College Basketball Futures: Why Kentucky Wildcats Have National Title Value

Written By Eli Hershkovich on December 20, 2021 - Last Updated on January 5, 2022
College Basketball Futures

With much of conference play around the corner, there’s time to reassess where the betting value lies in the college basketball futures market. Although most teams haven’t undergone a significant skid that warrants a major shift on the oddsboard, there’s one team in particular that presents a buy-low opportunity — Kentucky.

Find the best college basketball futures prices now on our March Madness odds page. You can continue the discussion in our betting community, as we dissect all of the games throughout the week.

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How Have Kentucky’s Odds Changed?

At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, the Wildcats were priced around +1600 to cut down the nets in April. Following their loss to a struggling Notre Dame team on Dec. 11, their odds spiked to +3000 at FanDuel and BetRivers Sportsbook. That’s the best number available among any of the nationwide online books. BetMGM is offering +2500.

Why Is There Buy-Low Value?

The most notable concern with John Calipari’s bunch is its perimeter shooting woes, ranking No. 222 in the country in that metric (32.1%). In the aforementioned loss to the Fighting Irish, they shot just 2-of-19 from behind the arc.

But Kentucky boasts a trio of capable three-point gunners in Davidson transfer Kellan Grady, five-star freshman TyTy Washington and Davion Mintz. Mintz, who’s a career 35.5% long-range shooter, is a viable option despite his struggles to begin the campaign.

Sahvir Wheeler, the Georgia-turned-Kentucky point guard, has been criticized for his inability to space the floor at a consistent rate (22.2%). But the 5-foot-9 ball handler is accruing the 19th-highest assist rate in college basketball, and he exhibited his lightning-quick footspeed off the dribble in a 28-point performance against North Carolina on Saturday.

College Basketball Futures

Is Sahvir Wheeler the missing piece for Kentucky’s first national title since the 2011-12 season?

On Calipari’s most successful units, he’s delivered a dynamic, two-way lead guard. Then-sophomore Ashton Hagans held that role on the 2019-20 squad, but COVID-19 abruptly ended the Wildcats’ 15-3 run in SEC play. Wheeler tallies a top-400 steal percentage across Division I, gifting Calipari with a similar playmaker.

The 37-year collegiate coach noted that he’s reverted to a dribble-drive, floor-spacing system to produce additional room for his sophomore guard to operate.

Moreover, Washington — Wheeler’s backcourt partner — has yet to take the next step as a dominant scorer. Washington plays off-ball at times despite his point guard background, but the NBA prospect has drawn comparisons to Chauncey Billups. If Washington continues to develop throughout the conference slate, Kentucky will possess one of the premier guard tandems when our college basketball futures are on the line.

Wheeler and Washington guide the Wildcats’ uptempo offense, which is sparked by their top-35 rebounding rate at both ends. West Virginia transfer Oscar Tshiebwe is the main cog on the glass, ranking top-five in each category among individual players. Dictating the pace is critical in the NCAA tournament, and Tshiebwe gifts Kentucky with the ability to do just that.

Overall, the Wildcats have the 35th-ranked Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, accounting for the ratings of a defense on a points per possession basis via college basketball prognosticator Ken Pomeroy. As their cohesion improves, their slot should follow suit.

Where Could Kentucky Land In The Big Dance?

Calipari’s group is projected for a No. 6 seed in BarTorvik’s latest bracketology — behind Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Tennessee among SEC programs.

Auburn 2
Alabama 3
Tennessee 3
Kentucky 6
Florida 9
Mississippi State 10

Although Alan Flannigan’s return (Achilles) will propel Bruce Pearl’s team to another level offensively, the Tigers’ inability to control the defensive glass is an overlooked issue for their March Madness prospects. That could very well come into play against the Wildcats.

On top of that, Will Wade’s squad has benefited from second-half comebacks against lower-tier schools while the Tide are too reliant on perimeter scoring. Meanwhile, the Vols have failed to establish an identity when they’re limited to half-court sets.

If Washington reaches his ceiling as a go-to scoring option, a No. 2/3 seed is a viable possibility for Kentucky. The Cats could potentially have Shaedon Sharpe, who was originally the No. 1 overall recruit in 2022, a part the rotation at some point during conference play as well. Now is the time to add the Wildcats as a college basketball futures bet.

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Eli Hershkovich

Eli Hershkovich is a lead sports betting writer with TheLines and Catena Media, formerly with Audacy and The Action Network. His goal is to provide you with data and information to lead you to winning bets. Eli is an avid college basketball gambler — among many other sports — and still hasn't forgiven Virginia for ruining his 2018-2019 Texas Tech futures.

View all posts by Eli Hershkovich