As players rolled back to campus across the country in August, I ranked the top college basketball contenders and separated them into tiers to help sort which teams are good — and perhaps not so good — preseason futures bets and values. Incredibly, everyone that read it, including my bosses, agreed it was a perfect list with no flaws. Because of that perfection, I’ve been tasked with making another contenders list and again separating them into tiers. So nice we had to do it twice. Oh yes.
Even though the odds from Caesars Sportsbook have shifted slightly since then, Gonzaga again is in its own tier at the top and UCLA remains one of the top dogs. But other teams and odds have moved around ever-so-slightly for this update — as has some of my opinions. So since I’m committed to giving you what I view as the no-bull guide to betting the field, below is my last stab at that before the season starts next week. So let’s jump into it, shall we?
Tier 1: The Gonzaga tier
Team: Gonzaga (6-1)
Gonzaga’s odds were at 7-1 in August and that number has already dropped to 6-1. So, yeah, sportsbooks are welcoming the idea that this team — ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 — is the class of college basketball this season. For good reason, too. After a 31-1 season that ended with a national runner-up finish, it returns CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year Drew Timme and senior Andrew Nembhard, among others, while adding No. 1 overall recruit Chet Holmgren to the mix. Don’t let Baylor’s 86-70 win in the title game dissuade you from jumping on the Zags train.
Tier 2: Ready to be a front-runner
Teams: UCLA (12-1), Purdue (14-1)
UCLA was in this category last go-round so no change here: It gets back Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang and enrolls five-star freshman Peyton Watson. Bruins are title-material coming off a Final Four run. Big change is the addition of Purdue. It has 14-1 odds — tied for the third-best among all teams behind Gonzaga, Michigan, Villanova and UCLA — but I’m giving it a Boone Bump here. Jaden Ivey is a star, Zach Edey’s breakout is coming and Trevion Williams, as usual, will be a monster. I’m ready to ride this team and willing to go out on a limb and bet them ahead of Michigan, who also is 12-1.
Tier 3: Experienced contenders
Odds: Michigan (12-1), Villanova (12-1), Kentucky (14-1), Kansas (16-1)
Michigan and Villanova both have the second-best odds of winning it all behind rosters that return one of its top-two scorers from a season ago. The nucleus of these two teams don’t change much and experience — and continuity — should be important.
Then there’s transfer experience: what Kentucky and Kansas have. The Wildcats added four players from other institutions who have all found success already. Ditto for Kansas, which landed arguably the biggest name of the bunch in Remy Martin. These two bluebloods should be old and good — and maybe good because, at least in part, they’re old. All four here are viable futures bets I’d make, just know Kentucky’s number was once 20-1 so it seems value isn’t quite there from back in August.