Soft Draw Creates Opportunity For Two March Madness Long Shots

Written By Stephen Andress on March 24, 2021

The first two wild rounds of March Madness are complete. Sixty-eight teams have been whittled down to the Sweet 16. The favorites in futures wagering to cut down the nets in Indianapolis have seen their odds shorten, but there are still some values heading into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

When betting on college basketball futures at this point, it’s vitally important to consider the path to the final game. Does the team I like have an easier or more difficult path to the national championship game than other teams with similar odds?

This is why I am completely tossing any teams remaining on the left side of the bracket, and not just because of undefeated Gonzaga, the clear and rightful favorite. The left side is an absolute minefield.

Let’s use 2-seed Alabama as an example. The Crimson Tide’s futures odds sit around +1000. Bama is a favorite against 11-seed UCLA in the Sweet 16. After that comes the enormous challenge. An Elite 8 date against the winner of 1-seed Michigan and 4-seed Florida State, and then likely Gonzaga, Oregon or USC in the Final Four. A triad of teams that are red hot when it matters most.

Overall, the left side of the bracket includes seven of KenPom’s top-20 teams. Only five of KenPom’s top-20 teams are still alive on the opposite side, with teams like Houston and Villanova also showing signs they are not playing at their peak.

This is where we will look for futures to capitalize on ahead of the Sweet 16, with an eye on hedging for a profit next weekend:

Loyola-Chicago +1600

The Ramblers are halfway to another Cinderella Final Four run, and the fighting Sister Jeans are for real again. I bet on Porter Moser’s squad at 60-1 pre-tournament. The selection committee shocked me by making Loyola an 8-seed. That ranking created a false perception that still presents some value here. Loyola-Chicago entered the tournament as a top-10 team overall in college basketball by KenPom. Their adjusted defensive efficiency is the best in the nation.

Why would I bet Alabama at +1000 when I can get Loyola-Chicago at +1600 with their path? The Ramblers just upset a 1-seed and get 12-seed Oregon State in the Sweet 16 as favorites. They would then face either 11-seed Syracuse or 2-seed Houston, who needed a complete meltdown by Rutgers to stay alive. Houston is well respected in the advanced college basketball metrics, but those numbers were also bolstered by an easy schedule.

It is possible Loyola-Chicago will only have to beat a 12-seed then an 11-seed to reach the Final Four. At +1600, that leaves some value for potential tougher matchups down the road.

Arkansas +2100

I loved this team’s futures value about a month ago when I added them at 90-1. I still think 20-1 is a little short here. The Razorbacks get the easiest Sweet 16 draw of any team against 15-seed Oral Roberts. No 15-seed has ever reached the Elite 8. Arkansas is a favorite.

The Elite 8 is where it gets tricky, and why their odds are longer than Loyola-Chicago, because they’ll likely have to face one-seed Baylor, who should dispatch with an undermanned Villanova squad. Arkansas would be a possession or two underdog in this game, but the Hogs have been a better defensive team than Baylor this season, opening the door for a potential upset and deeper run towards the final game.

Baylor also does not yet fall into the statistical trend of past Final Four champions. Over the past 20 years, only one team has cut down the nets that did not rank in the top 25 in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. The Bears defense falls short of those marks. History tells us they could still play their way to that standard, but it also tells us, it could very well make them vulnerable deeper into the tournament.

I would not put more than your standard unit on either of these longshot futures, but it’s clear their paths to cashing are much easier than the other side of the bracket, and most importantly, they would not have to face Gonzaga until the end.

March Madness futures odds

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