A Weekly Breakdown of the NCAA Men’s hoops Top 10
Ten day ago was the first installment of our weekly top 10 rundown. We had a big stumble from Baylor, and a tumble from USC (dropped 11 spots). The newcomer this week is red-hot Houston (7).
This week, we’re also going to start posting futures bets as they currently stand on DraftKings (and whether they’re worthy of consideration or not.
The Top 10
1. Auburn (18-1)
Auburn is the new #1 team in the nation. Jabari Smith Jr just continues to slide closer and closer to the number one overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Last week, Smith shot 50% from the field and led the team in both assists and rebounds in their win over Georgia. Despite shooting poorly from deep (28%), the Tigers were +10 in both turnovers and rebounds.
This weekend, the Tigers bounced the Kentucky Wildcats, 80–71 in a very challenging SEC matchup. They continue to win, despite other teams losing a game here and there. That’s a big reason why they’re now the top-ranked team in the country.
Another big reason for their top ranking is Jabari Smith. The thing is, Smith isn’t being asked to do too much. As a Freshman, that approach is both critical and ideal from a team success perspective. The team defense and rebounding continues to give this team a massive cushion on the offensive end. Up this week are Mizzou (1/25) and Oklahoma (1/29).
2. Gonzaga (15-2)
It didn’t take too long for Gonzaga to regain their throne atop the AP Top 25 last week, but it took even less time to lose it. Last week, the Zags cruised by rival BYU and repeated it two days later, disposing of Santa Clara in a loose defensive effort. It’s not that Gonzaga can’t play defense. They just prefer to get you into high scoring games, trusting their talent and efficiency over their opponent.
Looking at the schedule going forward, Gonzaga is really going to have to mess things up to fall in the ranking. They don’t have a ranked opponent the rest of the way, so we shouldn’t expect them to slip-up, unless we get a big covid exodus. Next up for Gonzaga is Loyola (1/27) and Portland (1/29).
Futures: I still love the bet we put out in the last article for Gonzaga: Gonzaga to reach Final Four +115. Gonzaga will be heavily favored from the Round of 64 through the Elite Eight. Considering how bad the moneyline odds will be for them, get positive money while you can.
3. Arizona (16-1)
Arizona is gaining momentum in the polls. Following a relatively quiet start to the season, the Wildcats are now 3rd in the AP Poll and 2nd on KenPom. Since we last covered them, Arizona went on a 4-0 streak against Colorado, Utah, Stanford, and Cal.
Though their 5-0 run since December is nice, it’ hasn’t exactly been much survival basketball. The win over Colorado was really impressive, but Utah, Stanford, and Cal simply aren’t good. Still, the Wildcats closest game during the stretch has been 16 points, so they’re playing at a high level, regardless of the strength of their opponent.
The real tests will come over the next couple weeks, as Arizona will face #7 UCLA twice, followed by a game against #15 USC at home.
4. Baylor (17-2)
Baylor might finally be falling back down to earth. Most of us were really starting to question just how good this team was, given the losses of key players. Even at 17-2, they’re still one of the most impressive teams in the country. They’re just closer to what we expected they may be prior to the season.
Last week, Baylor dropped a pair of conference home games, before closing the week with a win at West Virginia. They followed that up with an easy weekend trip to Oklahoma, dismantling the Sooners 65-51. This week, they’ll face Kansas State (1/25) and Alabama (1/29).
Futures: Big 12 Conference Tournament Champion: Baylor +230
This would be a horrible bet right now. It’s not even about Baylor’s current form. It’s more about the quality of the conference as a whole. If you were to bet each Baylor moneyline game through the conference tourney, you’d probably get closer to +350 odds that way. There’s just too much risk involved right now for a +230 payout.
5. Kansas (17-2)
Kansas might just play their way into a #1 seed if they can keep up their recent form. Over the last ten days, Kansas has gone 5-0, with wins over Iowa State, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kansas State, and overtime revenge against Texas Tech. Kansas now has just four more ranked games (as of now) for the remainder of the season.
Up next for the Jayhawks is a Big 12/SEC challenge matchup against Kentucky (1/29). There’s no doubt the Jayhawks are playing better ball than the Wildcats right now, but Kentucky has an excellent chance to stamp their resume with a high-quality win. If Kansas can run relatively clean the rest of the way and finish well in the conference tournament, they should be able to pull a one seed for the Big Dance in March.
