With the 2021-22 college basketball season tipping off November 9, here is a trio of futures bets to consider to win the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Steve Lavin saw it the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 14. UCLA had thrashed Washington State, 91-61, inside Pauley Pavilion. It represented more to him than just another home victory over an out-classed conference foe.
Lavin saw a smart, tough, disciplined, cohesive squad that had just won its fifth consecutive game improving to 10-2, after an always-challenging sweep in the desert of Arizona State and Arizona.
On the Fox studio show after that game, the analyst — and former UCLA and St. John’s boss — said it’s time to start talking about the Bruins “in the national championship picture.”
He pressed his belief, saying they’re one of the nation’s danger teams. The Bruins might “cut down the nets … mark it down.”
Show host Rob Stone, sidekick Casey Jacobsen, and scribe Mike DeCourcy, joining via satellite to update his bracket projections, “were all perplexed,” says Lavin.
Earl Watson, the former pro who played for Lavin at UCLA and was doing studio work in San Francisco, zipped a social-media Cut Down The Nets!? note to Lavin. Watson included three laughing-crying emoji-mugs in his missive.
“Got killed on Twitter,” says Lavin, whose prognostication would prove to be prescient. The Bruins’ NCAA Tournament run began in the First Four (play-in round) and culminated at the Final Four, as they threatened to become the first championship team to win seven tourney games en route to a crown. It would have been No. 12 in UCLA’s storied history.
I’m banking on the Bruins to make another solid run at increasing their record trophy haul to an even dozen this season, and I’ve nabbed Kansas and Villanova at choice prices, too.
If all three reach the national semifinals in New Orleans, I’ll be in hedge heaven. Should one win it all, the dividends will be sweet.
After beating the Cougars, UCLA would win two more to stretch its record to 12-2. It dropped four in a row, however, before the NCAA Tournament. In three of those, the Bruins had held a double-digit advantage.
Those who believed 17-9 UCLA didn’t deserve an NCAA bid were sorely mistaken.
The Bruins got in, drew pesky Michigan State in a First Four game, and in the final minutes of regulation, fashioned a rally for the ages for an 86-80 overtime victory that powered them for a couple of weeks.
They became THE story of the NCAAs, winning four more to get Gonzaga in a national semifinal. And that was THE game of the college hoops season, as UCLA exchanged heavyweight blows with the Zags but lost 93-90 in overtime.
Every Bruin returns, and then some. I had earmarked UCLA, as a buy in the 2021-22 futures market, right after the NCAAs, obtaining +1600 (or 16-1 odds) at the South Point (now +1200), +1200 at William Hill (since rebranded Caesars Sportsbook), their current price. At DraftKings, the Bruins are +1400.
UCLA made its former coach look golden in the tournament. It didn’t have double-digit turnovers until playing the Zags, when both had 10. That chart for their six NCAA games was Bruins 46, Opponents 69.
That’s the bedrock of coach Mick Cronin’s ultra-deliberate system against which Lavin had to battle, like a trip to the dentist, for three seasons at St. John’s when Cronin was at Cincinnati, before Big East realignment.
“Slow and steady wins the race,” says Lavin, from his San Francisco home during a long text-message exchange. “They were able to impose their preferred tempo on opponents.
“The Bruins became surgical in their offensive execution in the NCAAs. They had an impressive degree of precision in all offensive facets. That aggressive, yet precise and patient, approach unnerved opponents.”
They dealt with a defection and injuries, which transformed and polished a tight rotation of six to seven main figures, similar (in numbers) to the program’s 1994-95 title team, or any of John Wooden’s 10 championship squads.
“Each of those seven players,” says Lavin, “played the best basketball of their careers at the same time, over those three weeks.”
In KenPom’s adjusted offensive-tempo rating, UCLA registered a 63.8, 341st among the country’s 357 teams. It had an adjusted offensive efficiency of 116.9, No. 11 in the nation. Of those top 10 offensive efficiencies, only Villanova (336th) and Houston (332nd) came close to operating as deliberately as the Bruins.
Adjusted offensive efficiency matters. Baylor, which beat Gonzaga in the title game, checked in at 125, second in the country. The Zags were first, at 126.4.
What’s more, UCLA had the 25th-lowest turnover rate, just 15.7%, while its opponents were 257th, at 17.5. The Bruins didn’t take many 3-point shots, but they were marksmen (a top-10 37.2%) when they did.
