Finding March Madness Futures Value
On Saturday, the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Selection Committee will present its first ever in-season look at the top 16 programs comprising the 68-team tournament field.
The body will finalize brackets on March 12, but the gesture is intended to drum up added interest for March Madness in February, as well as give teams and fans a general idea where it stands as the regular season comes to a close. For bettors, this means entering the futures market ahead of added public interest potentially draining value out of the tournament’s primary contenders. Let’s look ahead at 5Dimes review of the odds to see where one can buy-in.
Here’s what we know. The committee is going to lean on the Rating Percentage Index (RPI) heavily. This has proven an advantage for bettors and modelers for years. Created in 1981, the RPI is a measure of strength of schedule and how a team does against that schedule in D-1 contests only. Its biggest flaw is that it does not take margin of victory into account, making its predictive accuracy flimsy. It’s a results-oriented system, and it’s lousy.
Expect changes to the selection process in the future. The NCAA held a meeting in Indianapolis two weeks ago to discuss incorporating new metrics into the selection process to make it more accurate and fair. Predictive models like KenPom, Sagarin, and BPI are likely to enter the fray, as the committee creates some sort of composite index combining them with the results-oriented RPI. Nevertheless, any change in protocol will have to wait until next year as the NCAA conjures up and implements a new model.
As of publication, Baylor, Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, and Louisville make up the top 5 in the RPI standings. Barring a mid-week setback, expect all four No. 1 seeds to come from this group in Saturday’s announcement. If they hold the top spots in mid March is anyone’s guess, but it’s proven profitable to fade the No. 1 final adjusted RPI team prior to tournament time. One has to go all the way back to 2001 (Duke) to find a titleholder that nailed down the top spot headed into contest. Due note, however, 10 of the 16 victors came from the final group of five; seven from No. 3 and up.
There are a few benchmarks to look for in ferreting out potential champions in recent years. In the last 13 seasons, for example, every champion has owned a winning road record, enjoyed a 9-game win streak or better, averaged a double-digit margin of victory, and sported a 3-point percentage of 34 or higher for the year entering the tournament. Obviously, there is still a lot of time for contenders to hit these milestones. With this in mind, going back to preseason market projections is a powerful angle in February.
In the last decade, outside of UConn’s two titles (2010, 2013), the eventual champion ranked tied for sixth or higher on online sportsbook 5Dimes futures board prior to the season’s tip-off in November. This includes reigning champion Villanova (T-6, +2000), Duke twice (3rd, +1000 in 2014; 3rd, +800 in 2009), Louisville (T-2, +800), Kentucky (2nd, +500), UNC (T-6, +450), Kansas (3rd, +500) and Florida (1st, +500). The top six selections this season were Duke (+335), Kentucky (+650), Kansas (+900), Oregon (+1100), Villanova (+1250), and Michigan State (+1650). Bettors would be wise to review these teams prior to the committee’s announcement.
UCLA and Gonzaga top the current offerings at 5Dimes at +800 odds, but it’s the blue bloods in the preseason favorites screaming value, in particular Kansas (+1000) and Kentucky (+1200). The public backing on these two are at season lows. The Jayhawks are embroiled in several off-court issues and just had their 54-game winning streak at Allen Fieldhouse snapped by Iowa State. Head coach Bill Self’s squad, though, is still the team to beat in the Big 12, and will likely come out of the conference tournament victors and full of confidence.
Kentucky, likewise, is at their lowest after losing three of four games prior to Tuesday night’s 92-85 win over LSU. John Calipari’s revolving door of young talent often suffers midseason growing pains, so this is nothing new. It makes them stronger come March. Let’s not forget, the Wildcats lost four of seven entering the SEC tournament three years ago before rallying to win the NCAA championship game.
For a complete check on current NCAA Men’s Basketball Futures, head on over to SBR. Take advantage of the odds now, for the committee’s announcement could cause disadvantageous adjustments.