With NCAA Basketball Futures Bets, Shopping Around Is Essential

Whether you like Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, or someone else to win it all this year, the bang for your buck depends on the book.
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Men’s college basketball season tips off today with no fewer than 147 games — and no, we’re not going to calculate the payout if you parlay bet all 147 successfully.

The clear headliners are Kansas vs. Michigan State at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, followed by Kentucky vs. Duke at 9:30. Once those clashes between top-10 teams are over, futures odds to win the national title are bound to shift a little.

When it comes to sports betting, knowing which team to bet on is only one-third of the battle. Success in the long term is also determined by when you bet — picking your winner when the odds are most advantageous — and where you bet.

The clock is ticking on bettors wanting to pick the national champion before teams are either 1-0 or 0-1. But it isn’t ticking so fast that bettors can’t take a few minutes to shop around and find the right sportsbook for their picks.

Rank amateurs

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the dozen teams considered most likely to win the national championship across the spectrum of sportsbooks. Here they are, by Associated Press preseason ranking:

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  • Kansas (1)
  • Kentucky (2)
  • Gonzaga (3)
  • Duke (4)
  • Virginia (5)
  • Tennessee (6)
  • Nevada (7)
  • North Carolina (8)
  • Villanova (9)
  • Michigan State (10)
  • Oregon (14)
  • Michigan (19)

And here were their odds to win the title (and to reach the Final Four in Minneapolis) according to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook over the summer — after the initial wave of futures bets had come in, but well before the final preseason push:

SchoolTitle OddsFinal Four Odds
North Carolina+1800+450
Michigan State+2000+450

The most interesting takeaway: Duke was tied with Kentucky for the shortest odds, despite only being ranked fourth. That should be no surprise, if you know anything about the concept of “public teams.” The Duke Blue Devils are the Yankees/Cowboys/Lakers of college hoops, in that hordes of people love ’em, hordes of people hate ’em, and so many people want to bet them that the books would be foolish to offer true odds.

Prices may vary

DraftKings Sportsbook is the only New Jersey online sportsbook currently offering bets on teams to reach the Final Four, but there are a few sites with full national championship odds posted. And as you can see from this look at DraftKings, FanDuel Sportsbook, and Caesars Casino, they didn’t all compare notes when compiling their prices:

North Carolina+1100+1200+800
Michigan State+2500+2100+2500

For the most part, the odds at DraftKings and FanDuel are aligned, with FanDuel offering consistently better payouts for the top seven teams and DraftKings mostly posting more bettor-friendly odds as you start to reach the long shots.

But the odds at Caesars are just plain weird on some teams. Why would anyone bet on Kentucky to win the title at +375 odds when they can get 8/1 or 9/1 elsewhere? And is Caesars crazy offering 25/1 on defending champ Villanova when everyone else now has them at 9/1 or 10/1?

It’s simple, really. Spend five minutes comparison-shopping online, and you’ll know to bet Kansas or UNC at FanDuel; Gonzaga, ’Nova, or Virginia at Caesars; and Oregon or Tennessee at DraftKings.

Where’s the value?

It’s tough to find a bet on the board where the odds are really favorable to the bettor, but here are a few worth considering:

  • Virginia (+2000, Caesars): Because they imploded as a No. 1 seed in the first round of the tournament last year, bettors are afraid to touch the Cavaliers and their odds are unreasonably long. But they’re No. 5 in the AP poll because they’re bringing back a lot of key players, including projected lottery pick De’Andre Hunter and first-team All-ACC guard Kyle Guy.
  • Villanova (+2500, Caesars): After losing three starters, the Wildcats aren’t really a favorite to win it all. But if you trust in coach Jay Wright and the system, those Caesars odds are too juicy to pass up.
  • Kentucky (+900, FanDuel): John Calipari’s team has the right mix of experience and freshman talent (EJ Montgomery and Keldon Johnson were both considered top 15 recruits) this season, so if you’re looking to put some money on one of the favorites, FD’s odds make it worth your while.
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