FanDuel has UConn as the +550 ‘chalk’

FanDuel has UConn as the +550 ‘chalk’

As we inch closer to Selection Sunday on March 17, FanDuel currently has Connecticut (25-3 straight up, 17-11 against the spread) installed as the +550 ‘chalk’ to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

Dan Hurley’s team bounced back from an 85-66 loss at Creighton this past Tuesday to maul Villanova 78-54 as an 11.5-point home favorite on Saturday. The Huskies now have 19 wins by double-digit margins and have won by at least nine points 21 times.

They don’t return to the court until Sunday to host Seton Hall. Then UConn finishes the regular season with road assignments at Marquette and at Providence.

The Huskies are also listed as -125 favorites to win the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Houston (24-3 SU, 13-12-2 ATS) owns the second-shortest odds (+700) to cut the nets down on April 8 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ. Since losing 78-65 at Kansas on Feb. 3, the Cougars have ripped off five consecutive wins, including an 82-76 win at Baylor in overtime this past Saturday.

Although most bettors think of UH as an ‘under’ team, – its #1 national ranking in both scoring defense (56.1 points per game) and field-goal percentage defense (37.6%) lends credence to that notion – we’ll nonetheless note that it has seen the ‘over’ hit in three straight games and cash at a 6-1 clip in its last seven contests.

Do gamblers trust the Cougars, who have been to the Final Four only once since 1984, to have enough offense to win six NCAAT games in a row this year? This one doesn’t.

Houston is ranked #293 out of 362 Division-1 programs in free-throw percentage (68.9%), which is a potentially poisonous recipe in March. The Cougars are ranked #247 in FG percentage (43.5%), #174 in 3-point accuracy (34.2%) and #171 in scoring (74.2 PPG).

When a team can often struggle to get buckets, you’re bound to run into a hot-shooting team (Miami in last year’s Sweet 16 obviously rings a bell for UH fans) during a six-game stretch against top-tier opponents. When that situation arises, resulting in an early deficit like it did against the Hurricanes last season, will the Cougars produce enough offense to play from behind and still pull out a win? I have my doubts.

The next-shortest odds on the board at FanDuel belong to Purdue (+750), Arizona (+1300 or 13/1), Tennessee (13/1), North Carolina (20/1), Marquette (20/1), Auburn (20/1), Duke (22/1), Iowa St. (22/1), Alabama (25/1), Creighton (30/1), Kentucky (30/1), Kansas (35/1), Illinois (35/1) and Baylor (45/1).

Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan St., Saint Mary’s and San Diego St. share 55/1 odds, while Washington St., Clemson and BYU have 75/1 odds. Three other teams – Mississippi St., Texas Tech and Gonzaga – are inside of 100/1 at 85/1.

A little over three weeks ago, Purdue (25-3 SU, 16-11-1 ATS) was the +700 favorite. Since then, the Boilermakers are 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS. They have the best post player in the country in 7-foot-4, 300-pound center Zach Edey, who averages 23.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocked shots and 1.8 assists per game.

Edey has made 62.7 percent of his FGAs and 71.9 percent of his free-throw attempts. He had 35 points and 15 rebounds in Sunday’s 84-76 win at Michigan.

When Virginia became the first #1 seed in NCAA Tournament history to lose to a #16 seed (UMBC) in 2018, it responded by winning the program’s first national championship in 2019. One year after becoming only the second #1 seed in NCAAT history to suffer a similar fate (vs. Fairleigh Dickinson), Matt Painter’s team is hoping to follow the same script to win Purdue’s first national title.

Painter owns a 17-15 career NCAAT record (17-14 at Purdue) during his 19-year tenure at his alma mater. In 14 previous NCAA Tournament appearances on his watch, the Boilermakers have advanced to the Sweet 16 five times and the Elite Eight once (2019), but they haven’t been to a Final Four since 1980.

The hope in West Lafayette is that this is the season in which Painter sheds the same affliction (zero Final Four appearances) that plagued his predecessor and head coach during his own playing days from 1989-93, Gene Keady.

