It's officially time. The first AP poll was released, some of your football teams are dead to you and the temperature is changing. College basketball season is a few weeks away which means it's time. It's time for futures. The time where you are looking to start that magical ticket run and cash it like we did with Nova (25/1) in 2018 and Virginia in 2019(18/1). Last year we struck out taking Purdue, Kentucky and Texas. That's on me. But thanks to the Barstool Sportsbook we're going to look at a few Final Four odds too which were kind to us in 2021 with Houston +900 and Gonzaga +150.
Let's get into it and first address the headline. History is a fickle bitch when it comes to college basketball. There's too much roster turnover to say things like 'team x is 11-4 ATS in the last 15 against team y.' Okay, great. Was it the same coaches? Were they running the same systems? That's all what matters. Not just the number because, again, roster turnover.
However, last year I saw this stat:
Hmm. That's now 7 in a row. The only outlier is 2014 UConn who had Shabazz and got hot. Do we need to overthink this? Why not just follow what seems to be true. While we can argue about KenPom he tends to have a better algorithm in terms of projected strength. This year's top-5?
Kentucky, Texas, Gonzaga, Tennessee, Virginia.
Excuse me? That doesn't seem right. Tennessee? Texas? VIRGINIA? Sure, why not? But what team is missing? UNC. The team that everyone wants to throw in at No. 1 because they made a title game, looked awesome in March and bring back *mostly* everyone including All-American Armando Bacot. KenPom has them at 9. Not like they are projected to be bad or anything, but there has to be something there. To me the biggest question is can Pete Nance replicate what Brady Manek gave them? While we praise Bacot, Manek's ability to stretch the floor as an elite shooter and be a mismatch really made that offense go. It let Bacot work in the paint alone where he's dominant. We all know this. Nance is a different player than Manek and that's going to need to be figured out.
So I'm fading UNC. Not because I hate them (fuck Luke Maye). But because history is telling me so. Not only the KenPom stat, but how many national runner-ups make a Final Four the following year? Let's start with the year 2000. A nice even number.
The answer is 5. UCLA in 06/07, Michigan State in 09/10, Butler in 10/11, Kentucky in 14/15 and UNC in 16/17. That's the list. A damn good UCLA team. A Cinderella in Butler. A historical recruiting Kentucky team in 15. UNC who brought back a good amount of players but also had NBA talent in Justin Jackson. But 5 since 2000 isn't some huge number.
So if history is telling me to fade UNC, I'm going to go with it. I'm trusting my gut on this one. UNC is going to be good, but I'm not taking them as the favorite at +900 with Gonzaga. So here's who I'm taking in the preseason while trying not to overthink it:
Baylor (+1600) - To me this is the best team in the country. They have a guy in Keyonte George coming in who should be a top-5 pick in the NBA Draft. He's fucking good. I don't know how else to really explain it. He's a 6'5" combo guard who can really score basically anywhere on the court. He's also an above average defender who will only get better in Baylor's system. They are going to run that 4-out, 1-in with Flo Thamba to start. This is my only fear with Baylor. JTT is currently hurt. He fits that role way better than Thamba. They need him back and I think they are a lock for best team in the country. They have the mix I love and what works in college basketball. Experience - especially at the guard position with Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer. Top end talent in Keyonte George. Guys who know their role. And they also bring in Jalen Bridges - a transfer from WVU and get 5-star recruit Langston Love this year, who is a year removed from an ACL injury. He doesn't have to be the star. He just needs to fill the role. I also think Caleb Lohner - a transfer from BYU - can breakout a little bit here. I know they lose Matthew Mayer (Illinois), James Akinjo, Jeremy Sochan and Kendall Brown but Scott Drew has reached the point where we just need to trust him. This is my favorite play and 16/1 is fine to take them.
