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Analysis | Two best value bets to win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

Analysis | Two best value bets to win the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

We got a peek at how the top of the bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament might look when the tournament committee revealed its top 16 seeds Saturday — only for five of those teams to lose quickly after that unveiling, including top-ranked Purdue (which lost at Ohio State) and seventh-ranked Marquette (which lost by 28 at projected No. 1 seed Connecticut).

Connecticut’s dominant win Saturday solidified the Huskies’ standing at the top of the field — until a 19-point drubbing by Creighton (No. 15 in the Associated Press poll) on Tuesday night raised questions. The reigning champion Huskies lost five of their top eight players from last year’s team and have dealt with injuries to starters Donovan Clingan and Stephon Castle, yet they still find themselves among the top title threats in the country.

But their odds to repeat are +500, meaning you would win just $500 on a $100 wager — making Connecticut the championship favorite despite Tuesday’s loss. That is not an appealing pick, at least in the betting markets. Taking into account its performance to date, potential seeding and similar teams’ performance in the tournament, Connecticut has more in common with tournament teams that lose in the round of 64 or the round of 32 than with a title contender, making the +500 price too short for wagering purposes. A fair value for the Huskies would be closer to +900, per barttorvik.com’s TourneyCast.

Instead of Connecticut, the most obvious title contender, let’s look at some teams that are undervalued in the betting markets. That makes them among the “best” bets to win the NCAA tournament at this point, which, of course, does not mean they are the teams most likely to win the national championship.

Arizona, +1200 to win the national championship at DraftKings

Arizona, 20-5, is No. 4 in the polls and has a half-game lead over Washington State in the Pac-12, but the Wildcats look like a real contender. They rank fourth in analyst Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, which adjust offense and defense efficiency for strength of schedule. The most similar recent team efficiency profiles, per Bart Torvik’s data, include two championship squads (North Carolina in 2009 and 2017), one runner-up (Gonzaga in 2021) and a Final Four team (North Carolina in 2008). Taken together, these efficiencies project Arizona to win around three games in the tournament — a better projection than Connecticut at more than double the price.

Auburn, +2100 to win the national championship at FanDuel

The advanced analytics say Auburn is one of the most balanced teams in college basketball, ranking 22nd in offensive efficiency after adjusting for strength of schedule, per Pomeroy, and fourth in defensive efficiency. The Tigers’ rim defense is solid, and opponents are shooting less than 50 percent against Auburn, with 6-foot-10 junior Johni Broome having one of the best defensive rebound rates (25.6 percent, 34th) and blocked shot rates (10.3 percent, 17th) in the nation.

Coach Bruce Pearl also has a deep bench, with reserves accounting for almost 44 percent of minutes played this season, the fifth most in men’s basketball, per Pomeroy.

Auburn, which has lost two of three (including a double-digit home loss to Kentucky on Saturday), came in at No. 13 in the committee’s rankings and is projected as a No. 4 seed in Patrick Stevens’s latest bracket.

Indiana State to miss the NCAA tournament, +105 on DraftKings

Indiana State is 22-5, tied for first in the Missouri Valley Conference and in position to be a popular March Madness Cinderella pick. A vast majority of bracketologists surveyed by Bracket Matrix (95 of 108 at the time of this writing) have Indiana State in the tournament, as a No. 11 or No. 12 seed on average. Stevens has the Sycamores as a No. 10 seed. But Torvik’s TourneyCast gives Indiana State just a 40 percent chance to hear its name called on Selection Sunday, making the fair value of this wager -160. Instead, we are getting plus-money odds for a team that has lost its past two games and might need to win its conference tournament to make the field. Teams with similar résumés to the Sycamores’, taking into account the team’s NET rating (No. 31), have mostly found themselves watching the Big Dance from home.

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