Junior guard Tyger Campbell, senior complement Jules Bernard, swingmen Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Johnny Juzang, and senior power forward Cody Riley are all back.
Juzang, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound junior from Tarzana, Calif., became a star in March. In those six games, he tallied 137 points, a 22.8 average, and shot 59.1% from the field. He came back for his junior season after collecting NBA information.
A smaller lineup benefited the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Riley, who had four double-digit scoring games in the NCAAs. He had 14 points, 10 boards, five assists, a blocked shot — and no turnovers — against the Zags.
A blessing in disguise, Lavin calls some of UCLA’s frontline injuries. “Cody, as the lone traditional low-post presence, had more time and space to operate, with four capable players on the perimeter.”
Junior swingman Jake Kyman is the long-range expert, and top-10 recruit Peyton Watson joins this season’s festivities.
Expect it all to keep rolling in a big way in Mick Cronin’s third season in Westwood.
I snagged KU at +1800 at William Hill, +2500 at the South Point. Those are now +1600 and +1000, respectively. At DraftKings, Kansas is +1600.
The offseason represented a windfall of riches for 19th-year coach Bill Self, as starting guard Ochai Agbaji and starting forward Jalen Wilson tested their NBA options but opted to remain in Lawrence.
Self welcomed gunner Remy Martin from Arizona State, and fellow guards Jalen Coleman-Lands from Iowa State, and Joseph Yesufu from Drake.
Plus, starters Christian Braun, a 6-foot-6 guard, and David McCormack, a 6-foot-10 forward, are back, as is combo guard Dajuan Harris Jr.
At the recent Big 12 media function in Kansas City, Self talked about a potential 10-man rotation. He also said he had no clue when an NCAA investigation, dragging into a third season, might be resolved.
(Know your sportsbook’s rules before making a futures wager. At William Hill, a team has action if it plays a single regular-season game. At the South Point, sportsbook director Chris Andrews says, “We don’t have a specific rule, but we would refund the bet,” should Kansas’ season be interrupted. All bets are action, says the fine print at SuperBook USA, “despite any team being placed on probation.” At Station Casinos, all bets are action “regardless of any team’s pending investigations or any subsequent penalties/ban.”)
Battling Texas and Baylor in the Big 12 will temper the Jayhawks for a sterling March. Since 2012, they have been to a lone Final Four, in 2018, when they lost to Villanova in a national semifinal in San Antonio.
As long as they stay out of the hoosegow, that changes come springtime.
Villanova won national titles in 2016 and ’18, and 21st-year coach Jay Wright is one of the game’s premier tacticians, perhaps the best.
I snatched Nova at +2200 at William Hill, +2500 at South Point. The Wildcats have been shaved to +1200 at the former, +1000 at the latter. At DraftKings, they’re +1400.
Collin Gillespie tore a knee ligament in the regular-season home finale, putting a damper on Villanova’s March. The ’Cats hardly felt sorry for themselves, though, winning two in the NCAAs before losing to eventual national-champion Baylor.
They earned immense experience and get Gillespie back. He is a career 37.3% shooter from 3-point land, 82.6% at the free-throw line. When he has played for Villanova, it’s gone 94-24.
He hit all four freebies he attempted and yanked down five defensive rebounds, with a steal and an assist, in 16 minutes of Nova’s 79-62 NCAA-title victory over Michigan in San Antonio in 2018. He wills the Wildcats back to that stage.
Fellow guards and starters Justin Moore and Caleb Daniels return, too, and an absurdly deep bench at the position includes Bryan Antoine and Chris Arcidiacono, and newcomers Jordan Longino and Angelo Brizzi.
The prized new greenhorn is Trey Patterson, who left Rutgers Prep early last year to joust with forwards Brandon Slater and the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Jermaine Samuels, both seniors this season, in practice.
Nova, tabbed as the Big East favorite, is buoyed by the invaluable veteran leadership of Gillespie and Samuels, Wright recently told the Bucks County Courier Times: “Those guys know what we’re doing and are teaching our younger guys. It makes practice a lot more enjoyable as a coach and for everybody.”
Villanova was sixth in the country last season with an adjusted offensive efficiency of 119. It has had such a top-16 figure each of the past seven seasons — top-six in five of those campaigns — a span in which the Wildcats have gone 204-40.
That’s a scintillating level of success that continues in 2021-22.
Also read: Final Four longshots to consider