Last December I threw on the Gonzaga-Washington game very late at night to see eventual first overall pick Markelle Fultz play against a pretty good Gonzaga team. I had thought about putting a futures bet on Gonzaga before the season started because they were bringing in a couple big name transfers and a McDonald’s All-American. I was initially hesitant because I figured the chemistry wouldn’t be there, but after watching a first half where the Bulldogs bullied the Huskies to a 47–22 lead I immediately placed a bet right before going to sleep. I know, Gonzaga didn’t win and didn’t hedge my bet I like an idiot, but the ride I went on during the tournament was exhilarating.
Let’s get into our value picks to win the national championship this year with some “expert” analysis:
Jamie: West Virginia Mountaineers (+6600)
I’m happy to hitch my wagon to Huggy Bear. The windbreaker wearing patriarch of the West Virginia basketball program hasn’t recruited well in the past half decade, but he can coach the hell out of basketball. Press Virginia is not something you want to run into, especially in March because Bob Huggins has reached the Final Four twice. My pick starts with the PG position where the Mountaineers have Jevon Carter who feels like he’s been at WVU for forever. I thought he was playing basketball in a country like Italy or Lithuania before making this pick. Carter won the Big 12 defensive player of the year award last season while leading the Mountaineers in scoring and becoming their 3-point specialist. Also returning to Morgantown is their second leading scorer Esa Ahmad who will miss the first half of the season due to failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. I feel like that’ll be a big story-line in March. West Virginia will have to replace Nathan Adrian and Elijah Macon with sophomores Lamont West and Sagaba Konate, but virtually every team has to worry about starting lineup turnover. They also have a guard named “Beetle” Bolden coming off the bench and I really hope we can hear Gus Johnson scream “BEETLE AT THE BUZZER” come March. Also, they’re ranked 7th in KenPom’s preseason rankings and we’d get couch burning in Morgantown!
Pat: Seton Hall Pirates (+10000)
Deeper into the value bin here, but it is hard to pass the Pirates up at these odds. Over the past seven seasons, head coach Kevin Willard has built a strong program in South Orange, NJ that has resulted in a 2016 Big East Tournament title and back to back tournament appearances. Though the Pirates lost Madison Jones to graduation, they return their top 4 scorers from last year’s tournament team. Led by the senior forward and double-double machine Angel Delgado, the Hall has a legitimate Big East Player of the Year and first team All American candidate. Fellow senior guards Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez round out a trio of seniors that few teams in the country can match in terms of scoring pop and experience. Throw in sophomore guard and potential star in the making Myles Powell, and the Pirates boast four players capable of dropping 20 points on a given night. On the defensive side of the floor, Ismael Sanogo is a proven stopper at the small forward position, and Michael Nzei provides solid frontcourt depth for when Delgado has to sit.
One of the big storylines for Hall early will be Carrington moving over to the point full time, which he has not done since AAU ball. Carrington definitely has the skillset and teammates to be one of the nation’s top point guards, so there is reason to believe he will take to the transition well. The other storyline here is Delgado, who has a chance to break David Robinson’s record for double-doubles in a season (31) after 27 of his own last year. As Delgado goes, Seton Hall goes.
Given health, this team has a serious shot to win the Big East and make a deep tournament run. Their diverse talent all over the court gives the Pirates the ability to win in in multiple ways — from offensive shootouts to defensive slugfests. They will need some things to break their way in order to cut down the nets next April, but luck is a huge factor in every championship run, as is experience. One more note on experience — since the NBA’s “one and done” rule was put into place in 2005, only two out of a possible 12 NCAA national champions have had one and done players (Kentucky in’12 & Duke in‘15). Give me the Pirates’ experience over youth come March.
Dave: Butler Bulldogs (+15000)
My Butler pick is somewhere between wanting to make people really question my legitimacy and wanting to keep things interesting. I had thoughts of writing about Florida (+2200) or Virginia (+7500) but I wanted a real nose dive into the value bin. There are a lot of questions this year for the Bulldogs including a new coach, help for Baldwin and Martin, and how a very strong non-conference schedule will effect them.
There’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a big Dawgs fan. Kelan Martin will continue his play as a legitimate NBA prospect while Kamar Baldwin finally makes his transition to point guard where “experts” are saying he could thrive and even have a shot at Big East player of the year consideration. Tyler Wideman, who stands at only 6–8, has the respect of bigs from around the conference thanks to his outstanding defensive work and will be looking to improve his scoring touch this year. Finally, Sean McDermott is finally getting his chance to play starting minutes and show off his range.
Possibly the biggest piece of intrigue will be where the 32.7 minutes a game go that were previously given to Chrabascz. Butler already had 10 guys playing over 10 minutes a game and with sophomores like McDermott, Baldwin and Brunk looking to make their second year glow up, Butler could be a very tough out come March. Deep teams win basketball games. Now that I have written this, I fully expect a 6 win season and epic collapse in Indy.
Matt: Miami Hurricanes (+6600)
The U is a basketball school. I’m taking Miami at +6600 as my value pick. Since Coach Larrañaga’s arrival in 2011, Miami has become an extremely competitive team in an extremely competitive ACC. How competitive? The Canes are 5–5 vs UNC and 5–3 vs Duke in the Coach L era. That doesn’t sound so impressive now that I’ve written it on paper, but goddamnit it’s Duke and UNC, and after all, Miami is a football school.
Mark Titus, of The Ringer, has a tournament theory that I subscribe to: teams with NBA-level guard play and good defense can win championships. Titus also likes the Canes for this exact reason (Wait, am I performing my very first hot-take rip-off?). Miami has one of the best backcourts in the nation with Senior Ja’Quan Newton, Sophomore Bruce Brown and 5-star freshman Lonnie Walker. Brown and Walker are NBA guards — possibly lottery pick type talent — and Newton brings the intangible experience of playing in big games. Bruce Brown did not consistently put up gaudy scoring stats last year as a freshman, but he is capable of having a big scoring night when he wants to (30 points on 8–11 shooting in Miami’s biggest win last year vs. UNC). Lonnie Walker is Miami’s biggest recruit in the history of the program. He is coming off a torn meniscus injury suffered during the summer but played significant minutes in Miami’s scrimmage against Newberry College on November 1st. There is a high likelihood Walker will be Miami’s first one-and-done player. So yeah, he’s pretty good.
Coach Larrañaga’s teams always play great defense — I don’t know if that’s statistically true but it sounds right, doesn’t it? You’ve probably never heard this before, but he took George Mason, which is a really small school, to a Final Four. Their defense must have been pretty good. KenPom’s got Miami ranked #23 preseason for AdjD, so I’d say that can be considered elite.
Bonus reason for my Miami pick: Miami has one of the best kept secrets in NCAA basketball: DJ Vasiljevic. DJ is a 6’3” sophomore guard from Australia who shoots the basketball into the hoop from any distance he pleases. In Miami’s scrimmage against Newberry College, he scored 19 points in the first four and a half minutes of play on 7–7 shooting (5–5 from 3). He ended with 30 points in 28 minutes on the floor. Every ACC fan will be googling him after their team plays Miami.