Buying or Selling Each AP Top 10 Men's CBB Team's National Championship Odds

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystJanuary 21, 2022

Buying or Selling Each AP Top 10 Men's CBB Team's National Championship Odds

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    Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren
    Gonzaga's Chet HolmgrenYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    The 2022 men's NCAA tournament will begin less than two months from today, but it's never too early to start thinking about and betting on who you think will win it all.

    With that in mind, we looked at the title odds of the current AP Top 10 teams in an attempt to determine which lines offer the best potential return on investment.

    At +600 (bet $100 to win $600), Gonzaga is the favorite to win the national championship, but is that a wise bet?

    Houston (+3500) and Wisconsin (+4000) are ranked in the AP Top 10, but neither resides among the 10 betting favorites for the title. Is either worthy of a wager?

    Just so we're clear: If we're buying one team at +4000 and selling another at +900, that doesn't necessarily mean we think the 40-1 long shot is a better team or a more likely champion than its 9-1 counterpart. Rather, it means we think the 40-1 team has a better than 2.5 percent chance of winning it all, and that we're not convinced the 9-1 team has a 10 percent chance of doing so.

    Teams are listed in ascending order of AP ranking.


    Title odds are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook and are current through the start of play Wednesday.

10. Houston Cougars

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    Josh Carlton
    Josh CarltonJustin Rex/Associated Press

    Odds: +3500

    The predictive metrics love Houston. As of Wednesday morning, the Cougars ranked third in BPI, third in the NET, seventh on and sixth in Jeff Sagarin's ratings. In theory, they would be a slight underdog on a neutral court against Gonzaga or Villanova, would be a coin flip against Baylor or Purdue and would be favored against every other team in the country.

    But who has Houston actually beaten? And how seriously do we need to take this team after it lost guard Marcus Sasser to a season-ending foot injury?

    On the former question, the Cougars almost won at Alabama in easily one of the most entertaining games of the season, and they almost stormed back from a 20-point halftime deficit against Wisconsin on a neutral court. But those close losses are the only games they have played against KenPom top-50 opponents.

    They did destroy both Oregon and Virginia in November and got an impressive 11-point win over Oklahoma State in mid-December, but there are no victories over surefire NCAA tournament teams.

    Moreover, all of those good wins came before they lost Sasser for the year on Dec. 22.

    They are 5-0 without the man who was averaging 17.7 points, 2.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game, but the toughest opponent they've faced during that stretch was Wichita State at home, and they had close calls against both Temple and Tulsa.

    In this year's weak AAC, we're not going to get a proper opportunity to assess Houston's tournament readiness, either. The Cougars could go undefeated the rest of the way and climb all the way up to No. 1 in the AP poll, and there would still be legitimate questions about whether they're good enough to win an Elite Eight type of game.

    Verdict: Selling

9. UCLA Bruins

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    Johnny Juzang
    Johnny JuzangMark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Odds: +2000

    After UCLA's recent overtime home loss to Oregon, Twitter was practically overrun with people who were giddy to declare that they never believed in the Bruins and that the team was woefully overrated in the preseason.

    But let's pump the brakes.

    It was UCLA's first game against a legitimate opponent since a nearly monthlong COVID-19 pause. Big man Cody Riley was playing in just his third game since an MCL injury that kept him out of action for nearly two monthsand got into immediate foul trouble to boot. Jaime Jaquez Jr. had the most disappointing performance of his career (four points and four turnovers). And they still darn near beat an Oregon team that has caught fire after a rough first month.

    Feel free to be skeptical about the Bruins, who haven't done much outside a come-from-behind home win over Villanova and a road win over Marquette. But if that game against Oregon is your main reason for writing them off, do better.

    The Bruins have the 10th-best odds of winning it all, which feels right.

    Between the Riley injury, the lengthy pause and the fact that freshman Peyton Watson is just now starting to show what he's capable of, this team is still figuring things out and is nowhere near its ceiling. If the tournament started today, I would definitely be selling the Bruins at 20-1.

    Give it another two months, though, and I suspect UCLA will be a top-10 candidate to win it all. So I wouldn't buy or sell at this line.

    Verdict: Hold

8. Wisconsin Badgers

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    Johnny Davis
    Johnny DavisGail Burton/Associated Press

    Odds: +4000

    I only actually placed a bet on one of these teams during this exercise, and it was the Wisconsin Badgers.

    The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the NFL playoffs with 35-1 odds to win the AFC, even though they were a near-two-touchdown underdog against (and eventually got smashed by) the Kansas City Chiefs. But you're telling me a team with just one loss at full strength and wins away from home over Purdue, Houston, Saint Mary's, Northwestern and Texas A&M only has a 40-1 chance of winning it all?


    The problem with Wisconsin is it never makes anything look easy. The Badgers are 13-1 in their last 14 games, but their average scoring margin during that stretch is merely plus-4.36 points. And because of that, predictive metrics such as NET and KenPom's rankings view Wisconsin as a barely top-25 team.

