- Virginia was the first No. 1 seed to ever lose to a No. 16 seed in last year's men's NCAA tournament, but the Cavaliers are among the best value bets on the board to win it all in 2019.
March Madness is always one of the most exciting times of the year for sports bettors, but finding good value for championship odds before the season tips off will set you apart from the pack. Oddsmakers listed the two teams in this past title matchup, Villanova and Michigan, at 20/1 and 80/1 respectively in November before the season started to cut down the nets. Here are our SI college basketball experts’ favorite championship value bets for this upcoming campaign using the current odds of bookmaker William Hill:
Auburn Tigers (50/1)
Go back over the last decade of college basketball, and a theme about the teams that cut down the nets becomes obvious: they were mostly veteran teams led by upperclassmen, not high-profile freshmen. With the exception of 2011-12 Kentucky, which featured Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and 2014-15 Duke, led by Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow, recent one-and-dones have not formed national championship foundations. Looking at this season’s plausible longshots, one team fits into that trend perfectly: Auburn.
Even with Mustapha Heron transferring to St. John’s, Auburn returns six of its eight top scorers from last year’s squad that shared the SEC regular season championship with Tennessee. Junior Jared Harper and senior Bryce Brown give Bruce Pearl one of the most dynamic backcourts in the country, and with sophomores Chuma Okeke and Austin Wiley ready for more responsibility, there’s good reason to believe Auburn will shore up a defense that ranked 111th in kenpom.com’s effective field goal percentage.
Auburn’s pace makes it a matchup nightmare for nearly every team in the country, and while that can lead to burnout, the Tigers have the right guards at the helm, especially since they ran the show so beautifully last year. Harper and Brown fit the same leadership mold we’ve seen from recent champions, making the Tigers well worth a bet at 50/1. –Michael Beller
Tennessee Volunteers (22/1)
The Vols may have no Final Fours to their program name, but they have a legitimate chance to have their best season ever in 2018–19. This is a team that spent more than two straight months in the top 15 on kenpom.com last year, including getting as high as No. 7, and brings back almost its entire core, losing only role players James Daniel and Chris Darrington. The early analytics like Tennessee again, with Ken Pomeroy’s summer top 10 having it ninth and ESPN’s BPI having it all the way at No. 3.
Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams are both proven go-to scorers for the Vols, while point guard Jordan Bone is a rising junior who had the fourth-best assist rate in SEC play last season. Then you have senior Kyle Alexander, a 6’11” presence inside who is super efficient offensively and a strong shot-blocker. Add in juniors Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, and you’ve got the foundation of a veteran, defense-first team that is built for a long NCAA tournament run (keep in mind that Alexander missed the Vols’ recent Round of 32 exit with injury). With many of 2018–19’s expected elite teams relying a lot on transfers or freshmen, it’s worth strongly considering one at 22/1 that’s coming off a co-SEC regular-season title and that will boast one of the highest minutes continuities in the country. –Molly Geary
The best thing Virginia’s Tony Bennett has going for him, as the coach who came out on the undesirable side of the only 16–1 upset in NCAA men's tournament history, is that he has positioned the Cavaliers perfectly to follow Villanova’s formula for cutting down the nets. The Wildcats’ two national title runs in the past three seasons were both directly preceded by disappointing first-weekend exits—nothing as bad as losing to UMBC, but disappointments nonetheless. From there, a core consisting of many of the same players returned the following year and stared down every March test.
That’s the logic behind liking the Hoos in 2018–19, now that they’ve scared away everyone by spoiling a 31–2 regular season with a first-round exit. De’Andre Hunter, who established himself as one of the nation’s most important sixth men as a redshirt freshman but missed the UMBC game with a broken wrist, withdrew from the draft to rejoin a deadly backcourt piloted by Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, and forward Mamadi Diakite looks ready for a larger role after stepping up down the stretch. With the most embarrassing moment in program history hanging over him, expect Bennett to stress-test his methodical system for March Madness (UMBC’s ingenious time-wasting tactics and hot shooting can’t take down the No. 1 overall seed) and run out a more flexible but equally talented squad this winter. –Eric Single
Michigan State (25/1)
There’s still a dark cloud hovering over Michigan State given that the school has been embroiled in scandal after scandal, but this team still has plenty of talent and one of the best college basketball coaches.
NBA lottery picks Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr. are gone, yet three starters return from a squad labeled last preseason as the favorite to win it all. Big man Nick Ward and floor general Cassius Winston are both entering their junior year, and give Sparty a lethal inside-outside combo. Winston emerged as a star last season, as he was extremely efficient (50.7% from the floor, 49.7% from three and 90% from the FT line) and led the Big Ten with 6.9 assists per game. Savvy veteran point guard play was a huge key for the two previous tournament champions—Jalen Brunson for Villanova and Joel Berry for North Carolina—and Winston certainly fits that mold.
Fellow upperclassmen Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid are both viable options to score on the perimeter. Marcus Bingham Jr. is the big prize of Michigan State’s incoming recruiting class, and possesses great length and shot-blocking ability. His skill set will blend in perfectly with a team defense that was No. 1 in effective field goal percentage last season (opponents had a 42.7 eFG%) and block percentage (18.5%).
The Spartans’ starting five is one of the best in the country, and they have very solid frontcourt depth as well. Last season ended much earlier for Tom Izzo and Co. than expected thanks to Syracuse upsetting them in the Round of 32, but there is a lot to like in East Lansing regarding this upcoming March. –Max Meyer