With the college basketball season quickly upon us, here are my favorite future national title winner bets to place before the season kicks off. Building a futures portfolio is always fun and sportsbooks tend to offer some exploitable spots to attack. Of course, value is super important and even though you may think Team X has the best shot at winning it all, the price may not be worth it (see Gonzaga at 6.5/1 this year), especially when you bring potential hedging into the equation. I’ve had a ton of success in this space, check out my recent track record:
2020-21: Hit Baylor 12/1 (2u)
2019-20: No tournament because of COVID-19 (had open futures on Michigan State and Kansas)
For me, there are three main “boxes” a team must check in order for them to have a chance to win 6 straight games in March and cut down the nets:
Elite Guard Play: I don’t care how dominant a team is throughout the course of the season, it is so hard to win six straight games in a tournament setting and there are going to be at least 1-2 games that come down to the wire. What wins close games in college basketball? End-of-game playmaking ability of your backcourt. Take a look at previous national champion teams and the one thing they all have in common are elite guards… see Davion Mitchell/Jared Butler, Ty Jerome/Kyle Guy, Jalen Brunson, Shabazz Napier, Tyus Jones.
Elite Defense: If you take a look back at the last 10 or so national champions, you’ll notice every team finished in the top 15 of KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric (Baylor being an exception last year due to two outlier performances after a late COVID-19 pause). The old saying “defense wins championships” holds true in college basketball especially because any team is bound for an off-shooting night in their sox-game quest and will need to rely on solid defense to survive those draughts.
Coaching: This one may not be as crucial as the first two as we have seen a few outliers (see Kevin Ollie), but looking at the track record of past national champions you will find experienced veteran coaches. Coaching is more important in college basketball than almost every other sport (compared to NBA for example) as exploiting certain matchups, late-game situations and defensive schemes are extremely significant in tournament settings. The list of recent national champion coaches includes many of the all-time greats…. see Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Tony Bennett, Jay Wright, Rick Pitino and John Calipari.
Now, on to my bets for champions of the 2021-2022 men’s college basketball season.
This one has tightened up a little bit since the summer but is still at an outstanding price given I have Texas as the No. 1 team heading into this season. (Check out my ranking of the top 100 teams entering the season.) Most overall talent. World-class backcourt. Arguably one of the best coaches in the country in Chris Beard. Will defend. Only one question mark — continuity. There should be enough leaders on this team to make it work. Worth 2 units at this price.
Kansas +1800 (2 Units)
This one has tightened a bit as well but still at a very good price as I have the Jayhawks as my second-best team in the country. Bringing back four starters from a 3-seeded team, while adding a top-five PG (Remy Martin) and dynamic playmaking and shooting off the bench (Joseph Yesufu and Jalen Coleman-Lands). Defense will be the key to their championship hopes as losing All-World defender Marcus Garrett is a huge blow. If Bill Self gets this team to defend at a high level, they should have no problem reaching the Final Four. Worth 2 units at this price.
Tennessee +7000 (1 Unit)
I currently have them sitting at No. 13 in the country, so getting a 70-1 price on them is incredible value. The Vols bring back four core rotation players from a 5-seeded team to go along with two 5-star freshman and an elite transfer in Justin Powell (Auburn). Defense should continue to be there for this physical squad as they finished 5th in the country in KenPom's defensive efficiency metric a year ago. What this team really lacked was offensive play-making ability, yet with the additions of floor general Kennedy Chandler and smooth guard Justin Powell, this team could have the potential to compete in the Final Four. Hard to bet on Rick Barnes, but at this price, it’s worth a bullet.
Xavier +13000 (1 Unit)
This is a pretty massive mispricing with veterans Paul Scruggs and Zach Freemantle back in the fold. On paper, Xavier is a borderline top-15 team. Defense was their kryptonite a year ago, but Big Ten reinforcements Jack Nunge and Jerome Hunter should help strengthen the interior. Travis Steele hasn’t shown much to get excited about thus far, but if the defense improves and the young guards can live up to their potential, we could be laughing come March with a 130/1 shot at a top-3-seeded Xavier squad.
Mississippi State +20000 (0.5 Unit)
This is another big mispricing here for a team that should find itself in the top 25 after having the second-best offseason (behind Texas) in the country. Brought in massive amounts of talent via the transfer portal including skilled big man Garrison Brooks to team up with returning lead combo guard Iverson Molinar. Ben Howland has coached two Final Four teams back in the day at UCLA, so it’s worth a long shot here at 0.5 units betting on this talented team to gel at the right time.