This is about the time of year when you should be doing some serious breakdowns of the top 80 college basketball teams to find the best value to win the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky is rated about 5.5-points better than the second rated team (Virginia), and they’re most likely to make the Final Four, but who wants to lay 130 or higher and root for a juggernaut.
Most of us want to get caught up in what the Tournament is all about, which is embodied most when David slays Goliath.
In most cases, the cream does rise to the top of the NCAA Tournament with one of the top 12 teams eventually winning it all.
Then you have what happened last season where Connecticut had to win the American Conference Tournament just to make the NCAA’s and then systematically eliminated all six of their opponents – the last five as underdogs – to win the 2014 National Title as a No. 7 seed. Prior to the NCAA’s starting, the Huskies were 100-1.
Because Connecticut had won the championship in 2011 as a big underdog, there were plenty of takers on the 2014 Huskies at 100-1 and many of the sports books in town didn’t fare too well with their futures when they beat Kentucky in the championship game.
This year is a little different because last year there was no clear favorite. The Kentucky squad Connecticut beat barely made the tournament themselves and didn’t jell until making the Dance. This year’s Kentucky squad is a well-oiled undefeated machine with two separate units that don’t have any drop off. Each smothers opponents with a suffocating defense.
While chances of cashing a big ticket on a champion this year might be slim, the value is certainly there to try. With Kentucky being so low on odds-to-win, other teams have risen to keep the theoretic hold in check – or that’s at least how most books do it.
So in a circumstance like this, Connecticut may have gotten 125-1 or higher last year if there was a beast like the 2015 Kentucky squad playing.
So what exactly did UConn do last year that can help us identify candidates this time around? They basically just got hot and rode the leadership and skills of senior guard Shabazz Napier. They didn’t have a great bench, weren’t a great rebounding team and didn’t have a great coach.
It was the perfect example that just about anything can happen when the stars are aligned properly.
In recent years we have seen teams with long odds such as Wichita State (2013), VCU (2011) along with George Mason (2006) make the Final Four. Last season No. 11 seed Dayton made it to the Elite Eight and the year before No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast and No. 13 La Salle reached the Sweet 16.
In almost every case of teams exceeding expectations in the NCAA’s it was because of a sound fundamental group having played together for a few years who also happened to get hot.
So let’s take a look at couple teams that might fit that profile and have nice odds attached to them, which might make you think for one moment for a $10 wager maybe Kentucky won’t win it all.
Davidson 19-6 (field 100/1): Currently tied for third in the tough Atlantic 10, the Wildcats have exceeded Las Vegas’ expectations nightly with an 18-4 ATS record, including covers in their last 5. They do it with a fast pace (No. 6 in nation with 80.4 ppg), they share the ball (No. 6 in nation with 17 assists per game) and most of their roster is full of juniors and seniors. The backcourt of Tyler Kalinoski (16.2 ppg) and Jack Gibbs (15.6 ppg) is one of the most underrated in the nation.
LSU 19-8 (200/1): They’ve got plenty of bad losses, but one good defeat was 71-69 at No. 1 Kentucky, showing they could score inside among their trees. The Tigers have two beasts on the inside – Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey – that will give any team fits. Mickey is the leading scorer (16.6) and rebounder (8.9) while Martin is averaging 16.2 ppg and 8.9 rebounds a game.
Northern Iowa 26-2 (100/1): This is your Missouri Valley Conference team to root for in the NCAA’s. The last two years it has been Wichita State making waves in the Tournament, and the Shockers are tied with UNI atop the MVC standings at 15-1 with the regular season title coming down to a Feb. 28 showdown at Wichita State.
The Panthers have a 15 game winning streak going, including a 70-54 win over Wichita State on Jan. 31. This is a very well coached team that plays great defense (No. 4 in nation allowing 53.8 ppg) and shoots a high percentage (48.4%). Among all the long shot teams to win it all, they are probably the most polished and ready to slay giants.
Notre Dame 24-4 (75/1): It’s amazing that an ACC team could be flying under the radar, but that’s what we have with the Irish, a team that averages 79.8 ppg and is No. 2 in the nation with a 51.3 shooting percentage. Night after night they play quality ACC teams and they find themselves second in the conference with an 11-3 record. By the time the NCAA’s come around, they’ll be battle tested and no one will scare them.
Purdue 18-9 (300/1): The Boilermakers are currently playing their best ball of the season and have covered eight straight going into Thursday’s game vs. Rutgers. What will keep them in any game against upper echelon teams is their size with 7-footers A.J. Hammons (leading scorer) and Isaac Haas.
Purdue’s top three scorers all shoot 49 percent or better from the field. Sweet 16 looks possible, but first they have to make the Tournament and chances are looking good lately.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].