Results too often trump process in sports betting.
Futures betting on this year’s NCAA Tournament is one market where that factually can’t be the case given the cancelation of the postseason. I’m going to take advantage of the unique situation to put all nine futures wagers I made this season under the microscope to try to discern where I found value and where I can improve in the future.
The market is constantly evolving, so a successful sports bettor needs to be too. This will also be a way to officially bid adieu to college basketball season with one last what-could-have-been.
Gonzaga — 24-to-1, placed December 10 with Circa Sports
I started my portfolio this year by buying low on one of the nation’s finest programs, and it might have been my wisest wager. The Zags were as low as 6-to-1 around town after winning the West Coast Conference Tournament at the Orleans two weeks ago.
Stock was down on Gonzaga when this bet was placed, after it was blown out in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game against Michigan. But that was clearly a bad spot for the Bulldogs. It was their fourth game in six days, as opposed to only the third for the Wolverines, which also traveled 2,000 fewer miles for the early-season tournament.
I remember thinking Gonzaga may not lose again the whole regular season and they almost didn’t with the only setback a February road trip to BYU. All the mid-major focus going into the tournament was on Dayton and San Diego State, but if a smaller school was going to make it to the Final Four, I think it would have been a familiar face.
I think it would have been Gonzaga.
Verdict: Strong bet. I’m disappointed this one didn’t get to play out.
Virginia — 32-to-1, placed December 10 with Circa Sports
Another attempt to buy low on the same day, this one didn’t go as smoothly.
The Cavaliers had just lost by 29 points at Purdue to see their price raise in what I thought to be an unfair manner. It wasn’t.
This clearly wasn’t a vintage Tony Bennett team, as the defending national champions went on to lose five of their next eight games after I made this bet. They stretched above 100-to-1 before getting it together and winning eight straight to end the regular season.
But there were still reasons for skepticism considering the Cavaliers won all but one of those games by three points or less. They looked like a strong candidate to fall to a No. 11 or No. 12 seed in a first-round upset loss.
Verdict: Slightly bad bet. It wasn’t that bad technically considering the market stood right around 32-to-1 at the end of the season, but Virginia didn’t have enough talent to make a run this year.
Louisville — 10-to-1, placed December 12 with William Hill
This college basketball season had a particularly volatile first month with practically every contender suffering a puzzling loss. I bought into the parity narrative everyone was spreading, with one exception — I thought Louisville was the best team in the nation.
An off shooting night in a loss to Texas Tech wasn’t concerning to me. The 13-point defeat raised the Cardinals’ futures price from 8- to 10-to-1, and I thought it would never be that high again.
Again, I was wrong. This was a dangerous but flawed team set to go into the tournament at as high as 30-to-1 price.
Verdict: Bad bet. I always preach to stave off recency bias in this space, and I fell victim to it here. I should have let the season play out a little more to see if Louisville was truly as efficient as I pegged it to be.
Ohio State — 12-to-1, placed December 12 with Stations
This was a rogue price I noticed while shopping around to find out which sports book most overreacted to Louisville’s loss. Everywhere else in town was at 10-to-1 or less on the Buckeyes and I couldn’t resist jumping on another team like Louisville that I thought was poised to hang around the top five of the polls all season.
Instead, Ohio State never got back to the top five again after losing to Minnesota 84-71 in its next game. The Buckeyes are another team that would have been dangerous in the tournament, but not enough to justify this price.
Verdict: Bad bet. I got a little trigger-happy early in the season, which is something I plan to guard against in the future.
Michigan State — 20-to-1, placed February 14 with Stations
If there was a draft of teams to win the national championship right before everything was canceled, Kansas would have been an obvious first overall pick.
I would have taken Michigan State second. That may sound crazy given the Spartans’ nine losses on the season, but they looked like the most well-rounded team in the nation and one that was rounding into shape late with five straight easy wins against tough competition.
Michigan State’s last loss of the season, 67-60 to Maryland, actually came a day after I placed this bet so it would have been better to hold off a couple days, but I don’t regret it.
Verdict: Strong bet. It’s close, but I think if I could only pick one future to hold onto, I’d take this one over Gonzaga. And that’s without even considering I placed more money on this one.
West Virginia — 25-to-1, placed February 14 with Stations
The Mountaineers lost four of their next five games after I made this bet, making them 1-6 in a three-week span.
In my defense, West Virginia was an eye-catching team this year. The Mountaineers played hellacious defense, even for their standards, and were above-average athletically.
But that’s not always enough. It’s important to have some semblance of offense, and West Virginia had no semblance of offense.
Verdict: Bad bet. Beating Baylor 76-64 to end the regular season gave me a glimpse of hope, but higher prices would have been available if I held off a little longer.
Arizona — 30-to-1, placed February 28 with Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
Nico Mannion. Josh Green. Zeke Nnaaji.
The Wildcats had the talent to make a postseason run. It’s too bad they didn’t show any other indicators that one was imminent.
Arizona lost two of its final three regular-season games and got as high as 40-to-1 in futures markets around town. That definitively makes this a bad bet, but I still think Arizona might have offered some value in the NCAA Tournament.
The Pac-12 Conference was much improved and underrated this year, and Arizona was the team with the most upside in the league.
Verdict: Slightly bad bet. Given my soft spot for Arizona, this would flip if I had gotten 40-to-1 or higher.
Houston — 80-to-1, placed February 28 with Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook
If a No. 7 or No. 8 seed was going to wreak havoc on the tournament this year, it was going to be Houston. I remain convinced of that fact.
The Cougars had a terrific season despite being one of the unluckiest teams in the nation by Ken Pomeroy’s numbers. They were long, lanky and would have created matchups for any team they met in the tournament
Verdict: Decent bet. Houston is a Michigan buzzer beater in 2018 away from having made the Sweet 16 for two straight years, and it would have had a great shot to make it again this season. I could have started considering playing off this price if the Cougars made it that far.
Wisconsin — 100-to-1, placed March 10 with Circa Sports
Count me among the Big Ten believers.
All season, there was a debate on how strong the conference really was. I thought it was among the best leagues in the last decade of college basketball, so why not latch onto the Big Ten co-regular-season champion at an astronomical price?
Sure, Wisconsin was slightly lucky to earn the No. 1 seed in the canceled conference tournament but it fit the profile of a team that could catch fire in the tournament. The Badgers were unsurprisingly well coached under Greg Gard and capable of lighting up the scoreboard with 3-point shooting.
Verdict: Decent bet. Much like Houston, I had visions on potentially starting to hedge this price if the Badgers could get to the Elite 8.