Are NCAA Basketball Futures Markets & AP Poll Voters at Odds?

Will Green

Wednesday, November 25, 2015 3:15 PM GMT

The AP college basketball poll and the futures odds for a specific team to win the NCAA Tournament offer two distinct, and sometimes conflicting, sets of perception.

The poll offers voters' perception of how teams stack up right now, whereas futures odds illustrate Vegas' perception of where teams will stack up on Apr. 5. Some surprising upsets in a 2015-16 season that's just two weeks old have dropped teams in the poll relative to their standing in the championship market.

For example, early losses by two ACC teams–North Carolina and Virginia–to non-ranked opponents have sent them to ninth and 12th in the latest poll, respectively. But those same teams are the second and fourth most expensive buys in the NCAA Basketball Future Odds market respectively, paying out +750 and +900 to win it all in Houston according to BetUS.

 

Rank (11/23/15)

AP Poll

NCAAT Futures Odds (BetUS)

1

Kentucky

Kentucky (9/2)

2

Maryland

North Carolina (15/2)

3

Michigan State

Duke (8/1)

4

Iowa State

Virginia (9/1)

5

Kansas

Maryland (9/1)

6

Duke

Michigan State (9/1)

7

Oklahoma

Kansas (13/1)

8

Villanova

Villanova (16/1)

9

North Carolina

Connecticut (22/1)

10

Gonzaga

Arizona (24/1)

11

Arizona

Purdue (24/1)

12

Virginia

Gonzaga (25/1)

13

Indiana

California (25/1)

14

California

Vanderbilt (30/1)

15

Miami

Indiana (30/1)

16

Purdue

Wichita State (30/1)

17

Notre Dame

Oklahoma (30/1)

18

Connecticut

LSU (35/1)

19

Vanderbilt

Iowa State (35/1)

20

Wichita State

Louisville (55/1)

21

Oregon

Butler (55/1)

22

LSU

Miami (60/1)

23

Xavier

Notre Dame (60/1)

24

Cincinnati

Baylor (70/1)

25

Texas A&M/SMU

Texas/Georgetown (80/1)

 

Part of this, at least in North Carolina's case, has to do with a poll that is over-reactive, dropping the Tar Heels nine spots for their loss. Another part of this has to do with our conditioning as bettors based on a team's past success. Because of UNC's five championships and 18 Final Fours, the betting market is conditioned to look at a UNC loss to Northern Iowa in November and think of it as a weird anomaly for the Tar Heels, as opposed to an indicator of where the team will finish in the NCAA Tournament (granted, if UNC has three or four losses to a Northern Iowa, then that's a different story). This leads to the team's ability to hold at No. 2 in the futures rankings.

Conversely, an early season loss for a team like Wichita State, which has never even played in a national championship game before, can drop them 11 spots in the AP poll and a few spots in the futures rankings, to 14th this week, down from a tie for 9th at the beginning of the year. No, the loss to Tulsa doesn't look good. But I'm going to need more than that to be convinced the Shockers have lost their identity–playing stingy defense and grinding teams away to something like a 29-4 record and a mid-single-digit seed. The Shockers are likely still primed to do what they always do, and as a result, 30/1 might be nearing a price-point low for the team this season.

Two Big 12 teams stand out in this regard, as well. If you like the Oklahoma Sooners to make it out of the Big 12 as the frontrunner from that conference, the time to buy is now. The No. 7-ranked team has eight very winnable games between now and 2016, and a ninth against Villanova. The Sooners could very well finish their non-conference stretch 10-1, at which point hype from the AP poll and a flashy win-loss record will have inevitably inched the Sooners' futures price a little higher.

The Iowa State Cyclones are in an almost identical position. The team is fourth in the AP poll but merely 18th in the futures rankings, offering at big discount of +3500 at BetUS. ISU has nine more games and with its toughest tests being Iowa and Cincinnati, it could very well end 2015 with a 10-1 record as well, and sit firmly in the lower half of the Top 10. At that point, the Cyclones will be a more expensive futures buy. If you're big on the Cyclones to win it all in early April, buy now.

Another futures price that jumps out is UConn's. Futures buyers love the Huskies, the ninth-most expensive futures team, relative to their AP poll value of 18th. It's not that UConn doesn't deserve to be valued higher than the 18th-most-likely team to win it all–it probably does. But at 22/1, a far more expensive price than the three teams mentioned above, the Huskies' odds are influenced by that nagging fan conditioning. The team's 2014 run to the championship as a 7-seed is clearly still present in many bettors' minds. Ken Pomeroy's No. 24 team in the country has the 323rd-best non-conference schedule in the country, meaning there aren't a ton of imminent sexy wins coming down the pike. There's a long way to go for this team to be able to prove it can go the distance in April. Keep an eye on this price, but with it being as high as it is, this is a wait-and-see situation with UConn.

Three of the five most expensive futures teams are from the ACC (If Maryland hadn't moved to the Big Ten, we'd be looking at four of the top five from the same conference). As the season wears on, and especially as we reach that conference's slate, this bunch of three will have to separate. If you like any of these teams out of the ACC to win it all, wait on these prices. All three already have one loss, an its unlikely that any of them eclipse 5/1 Kentucky any time soon. But another loss or series of losses somewhere along the line will drop at least one of these team's prices.

 

Which teams do you think have the best and the worst futures value right now? Tweet me at @wfcgreen and let me know.