Arizona (21-6 SU, 17-9-1 ATS) owns a 7-3 record against Quad-1 competition, picking up impressive non-conference wins at #9 (in KenPom’s rankings) Duke, vs. #20 Michigan St. (on a neutral court in Palm Springs, CA.), vs. #22 Wisconsin (at home) and vs. #7 Alabama (in Phoenix, AZ.).

However, the Wildcats have losses to #2 Purdue (in Indianapolis), #35 FAU (in double overtime in Las Vegas), at #108 Stanford and at #154 Oregon St. They were also swept in a pair of Pac-12 games by #37 Washington.

Even though Arizona played one of the nation’s premier non-conference schedules, gamblers mulling the purchase of a future ticket on the Wildcats have to be a bit concerned by the weakness of the Pac-12 in its last season of existence. (In Joe Lunardi’s recent edition of ‘Bracketology’ updated on Feb. 23, he only had two Pac-12 schools – Washington St. being the other – penciled into the field.)

I’ve said for months that the presence of Dalton Knecht, the transfer from Northern Colorado who is averaging 20.1 points per game, makes Tennessee (21-6 SU, 13-13-1 ATS) more dangerous than most (if not all) of the defensive-minded teams during Rick Barnes’s tenure.

The Volunteers remain one of the country’s best defensive teams, ranking #2 nationally at KenPom in defensive efficiency. They’re also #21 in offensive efficiency and are scoring at an 80.3 PPG clip.

With that said, it’s extremely difficult to trust a Barnes’ team in March. He’s easily the country’s best coach to never win a national title.

Barnes has 800 career wins, which is the 16th-most in Division-1 history. He’s taken 27 different teams from Providence, Clemson, Texas and Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament, only to come up short of the Final Four 26 times. (Barnes got the Longhorns to the national semifinals in the 2003 NCAAT.)

Of the 11 teams with odds ranging from 20/1 to 45/1, there are two that I don’t trust because of their head coaches. They’re Marquette and Kentucky.

Since Shaka Smart guided VCU on its magical ride from the First Four to the Final Four in the 2011 NCAAT, his teams at VCU, Texas and Marquette have struggled to a 3-9 record in 12 NCAAT games.

John Calipari led Kentucky to a national title in 2012 when he had seven future NBA players on that roster. Since 2016, however, the Wildcats haven’t been to a Final Four and they have only one NCAAT win since going to the Elite Eight in 2019.

This year’s UK squad (19-8 SU, 16-11) has talent and potential galore, but it’s ranked #323 nationally in scoring defense (77.9 PPG).

Of the nine other teams in that 20/1 to 45/1 range, I think we can eliminate three based on a lack of trust when those teams leave their raucous home arenas. Auburn is 8-5 in games on the road or on neutral courts and just 2-6 in Quad-1 games.

Alabama is 6-7 in 13 games on the road or at neutral sites and only 3-7 in Quad-1 contests. In addition, the Crimson Tide has only advanced to the Elite Eight once in program history.

Furthermore, Nate Oats’s squad is heavily reliant on shooting the three and, when you live and die on making or missing long jumpers, you’re going to die way more often than you live in March.

Iowa St. is unbeaten in 16 home games in Ames, but the Cyclones have lost six of 11 games played on the road or at neutral venues.

In our previous discussion (link above when Purdue was the ‘chalk’) about future odds on Feb. 2, I disclosed my in-pocket plays as UConn (12/1), FAU (45/1) and Clemson (70/1). Since then, I’ve added Creighton (at 40/1 odds), Florida (90/1) and South Carolina (100/1).

I recommended the Bluejays with their 60/1 odds at FanDuel in this post on X (formerly Twitter) on Feb. 8, but I was unable to get that generous payout without access to FanDuel’s number. My in-pocket play on UConn has the most risk and all my other future wagers (with the exception of FAU) are minimum plays.

If I didn’t have any in-pocket future tickets right now, the teams that would interest me the most would be Creighton (30/1), Illinois (35/1), Florida (55/1) and FAU (100/1).

I should probably include UConn, too. Obviously, it’s the shortest number on the board (and bettors are way late to the party at this point) but as long as the Huskies avoid injuries between now and Selection Sunday, I’ll be picking them to win my bracket.

