Vegas Odds to Win It All: Season Opener Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 11th, 2013

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It’s opening week and we’ve already gotten a taste of what’s to come through the first weekend of college basketball. As we head into the start of the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon tonight, culminating in tomorrow night’s top-five double-header at the Champions Classic, it’s time to take a look at how oddsmakers view the upcoming season. As we mentioned last week upon the release of the RTC Preseason Top 25, there appears to be a consensus top five (Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville, Duke and Kansas), followed by a second-tier group of six more teams (Arizona, Florida, Ohio State, Syracuse, Oklahoma State and Michigan). Although the order might be a little different, that is also more or less how Las Vegas is viewing the 2013-14 national championship race. Keeping in mind that unlike those of us who can make any ridiculous prediction we can think of without an appreciable fear of repercussion, oddsmakers stake their livelihoods on this practice. Therefore, they generally have a good idea of what they’re doing.

Let’s first take a look at the odds below (NCAA basketball lines taken from a prominent international sportsbook, where the listed odds are not much different from those in Vegas), then we’ll analyze some takeaways after the jump below. (ed. note: for those unfamiliar with futures odds, +380 represents the amount of money a potential gambler would receive back if he placed a $100 wager on that team and it won.  He would, in other words, win back 3.8 times his original wager.)

2013-14 vegas odds

Some key takeaways:

  • As mentioned above, the top five teams are the same as the RTC25, but the order is different. Kentucky remains at #1 with a strong 11.2 percent chance to win it all. How does this compare with past seasons? Two years ago, North Carolina at +350 (11.4%) was the preseason favorite, while the team that eventually won it all, those same Wildcats, were at +500 (8.6%). In 2010, defending national champion Duke came in as a relatively soft leader at +500, while eventual champion Connecticut was way down the list at +6000 (less than one percent). A couple of seasons prior to that, it was North Carolina that was far and away the favorite at +300; the Heels, of course, ran away with the championship the next April.
  • In the RTC25, Louisville and Michigan State came in at #2 and #3, respectively, while Kansas and Duke filled out the top five. Vegas always loves pure talent, so the youthful but unmistakable talent residing in Lawrence pushes the Jayhawks up to second on this list at +500 (9.0%). The defending champs are peculiar in that Vegas, listing the Cardinals at +1000 (4.9%), doesn’t appear to believe that Rick Pitino can backfill for the losses of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng.
  • The next group contains many of the usual suspects, but it is certainly notable that Memphis and North Carolina at +2000 (2.6% each) are considered better bets to win the title next spring than top 10 teams, Michigan at +3000 (1.7%) and Oklahoma State at +3500 (1.5%). Does this reveal a bias toward basketball schools with strong followings or is something else afoot that causes the oddsmakers to not believe in All-American candidates like Mitch McGary and Marcus Smart?
  • The biggest surprise teams we didn’t see coming? You have to start with NC State at +6000 (0.5%), tied with the likes of Georgetown, Gonzaga and Iowa. Most people don’t project the Wolfpack as an NCAA Tournament team this season — what’s going on there? Similarly for new Big East member Butler, which many pundits are picking to finish in the lower third of the conference standings this season. The Bulldogs are given odds of +8000 (0.7%), equal to projected Big East regular season champion Marquette and chock-full-of-talent Baylor. Very strange.
  • Speaking of Scott Drew’s Bears, we suppose Vegas doesn’t like talent when it’s coached by him. With a team full of athletes and as many as two possible first round picks in the lineup, Baylor at +8000 (0.7%) doesn’t seem realistic. Nor does Marquette at the same spot for that matter. Buzz Williams’ group has been to three straight Sweet Sixteens and he is a master at finding his team’s strengths and playing to them.
  • The bottom of this odds list starts to get really weird when you see bad teams sitting beside pretty good ones. Take Iowa State and Notre Dame vs. Miami (FL) and Vanderbilt, for example. None are likely to win the title, but all four teams received odds of +10,000 (0.5%) and surely there’s nobody on earth who thinks these teams are roughly equivalent.
  • There were a number of other teams below that +10,000 threshold, but we rolled them up into one Field listing at the bottom of the table. Some of the notables were LSU at +12,500, California at +15,000, Xavier and St. Mary’s at +22,500, Harvard at +25,000 and Boston College at +50,000. None are likely to win the championship, but all six could work their way into the NCAA Tournament with a few breaks.
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