After falling earlier in the season to the red-hot Baylor Bears, the Kansas Jayhawks were able to pull off the biggest win of the college basketball season last Saturday. Before the game, Baylor had not lost since November 8. Kansas held the Bears to under 40% shooting and drew a bit of luck when Baylor shot just 53% from the free throw line; it was an impressive showing from the Jayhawks all-around.
The Jayhawks are now the No. 1 ranked team in the AP Poll. Is it time to buy Kansas stock?
You may have missed your chance. Kansas sits first place in odds to win the National Championship (+600), jumping Gonzaga and Baylor from last week (+900). According to DraftKings Sportsbook, 28% of the futures handle has come in on Kansas — an incredible number considering there are currently 100 teams listed on the board. The next highest handle percentage is Baylor at 6%, followed by Gonzaga, Dayton and San Diego State at 5%.
Why Kansas is an appealing bet
Kansas has the 8th-ranked scoring defense, 4th-ranked opposing field goal percentage (5th in 2-point percentage), and 11th in free throws allowed in the country. Further, the Jayhawks rank 10th in field goal percentage (15th in 2-point percentage).
The two unequivocally best players on Kansas’ roster, superstar guard Devon Dotson and dominant big man Udoka Azubuike, have proven to each be able to take over games. Both players sit on the shortlist for the Wooden Award and rightfully so — Dotson has scored 15 or more points in all but six games this season and Azubuike has shown a presence in the paint that’s nearly unmatched in the entire country.
Two cases show the potential of this duo, but also the potential to collapse: an early-season game against #4 Dayton and their first matchup with #2 Baylor. The first, Dotson and Azubuike combined for 60 points in the overtime win against the Flyers (Azubuike scored 29 in just 31 minutes, including 9 in overtime). They combined for 74% shooting and were crucial down the stretch in the win. The second game, however, the duo combined for just 15 points on 56% shooting in a 12-point loss. Baylor was able to keep Dotson in check both games (22 combined points, 43% shooting) this season, providing tape for slowing down the electric scorer.
Still a tough road ahead
According to Andy Katz’s latest seeding projections, Kansas is looking at sharing a bracket with Houston, Louisville, Kentucky, and Dayton — the toughest region at a glance. Last year’s #1 seed in the region with the highest average BPI, UNC, saw an early exit in the Sweet 16. In 2018, it was #1 Xavier who didn’t make it past the second round. In 2017, it was Villanova that was eliminated in the second round. To no one’s surprise, the difficulty of the region directly correlates with the chances of seeing the championship round.
Another stat to keep note of: #1 overall seeds in the tournament have had a rough go of late.
- 2019 (Duke) — Lost in Elite Eight
- 2018 (Virginia) — Lost in First Round
- 2017 (Villanova) — Lost in Second Round
Sure, it’s a small sample, but it could be a product of the parity trend in college basketball today. Kansas is projected to be the #1 overall seed in the 2020 tournament, which should further the hesitancy of taking them as winners today.
Of course, these are just projections and a lot of basketball has yet to be played. But with the threat of uncertainty, Kansas is a tough bet today now that they’ve risen to their highest price point of the season. Monitor the odds, and if they were to slip down the list of odds to win, the Jayhawks might make a great bet in March.