Despite yesterday’s loss to St. John’s at MSG in NYC, there’s a lot to like about Greg McDermott’s team that lost a heartbreaker by one point to San Diego St. in the Elite Eight last season.

Creighton (20-8 SU, 14-14 ATS) has size, experience, quality coaching, outstanding guard play and an elite rim protector in Ryan Kalkbrenner, the 7-foot-1 senior center who averages 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocked shots per game.

The Bluejays are solid at both ends, ranking 12th in the country in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency at KenPom. They’re #3 nationally 2-point percentage, #4 in effective FG percentage, #8 in D-1 experience, #17 in average height and #18 in free-throw percentage (77.5%).

Creighton is the nation’s only team with a road win at Nebraska (#34 at K-Pom) and has other quality road scalps at #56 Seton Hall, at #52 Xavier and at #58 Butler. And, lest we forget, the Bluejays are one of only three teams to beat UConn, smashing the Huskies 85-66 in Omaha last week.

Illinois (20-7 SU, 15-10-2 ATS) has four elite players in Terrence Shannon Jr. (21.6 PPG, 1.1 BPG), Marcus Domask (15.3 PPG, 4.7 RPG & 3.4 APG), Coleman Hawkins (13.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.8 SPG & 1.1 BPG) and Quincy Guerrier (10.3 PPG & 6.9 RPG). The Fighting Illini can bolster its resume and NCAAT seed with looming home games vs. Minnesota and Purdue, in addition to road contests at Wisconsin and Iowa.

Florida (19-8 SU, 13-13-1 ATS) has won eight of its last 10 games, but Todd Golden’s bunch could easily be on a 10-game winning streak. Since losing at Tennessee on Jan. 16, the Gators’ lone defeats are in a 67-66 loss at #57 Texas A&M and a 98-93 overtime setback at #7 Alabama.

Four of UF’s losses – on neutral floors against Baylor and Virginia, at home vs. Kentucky and at Texas A&M – were by merely 10 combined points. The Gators had an 82.1 percent win probability early in the second half of the loss in College Station, and they had an 80.7 percent win probability with six minutes left in Tuscaloosa last week.

UF is one of only seven teams in the country who are undefeated in Q2, Q3 and Q4 games. The Gators are ranked third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage thanks to four quality bigs – Tyrese Samuel, Alex Condon, Micah Handlogten and Thomas Haugh.

Florida also has elite guards in Walter Clayton (16.9 PPG, 2.7 APG & 1.1 SPG), Zyon Pullin (15.0 PPG, 5.0 APG & 1.0 SPG) and Riley Kugel (9.8 PPG, 1.1 SPG). The Gators are ranked eighth in the country in scoring with their 84.8 PPG average.

FAU (21-7 SU, 13-15 ATS) has slumped recently with three losses in its last six games, but all three of those defeats were on the road by only 11 combined points, including an OT loss at UAB. Like Illinois, the Owls have ‘been in’ every game this year with zero losses by double-digit margins.

Dusty May’s squad brought back eight of its top nine players from a team that lost by one on a buzzer beater vs. San Diego St. in last year’s Final Four. As evidenced by its double-OT win over Arizona in Las Vegas, in addition to neutral-court Q2 victories over Butler, Texas A&M, Va. Tech and St. Bonaventure, FAU can beat any team in the country on any given night.

What about Kansas? Well, my main concern with the Jayhawks is the status of star guard Kevin McCullar, who averages 19.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.5 steals per game.

Bill Self expressed serious concern about McCullar’s lingering knee injury (bone bruise) after he missed Saturday’s 86-67 home win vs. Texas, going as far as saying that he wasn’t sure if he’d be healthy enough to play again this season. McCullar has missed three of KU’s last four games.

Saint Mary’s is another team that recently saw its NCAAT hopes take a hit due to an injury. The Gaels, who own the nation’s longest current winning streak (15 games) and have compiled a 20-1 SU record in their last 21 outings, won’t have starting forward Joshua Jefferson for the rest of the year.