When the 2019/20 college basketball season came to an abrupt stop in March, it was uncertain as to when the game would be played next. In a normal year, the season would begin in early October, but his year is anything but typical.
With the COVID-19 global pandemic delaying the start of the season, the NCAA recently announced that teams will be allowed to begin practice on Wednesday, Oct. 14 and the first games will be played on Wednesday, Nov. 25.
Schools will not be able to play more than 27 regular season games, and rosters will be stacked with returning seniors (who were granted an additional year of eligibility) and incoming freshmen arriving on college campuses per usual.
With a wild year ahead, the opportunity for a lot of non-blue blood programs to contend. Similar to Dayton in 2019/20, those teams will certainly see favorable spreads against their early-schedule opponents and cover with consistency until the secret gets out. Here are five teams to keep an eye on as solid betting picks as the season begins later this fall:
Stanford Cardinal – 20 Wins, 12 Losses in 2019/20
When head coach Jerod Haase took over the Stanford basketball program in 2016, the Cardinal were mediocre. It has not been an easy task to rebuild in Palo Alto, but the 2020 season was the first sign of a return to relevance after back-to-back years of strong recruiting. Led by Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate Oscar da Silva, the Cardinal went .500 in-conference last season and cracked the AP Top-25 rankings in mid-January before dropping seven of their next eight games. They will be even better in 2020/21.
Most of the roster returns, including da Silva, but one-and-done freshman phenom Tyrell Terry is expected to declare for the NBA Draft. Terry shot 40.8 percent from beyond the arc in his freshman season and finished second on the team in scoring, rebounds and assists. His absence will be felt, but the team is more than talented enough to fill the void and adds small forward Ziaire Williams, a top-five nationally ranked prospect.
Williams oozes with talent and versatility, but sometimes lacks the killer instinct, which might bode well for him to play a dangerous support role to da Silva. For the one-year rental of Williams in Palo Alto, he and da Silva will carry most of the team’s production on their shoulders, but a strong supporting cast around them bodes well for success.
Obviously, the schedule is important and still in limbo. However, Stanford has a real chance to make some noise and contend in the Pac-12. As the season begins and betting lines favor close matchups, the Cardinal are a group that could fly under the radar and provide great value until they receive the recognition they deserve.
Stanford is currently +6000 to win the National Championship on Betonline
Texas Longhorns – 19 Wins, 12 Losses in 2019/20
It’s often hard to look past the Longhorns’ inability to take the next step under sixth-year head coach Shaka Smart. After dropping to 4-8 in conference play, Texas finished with a strong push of five consecutive wins to find itself as a ‘too little too late’ bubble team that surely would have missed out on an NCAA Tournament berth for the third time in four seasons. Even still, athletic director Chris Del Conte pledged his commitment to Smart by pointing to “a good team coming back.”
That is a great place to start. The team’s statistical leader Matt Coleman III and his backcourt counterpart Andrew Jones are a dynamic one-two punch, and the rest of the roster returns alongside them. Literally everyone. Top-to-bottom, there is not a more talented roster in the Big-12.
Of the important role players, 6-foot-11 bahamian forward Kai Jones has the potential to play the perfect compliment to the guards as a breakout big man in Austin. He was a consensus four-star recruit out of high school and flashed promise during his first year on campus. Additionally, Jericho Sims finished with the team-high minutes among forwards and played a massive role in the paint.
With a COVID-shortened offseason and regular season, the value of experience carries even more weight, giving Texas a high ceiling. It’s not necessarily that the Longhorns will be a dominant force and earn a No. 1 seed come march, but more so that they will be consistent pests in the conference and could get hot at the right time.
Barring injury, Texas has the horses to crash the Baylor/Kansas/Texas Tech/West Virginia party atop of the conference. If the schedule shakes out to where the Longhorns are presented as underdogs or low-point favorites on betting sites early in the year, they’re worth the ride.
Ole Miss Rebels – 15 Wins, 17 Losses in 2019/20
One year after reaching the NCAA tournament, Ole Miss finished below .500 in 2019/2020 and was highly-disappointing down the stretch. To make matters worse, the Rebels lose their leading scorer Breein Tyree to the NBA. On first glance, all signs would point toward avoiding the group from Oxford. However, this year looks completely different.
Third-year head coach Kermit Davis has put together an all-star roster during the offseason with the addition of graduate transfer forwards Dimencio Vaughn (who was once called a ‘dominant MFer’ by an NBA scout) and Romello White. Vaughn, a former wing at Rider University, provides a much-needed size boost to the lineup and keeps past with the fast-paced offense that focuses around ball movement. White, from Arizona State University, is a game-changing force to be reckoned with. In addition, four-star shooting guard Matt Murrell comes from IMG Academy as the highest-rated recruit in the school’s history and explosive guard Jarkel Joiner returns home to Oxford after tearing up the WAC at California State Bakersfield.
The Rebels roster is quietly catching the eyes of college basketball analysts as a sneaky team to watch, and the betting sites should provide that opportunity for lines with great odds. Until the rest of the nation catches on to the talent that is at Ole Miss, betting with the spread (or even following the moneyline against lesser SEC teams) will be full of value.
Ole Miss is currently priced as +25000 at BetOnline to win the National Championship.
Houston Cougars – 23 wins, 8 losses in 2019/20
Houston went 13-5 in the American Conference last season and return five of their top six scorers for 2020/21, led by Caleb Mills and Quinten Grimes (who basketball fans may remember from his time at Kansas). Head coach Kelvin Sampson has a roster full of experience in his vaunted defensive system and an offense that can distribute the ball with trust that any single player can score.
The Cougars were one of the most efficient teams in the country a year ago and finished within the top-25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. If they can increase the number of high-percentage makes (44.6 percent on two-point attempts in 2019/20), the Coogs have the ability to push the tempo on one end and get to the rim, or kick the ball out and hit a triple.
Should the offense come along with the defense in any semblance prior to conference play, Houston can suffocate opponents and cover the spread with ease.
The Cougars are listed at +3500 to win the National Championship by BetOnline.
Creighton Bluejays – 24 Wins, 7 Losses in 2019/20
Creighton claimed a share of the Big East title in 2019/20, so it is hardly a sleeper team. However, it is good enough to contend for a national title and regularly cover the spread. The Bluejays fell short in two early season tournament matchups and then dropped conference games to No. 11 Butler, No. 16 Villanova, Georgetown, Providence and St. John’s. All seven losses were against quality opponents and the recurring theme was a lack of size.
Losing only center Kelvin Jones, the rotation will stay the same, except for 6-foot-11 forward and the team’s top recruit Ryan Kalkbrenner who should step into the big man role and may be even better than his predecessor. The offense will also receive a boost with the healthy return of Davion Mintz. The senior was a starter in his sophomore and junior years before being forced to redshirt with an ankle injury last year. He will add a serious shot in the arm on the scoring front.
It is no secret that Creighton is going to be good, and head coach Greg McDermott’s team is ranked as high as No. 2 in some expert preseason polls. However, if early season matchups get off to a slow start like has been the case in most other sports, the Bluejays can put a real beatdown on any team they schedule.
Creighton is listed at +1800 on the National Championship futures odds board.