    But doesn't constantly winning close games make Wisconsin better prepared for the pressure of the NCAA tournament?

    Make no mistake about it, though: Johnny Davis and Co. are legitimate threats to win it all, especially now that Tyler Wahl and Chris Vogt are making a major impact in the rotation.

    In November, Wisconsin felt like a fun one-man team, all but destined to get bounced before the Final Four if its star gave anything less than an A performance. But while Davis has skyrocketed to become the clear front-runner for National Player of the Year, Wisconsin has also become a more complete team, built for a deep run.

    Verdict: Buying

7. Kansas Jayhawks

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    David McCormack
    David McCormackAdam Hunger/Associated Press

    Odds: +1400

    Which version of David McCormack will show up in March?

    In the Jan. 4 road win over Oklahoma State, Kansas' big man went for 17 points and 15 rebounds. It was a similar story in the Jan. 15 victory over West Virginia in which he racked up 19 points and 15 boards. But there have been a few too many games this season in which McCormack has completely vanished, leaving the Jayhawks without much of a frontcourt presence.

    For the most part, the wing tandem of Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun has been enough to carry Kansas through any of those off nights from McCormack. Jalen Wilson has also come on strong recently with a couple of 20-point performances. And with any luck, Remy Martin's knee will be fully healthy by the time the tournament begins.

    But in Kansas' losses, one need not look much further than McCormack to see what went wrong. Against Dayton, he had five points and five rebounds while the Flyers shot 63.2 percent inside the arc and finished plus-eight on the glass. Against Texas Tech, those numbers go four points, six rebounds, 61.5 percent inside the arc and plus-nine, respectively.

    And in a season loaded with dominant big men such as Oscar Tshiebwe and Kofi Cockburn, wildly inconsistent play at the 5 is a big red flag.

    I'll change my tune if Kansas messes around and wins the home games against Kentucky and/or Baylor in the next few weeks, but the Jayhawks are a sell until that happens or until McCormack plays well with more regularity.

    Verdict: Selling

6. Duke Blue Devils

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    A.J. Griffin
    A.J. GriffinBen McKeown/Associated Press

    Odds: +900

    Duke had a one-week stay as the No. 1 team in the nation and has spent the entire season ranked in the AP Top 10. Throw in the potential that this roster has five 2022 first-round picks and the fact that the amount of public money on the Blue Devils (and Kentucky) always gives them shorter odds than they probably deserve and it's little surprise that Duke is tied (with Purdue) as the second-most likely champion as far as Vegas is concerned.

    Duke is very good, and if we can borrow a slogan from five years ago and 10 miles down the road, "The ceiling is the roof." The Blue Devils beat both Kentucky and Gonzaga on neutral courts before AJ Griffin was even a factor. Now that he has emerged as a star, you're not going to find a more talented starting five in the country.

    Good luck finding any predictive metrics that have Duke as one of the five best teams in the nation, though, as NET, KenPom, Sagarin and BPI all paint Duke as just outside the 10 best squads.

    Again, that is very good, and Duke is plenty capable of winning it all. This team doesn't foul much, and it rarely commits turnovers, with the exception of that bizarre loss to Miami. The closest thing Duke has to an Achilles' heel is mediocre rebounding.

    But second-best odds to win it all?

    Can't do it.

    Verdict: Selling

5. Baylor Bears

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    Kendall Brown (2) and Adam Flagler (10)
    Kendall Brown (2) and Adam Flagler (10)Emil Lippe/Associated Press

    Odds: +1200

    Baylor had about a two-hour run as the last remaining undefeated team in men's college hoops, but the Bears are clearly still a legitimate threat to repeat as national champions in spite of last week's short-handed home losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

    As was the case when they won it all in 2021, the Bears rank among the best in the nation in both offensive rebounding and in forcing turnovers. As a result, they average nearly nine more field-goal attempts per game than their opponents.

    West Virginia had a similar formula for success in the mid-2010s. In 2014-15, the Mountaineers averaged 14.6 more shots per game than they allowed. But that team couldn't shoot worth a darn and got blown out in the Sweet 16.

    What makes Baylor so lethal is that it averages nearly nine more shots per game and has an effective field-goal percentage nearly nine points higher than what it allows on defense. And that's with Matthew Mayer not shooting anywhere near as well as he did last season. If he ever rediscovers his three-point stroke, the Bears will become that much more of a threat to win it all.

    I actually got Baylor at +2000 in early December before that 21-point blowout of Villanova, but +1200 is still good ROI if you haven't already invested in the Bears.

    Verdict: Buying

4. Purdue Boilermakers

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    Jaden Ivey
    Jaden IveyDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    Odds: +900

    Purdue is one of the most talented and most entertaining teams in the country. The trio of Jaden Ivey, Trevion Williams and Zach Edey can completely take over a game at a moment's notice, and the Boilermakers have one of the nation's most efficient offenses because of it.

    But there is no chance I'm buying Purdue at the second-shortest odds to win it all, because you simply have to play defense to win the NCAA tournament, and Purdue doesn't.

