet to face an opponent currently ranked in the AP Top 20 is tough to endorse. This is the third-best team, deserving of the third-shortest odds, but I wouldn’t bet on or against Michigan at this price.

No. 2 Baylor Bears

Title Odds: +290

Reason to Buy

Baylor is just so damn lethal.

The Bears are leading the nation in three-point shooting at a 43.9 percent clip, and it’s not just one or two guys you have to worry about. They have six players averaging at least 2.3 attempts per game, five of whom shoot better than 43 percent. At all times, they have at least three guys on the court who can hurt you from the perimeter.

Meanwhile, the three regulars who don’t shoot threes (Mark Vital, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba) each average at least 3.5 offensive rebounds and 1.7 blocks per 40 minutes, making Baylor one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country and a headache to score against in the paint.

And on top of that, the Bears average nearly 10 steals per game and boast the third-best turnover-forcing defense in the country.

Reason to Sell

Even if you assume there’s a 99.9 percent chance Baylor wins its first-round game, a 95 percent chance of winning in the second round, a 90 percent chance of beating its Sweet 16 opponent, an 80 percent chance of beating its Elite Eight opponent, a 70 percent chance of winning the Final Four game and a 65 percent chance of winning the title game, the odds of that happening are still roughly +320.

And we’re being pretty generous with most of those probabilities.

Baylor has also had some issues on defense in both the rebounding and three-point departments. Texas Tech had 18 offensive rebounds while giving the Bears a run for their money. Two nights later, Kansas shot 9-of-19 from three-point range. Baylor did win both games by eight points, but that’s a potential window of opportunity.

Verdict: Selling. Baylor is rightfully the favorite to win it all because no team is built to neutralize all its strengths. But 3-1 odds to win this tournament? You do realize the No. 1 overall seed hasn’t even made it to the Final Four since 2015 and hasn’t won it all since 2013, right? It’s a fair line given how good this team has been, but I never endorse anyone getting shorter than +400 odds—especially this year with the ever-present threat of a COVID-19 outbreak.

No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs

Title Odds: +310

Reason to Buy

Gonzaga is unstoppable in the paint. Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs made 80 percent of their two-point attempts at Pepperdine, and the vast majority of college basketball fans didn’t even notice since it wasn’t that out of the ordinary for what is currently the best two-point offense in KenPom history. (The Zags shoot 64.5 percent. The previous high was Belmont shooting 62.6 percent in 2015-16.)

And while I feel their rating as the fifth-most efficient defense in the country is a bit inflated, there’s no question this team can defend. A lot of “can’t stop their offense, but you can score at will against their defense” teams have flamed out early in recent NCAA tournaments. Gonzaga should be able to avoid that fate.

Reason to Sell

Heading into Saturday night’s game against San Francisco, Gonzaga had allowed more three-pointers (135) than it had made this season (134).

North Carolina had a similar problem when it won the national championship four years ago, so that’s not necessarily a death knell. It is unusual, though. Those Tar Heels were the best rebounding team in the nation and still had to seriously sweat out games in the second round, Elite Eight and Final Four, in large part because of that lack of advantage in the perimeter game.

Verdict: Selling. See: Baylor. Gonzaga’s line is fair, but this tournament is too random for this minimal a return on investment. The only scenario in which I would endorse betting on Baylor or Gonzaga at these odds is if you’re planning on taking one in your bracket/Calcutta/survivor pool and just want to hedge a bit by betting on the other.

Statistics courtesy of Sports Reference and KenPom.com.

 

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