6. Purdue (16-3)
Purdue has had a very interesting ten days, going 3-1 over that stretch. After a mildly surprising win at #11 Illinois, the Boilermakers fell on the road at Indiana. It’s just the first time since 2016 Purdue has lost to their in-state rivals. Trailing at the half, the Boilermakers turned up the heat in the second half, leading 65-63 with under 20 seconds remaining. It took a Rob Phinisee three with 17 seconds left to seal the win for Indiana.
After dropping the tough game against Indiana, Purdue bounced back and took care of business against Northwestern. Now, the Boilermakers have an away matchup with Iowa (1/27) and a home game against #16 Ohio State (1/30). With a slew of tough opponents on the back nine, can Purdue finally figure out a way to play their three best players at the same time?
7. Houston (17-2)
The Houston Cougars may be one of the few teams in college basketball no one will call “overrated” because of their relatively easy schedule. The reason for that is simple: They’ve proved it in March. The Houston Cougars have had a somewhat easy schedule, but that’s primarily due to the unexpected poor performances of some of their conference rivals (Memphis primarily).
Houston has two losses (Wisconsin, Alabama) by a combined total of just three points. They are a terrifying opponent (4th on KenPom) because they’re both underrated and under appreciated. The Cougars are riding a nine-game win streak right now and aren’t scheduled to face a ranked team the rest of the way (Cincy and SMU might eventually break-in). Next for Houston is a road game against UCF (1/29).
8. UCLA (13-2)
UCLA split their Oregon/Oregon State weekend road trip last week. Despite the +4 edge on the glass in Eugene, the Bruins were a little worse in the shooting department (39% from the field), and it really sealed their fate. The Ducks needed the win, if we’re being honest. They were just 9-6 heading into the game, so the win was critical towards building a favorable bubble resume in March.
Following the OT loss to Oregon, UCLA regrouped and handled their business against 3-13 Oregon State just a few days later (81-65). Johnny Juzang appears to have reassumed the role of offensive talisman, as he led the team in scoring in each of the last four games. Next-up for the Bruins are Arizona (1/25), Cal (1/27), and Stanford (1/29).
9. Duke (15-3)
Duke has not had the season many expected. In Coach K’s final season at Duke, there have been a number of hurdles for a team that is substantially more talented than the rest of their conference. Losses to Ohio State, Miami, and Florida State have kept Duke on the fringes of the title contender conversation for the majority of the season. Though none of their losses have been blowouts, they probably shouldn’t be happening.
As with the last several seasons, Duke has had the same challenges as Kentucky. Both need to turn lottery pick Freshmen into productive, championship-level players in less than a full season. Any time you choose to recruit the best high schoolers in the country, that’s the challenge you’ll face with them. It’s a race against the clock and Duke’s time is beginning to run out. This week, Duke will get a home game against Clemson (1/25), followed by a road game at Louisville (1/29).
10. Michigan State (15-3)
Michigan State is clinging to the Top 10 ranking like a stowaway cat on the wing of a 747. The Spartans are back-in this week, following their 86-74 win over Wisconsin. The Spartans were able to wash the taste out of their mouths after losing at home against Northwestern with that huge win over the #8 Badgers in Wisconsin; bringing their record to 15-3 (6-1 in conference).
Whether it’s a narrow win over Minnesota or a 12-point win over Wisconsin, this team continues to maintain a short memory on the year. Next-up is an away game (as underdogs) against #24 Illinois (1/25) and Michigan (1/29).
Futures: The Spartans have some tough games down the stretch, so it’s probably wise to avoid them right now. If you’re really into the “Tom Izzo in March” narrative, you should just wait until the Spartans drop another game and then head on over to put a futures don on them.
Best Futures for NCAA Tournament
Team To Make 2022 Final Four: Auburn +280
Normally, I would avoid these types of bets when considering NCAA Tourney picks. However, the impact of their transfers and the potency of Jabari Smith (as a Freshman) lead me to believe this team still has room to grow as the season progresses. This is a bet with some upside, even if they’re already the #1 team in the country.