2014 NCAA Tournament Handicapping: Best Value Bets
by Trevor Whenham - 3/18/2014
When it comes to March Madness, there are brackets and there is betting, and smart bettors realize that the two things are very different. When you are picking your brackets, you are looking for teams that you think have a good chance to win it all or at least to make a deep run. When you are betting tournament futures, on the other hand, you are looking for teams that could win, but more importantly, you are looking for situations in which the chances of a team winning are better than the odds suggest. It doesn’t matter if the team has little chance of winning — as long as the odds are right, there is still value. You aren’t looking for the best teams, but the best bets. With that in mind, as we get ready for NCAA Tournament handicapping, here are some of the best value bets:
Louisville (+1500): I was more shocked when Louisville was revealed as a No. 4 seed than I have been by anything in a long time on a Selection Sunday. It’s an insult for a team that won the regular season and tournament titles for a decent, albeit top-heavy, AAC. They have won five straight, and their only loss in their last 13 was at Memphis — a solid team in their own right, and another that was disrespected by the selection committee. They have the brilliant Russ Smith, legendary Rick Pitino, and a roster seasoned by the experience of winning it all last year. The Midwest region is brutal, but Louisville is the favorite to win it in my eyes. Add that all up, and +1500 looks pretty good — especially compared to some of the prices of teams like Florida and Michigan State that are at significantly lower prices.
Wisconsin (+1800): I have a lot of respect for Wisconsin — and any team that survived the brutal Big Ten. The Badgers have also found themselves in a pretty reasonable spot in the bracket. Their first round isn’t scary. Potential second game opponents Oregon and BYU are both solid, but neither are a match for the Badgers. Baylor or Creighton could be tough, but they are also manageable. Top seed Arizona has not been nearly as good as they were earlier in the year, and they are vulnerable — as UCLA proved in the Pac-12 Championship Game. If Wisconsin plays like Wisconsin then they can make the Final Four — and anything can happen from there. Seems like a reasonable bet at this price.
Iowa State (+4500): This team beat KSU, Kansas and Baylor in consecutive days to win the Big 12. They won 14 straight to start the season, including a dismantling of Michigan. They are seasoned, loaded with talent, and exceptionally well-coached. Outside of Michigan State, I don’t have a lot of respect for any team in the region as a serious contender, so the Elite Eight seems like a minimum spot for them if they play as well as they can. They face an uphill battle, but at this price the risk is rewarded.
Kentucky (+5000): The preseason No. 1 overall team has gone through some rough times, but they have finally found their form — or at least they looked like it when they gave Florida everything they could handle in the SEC championship game. They have issues with chemistry and maturity, but there is no denying the talent, and John Calipari knows a thing or two about this tournament. The Midwest is an absolutely brutal region, but Kentucky stands a decent chance of survival. I like their chances of giving Wichita State a test. They have already beaten Louisville once this year. Michigan and Duke have vulnerabilities just like Kentucky does. They are better than a No. 8 seed typically is, and they could make things interesting. This price is more than fair.
Oklahoma State (+6500): A No. 9 has never won the tournament and isn’t particularly likely to now, but Oklahoma State is better than this price suggests. They have a tough-but-manageable path. Gonzaga is good, but the Cowboys should be the better team. Arizona is very good but is vulnerable — as they have shown recently against Oregon and UCLA. Oklahoma and San Diego State are good matchups for the Cowboys. Wisconsin would be very tough, but the rest of the bottom half of the bracket could be handled if Oklahoma State was on their game. With Marcus Smart at the helm this team is highly-capable — as long as Smart as his teammates decide they want to play their game. There are a whole lot of teams in this tournament less likely to make the Final Four.
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