Houston (+1100) - Checking in at No. 3 in the AP, 7 on KenPom, 6 on Torvik and 7 on Haslam. They have something to play for - the Final Four in Houston. Remember they made a Final Four two years ago and an Elite Eight last year. But I love this team for the reason that guards matter in March. They have a 3-headed monster in Marcus Sasser (my pick for NPOY), Jamal Shead and Tramon Mark. They really need to be more consistent shooting since last year they were just 33.8% from three as a team. Basically just below average in the country. Sasser shot 43% which is great, but Shead was 29.8%. That's not great. Mark is also coming back from an injury where he only played 7 games last year. What helps here? Jarace Walker - the highest recruit in school history. He's not really a shooter but at 6'8" he just does everything good. That's the best way I can kind of describe his game. He's going to create havoc. You know Houston will defend their ass off, that's a staple under Sampson, but they are going to be smaller. They'll basically play everyone at 6'8" and under. Not necessarily a knock but come Tournament time there will be mismatches.
Kentucky (+1000) - Listen, I'm going to take them every year because I want to. They also match the history method of being No. 1 on KenPom, 8 on Torvik and 4 on Haslam. This isn't a stretch to take them. It all hinges on Oscar being healthy. He reportedly had a 15 minute knee surgery a couple weeks ago and is still not back. He should be back for the start of the regular season but it's something to keep an eye on. He's a dominant player, hence why he won NPOY last year. After that it comes down to Cal being willing to adapt. He has to play a smaller lineup with more shooting which he loses because Sahvir Wheeler isn't a great shooter. But he gets CJ Fredrick, one of the best shooters in the country who missed all of last year. He gets Antonio Reeves from Illinois State who has looked like a star through preseason games. Damion Collins and Jacob Toppin are primed to be breakout candidates, but you have to use them correctly. Toppin is at his best as a 4. Can't play Toppin-Collins-Oscar together too much. That lane will just be too clogged. But if Virginia can bounce back after losing to UMBC, Kentucky can do the same after St. Peter's.
Illinois (+5000/+1500 to make Final Four), Miami (+7500/+2000 to make a Final Four)
Texas (+600) - Here's what I said yesterday: They are 2nd on KenPom's preseason ratings. They are projected to have the best defense in the country. Again, this is all contingent mostly on staying healthy, specifically Dylan Disu. He was a double-double guy at Vandy and actually looked the part. He missed basically all of last season's offseason and battled injuries. If he's healthy that's a guy that can anchor the middle while being a pick-and-pop guy along with Christian Bishop.
That's really the key here too. Last year's team was all transfers. Most of them stayed this year. You're bringing back Marcus Carr, Disu, Bishop, Timmy Allen and even Brock Cunningham. That's a good start. That's a recipe for how to have success in college basketball, especially when you add a Tyrese Hunter from Iowa State to the mix or a Dillon Mitchell, who was a consensus top-5 recruit. They have the blend now of experience and incoming talent.
Oregon (+1500) - Another team who grossly underachieved last year and had some problems. This year though I'm going to trust Dana Altman to get this team together. It starts with Will Richardson, who is one of the most experienced guards in the country. He needs to cut down on turnovers. He needs to be a consistent player who can initiate besides just score for himself. They bring in Kel'El Ware, who is a top-10 recruit to give some depth in the front court with N'Faly Dante. Altman has had success with top big man players and needs it again. Depth is a bit of concern, but Altman should get this team to defend better.
San Diego State (+1700) - The best non-Gonzaga non-power conference team in the country. San Diego State has had a ton of success lately and has a real chance to make a run this year. They bring back Matt Bradley and Nathan Mensah. That's a solid ass 1-2 combo from the inside-out. Bradley is one of the more unique players in the country with his size and ability to run the offense while Mensah is an elite defender. What they also did is bring in Damion Trammell from Seattle. He's a lead guard that can really score. While I am hesitant on mid-major players making a jump, the WAC to MWC is way more reasonable than others.
Longer shots to make the Final Four
Ohio State (+2000), Oklahoma State (+3500), Wyoming (+7000)
So there you have it. We're trying to keep it simple this year and not overthink it. Dumb? Likely, but we'll find out. Next week the 363 team rankings drop. When we get conference odds I'll have a blog on that too.