This article is part of our College Basketball Picks series.
Betting on the National Champion before the college basketball season starts is hard. I looked at last year's article, and I said not to take Baylor at +800 because it was a favorite and the odds were too small. Maybe I was correct in theory, but the bet was clearly a miss.
Fortunately, I at least made sense on some of my conference picks, as Villanova and Virginia hit with plus odds to win the Big East and ACC, respectively. I even pointed out Baylor at +185 to win the Big 12, though I also said I didn't like betting against Kansas.
Either way, I'll probably focus on conference bets more than anything, since those odds at least make sense. If you think about it, how can you bet Baylor +800 to win the National Championship when they were +185 to win their conference? Given the unpredictability of the tournament, the value isn't there.
I don't often bet on Duke since its odds are usually juiced due to name, but at +1500 and higher at some places, there is some value. The main thing is that Paolo Banchero is starting to receive Zion Williamson-like buzz, and he could be the No. 1 pick in next year's NBA Draft. Throw in improvement from Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore and Mark Williams, and the pieces are there for the Blue Devils to win it all in Mike Krzyzewski's final season.
I also think Kansas +2000 is worth a look. It's a weird season because all of the big names are longer odds than usual despite having fairly loaded rosters. The Jayhawks have the majority of last season's roster back when they were a 3-seed, in addition to transfers Remy Martin, Joseph Yesufu and Jalen Coleman-Lands. If Martin can turn into a true point guard, this team has quality at every position, though frontcourt depth could be a problem again.
If you don't want to go hardcore with national title winners, I like Purdue and Texas, both at +400 to make the Final Four. I think both teams have the quality to make the Final Four but maybe not what it takes to win it all.
While I took the Blue Devils to win the national title, there's no value in betting them to win the ACC at +200, especially since they haven't won the regular season since 2009-10. Crazy, right? North Carolina presents decent value at +450 with a nice combo of returning talent and transfers. I don't know much about Virginia's frontcourt and this may be the year it falls off, but that's rarely been a good thing to bet against. I think Florida State is another option at +650 given its recent success, winning the conference two years ago and finishing second last year. Transfer Caleb Mills is a walking bucket, and there's a chance freshman guard Jalen Warley steps right into a starting spot.
I think Villanova is close to a guarantee to win the Big East at -155, which unfortunately is a far cry from last season's +250 odds. There's a slight chance UConn upends them at +450, but with almost everyone but Jeremiah Robinson-Earl back, it's hard to bet against the Wildcats.
The Wolverines are the favorite at +200, but they're super young. DeVante' Jones is expected to step in and be a Big Ten point guard, and while early reports suggest he'll be better than Mike Smith, it's also worth noting he wasn't a point guard at Coastal Carolina. As a disclaimer, my bias against Michigan is in my blood and it's impossible to get rid of.
Still, I think Purdue is deeper and more experienced, and has better odds at +300 to win the conference. Matt Painter has kept the Boilermakers near the top of the standings almost every year and they are nearly impossible to beat at home. Jaden Ivey is an inevitable NBA lottery pick, while Trevion Williams and Zach Edey could be the best frontcourt in the country, if not the most intimidating. They only lost Aaron Wheeler, who didn't have much of a role late in the season once Ivey took over.
Illinois is interesting at +700 because of Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo, but I'm not sure anyone else has a shot. There are teams like Michigan State (+900) and Maryland (+1200) that have pieces, but expecting massive improvement from them when a team like Purdue will only be better is a hard bet.
There's not a ton of value here with Kansas at +125 and Texas +200. You could bet Baylor at +550 and hope that run continues, but the Bears lost a lot. Based on history, I'd take the Jayhawks and hope Chris Beard doesn't turn the Longhorns into an immediate conference winner.
The Pac-12 is in a similar spot to the Big 12. All signs point to UCLA being a national-title contender, with +150 odds to win the conference. It'll be hard to bet against that, even with Oregon's recent success. I like the the Ducks, but the +250 odds doesn't seem good enough when the Bruins could be one of the best teams in the country.
I'd like there to be more value in the SEC, but I still think there are some numbers worth going after. There's a chance Kentucky is an elite team again, but I don't want to test that at +225. The same goes for Alabama at +275.
My favorite SEC play is probably Arkansas at +450 to win the regular season. The Razorbacks finished second last season, and while they have some turnover, that's almost always the case for Eric Musselman teams. They have enough returning pieces in JD Notae, Davonte Davis and Jaylin Williams, that I think a transition for the transfers will be smooth. Chris Lykes could be one of the best guards in the SEC if healthy, Au'Diese Toney brings ACC experience and Stanley Umude is a 6-6 shooting guard from South Dakota who could thrive in this system.
Most people will bet on Memphis to win the AAC at +125, and I can't fault them. The Tigers have the talent, and it's not like they were a bad team last season. I still think Houston is worth a play at +350, mainly because of its pedigree. The Cougars have been a top-20 KenPom team each of the last four seasons and there's no reason for that to change. They added Kyler Edwards, who fits the Houston mold, and there's a chance Tramon Mark puts his name on the national scene in his second year. Memphis has the high-end recruits, but Houston has annual success with its style of play, which has been dominant in the AAC.