    In KenPom history, which dates to 2002, no national champion has ever finished the year (including the tournament) lower than 22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency. And Purdue is nowhere close to that mark at No. 69. Edey is obviously a valuable rim-protector at 7'4", but he only plays 17.9 minutes per game and isn't enough to make up for a perimeter defense that doesn't force many turnovers and often struggles against the deep ball.

    Moreover, for as potent as the offense can be, Purdue does occasionally go into some deep freezesperhaps because it doesn't have a conventional point guard. The Boilermakers were held below 70 points in their losses to Wisconsin and Rutgers, they struggled to execute late against Iowa and never really got going in their recent win over Penn State (thanks in part to foul trouble for Edey).

    Those aren't particularly great defenses, either, so Purdue could get into a bind if and when it runs into a team such as Auburn or Texas Tech in the Big Dance.

    Verdict: Selling

3. Arizona Wildcats

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    Christian Koloko
    Christian KolokoRick Scuteri/Associated Press

    Odds: +1800

    The real time to bet on Arizona was months ago, when the Wildcats were hovering in the 60-1 range. To put that number in current context, Memphis is 50-1, Arkansas is 55-1 and Michigan is 65-1.

    But even at 18-1, Arizona is still worth a shot.

    The results-based portion of the Wildcats' resume isn't anything special. That blowout win over Michigan in November no longer seems like as much of an accomplishment as it did at the time, but it's still easily Arizona's second-most impressive victory behind the back-and-forth road win over Illinois. (They can/should eventually add some solid wins over UCLA, USC and Oregon.)

    The way they're playing has been extremely impressive, though.

    At the start of the day Wednesday, Arizona was leading the nation in assist rate, average possession length on offense and two-point field-goal defense, per KenPom. This is also an excellent offensive rebounding team and a lethal force in the paint with each of its three leading scorers (Bennedict Mathurin, Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko) shooting well over 60 percent on two-point tries.

    Add it all up, and 12 of Arizona's 14 wins have come by at least 16 points, and the Wildcats have played their way onto the projected No. 1 seed line.

    Forced to make a decision, I'm buying Arizona at 18-1. However, I would love to wait another week to see how the Wildcats fare on this "three games in six days" road trip against Stanford, Cal and UCLA. Then again, if they happen to sweep those three games, 18-1 will be a distant memory.

    Verdict: Buying

2. Auburn Tigers

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    Wendell Green Jr.
    Wendell Green Jr.Associated Press

    Odds: +1600

    It feels like an egregious oversight by the society of oddsmakers that Auburn only has the sixth-best title odds, because there is a legitimate case that the Tigers are the best team in the country.

    Star power? Plenty. Jabari Smith might be the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA draft. Walker Kessler has rapidly emerged as a first-round prospect. Guards K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. have shown the ability to put the team on their backs individually. And let's not forget about Allen Flanigan, who averaged 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season before missing the first 11 contests of this year while recovering from Achilles surgery.

    Defense? And how. Auburn leads the nation in block percentage, per KenPom, and forces more than 16 turnovers per game. Even with a double-overtime loss to Connecticut in which it allowed 115 points, Auburn is holding opponents to 65.6 points on average, despite playing at a relatively fast pace.

    Auburn is nowhere near the three-point draining machine that it was when it made the Final Four in 2019, but it has a potent, well-rounded offense all the same. And, again, it should get even better once Flanigan gets into midseason form.

    The Tigers have a huge game coming up Saturday at home against Kentucky. Might want to buy Auburn at 16-1 before it wins that game and moves up closer to the 10-1 range where it belongs.

    Verdict: Buying

1. Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Drew Timme
    Drew TimmeYoung Kwak/Associated Press

    Odds: +600

    Gonzaga opened the season as the favorite to win it all, and that hasn't changed. Heck, the Zags' line is the exact same as it was more than two months ago. And while my general rule of thumb is to fade the favorite in the wildly unpredictable NCAA tournament, I would feel more comfortable with taking Gonzaga at +600 now than I would have in early November.

    Before the season began, we had no way of knowing how well the pieces would mesh. Yes, they had a returning big man who ranked among the top candidates for NPOY and added a likely one-and-done freshman star, but the Bulldogs also lost three starters, including their point guard and two of their best perimeter shooters.

    That combination of factors very much has not worked out for Michigan, but it has for Gonzaga, which is easily one of the five best teams in the nation.

    Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren are both legitimate NPOY candidates, Julian Strawther has been a breakout star, Andrew Nembhard has done a sensational job of running the offense and Rasir Bolton has been a transfer portal godsend. Throw in Anton Watson, Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis all thriving off the bench, and you've got a title contender that runs even deeper than when it fell one game short of an undefeated season in 2020-21.

    If you're a bit worried about the defense, well, I can't blame you. Both Duke and Alabama scored pretty much at will against the Zags in their two losses. But when you're averaging darn near 91 points per game and you have a shot-blocker like Holmgren to protect the rim, you're as good a candidate to win it all as any.

    Verdict: Slightly Buying


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