As players rolled back to campus across the country in August, I ranked the top college basketball contenders and separated them into tiers to help sort which teams are good -- and perhaps not so good -- preseason futures bets and values. Incredibly, everyone that read it, including my bosses, agreed it was a perfect list with no flaws. Because of that perfection, I've been tasked with making another contenders list and again separating them into tiers. So nice we had to do it twice. Oh yes.
Even though the odds from Caesars Sportsbook have shifted slightly since then, Gonzaga again is in its own tier at the top and UCLA remains one of the top dogs. But other teams and odds have moved around ever-so-slightly for this update -- as has some of my opinions. So since I'm committed to giving you what I view as the no-bull guide to betting the field, below is my last stab at that before the season starts next week. So let's jump into it, shall we?
Tier 1: The Gonzaga tier
Team: Gonzaga (6-1)
Gonzaga's odds were at 7-1 in August and that number has already dropped to 6-1. So, yeah, sportsbooks are welcoming the idea that this team -- ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 -- is the class of college basketball this season. For good reason, too. After a 31-1 season that ended with a national runner-up finish, it returns CBS Sports Preseason Player of the Year Drew Timme and senior Andrew Nembhard, among others, while adding No. 1 overall recruit Chet Holmgren to the mix. Don't let Baylor's 86-70 win in the title game dissuade you from jumping on the Zags train.
Tier 2: Ready to be a front-runner
Teams: UCLA (12-1), Purdue (14-1)
UCLA was in this category last go-round so no change here: It gets back Jaime Jaquez and Johnny Juzang and enrolls five-star freshman Peyton Watson. Bruins are title-material coming off a Final Four run. Big change is the addition of Purdue. It has 14-1 odds -- tied for the third-best among all teams behind Gonzaga, Michigan, Villanova and UCLA -- but I'm giving it a Boone Bump here. Jaden Ivey is a star, Zach Edey's breakout is coming and Trevion Williams, as usual, will be a monster. I'm ready to ride this team and willing to go out on a limb and bet them ahead of Michigan, who also is 12-1.
Tier 3: Experienced contenders
Odds: Michigan (12-1), Villanova (12-1), Kentucky (14-1), Kansas (16-1)
Michigan and Villanova both have the second-best odds of winning it all behind rosters that return one of its top-two scorers from a season ago. The nucleus of these two teams don't change much and experience -- and continuity -- should be important.
Then there's transfer experience: what Kentucky and Kansas have. The Wildcats added four players from other institutions who have all found success already. Ditto for Kansas, which landed arguably the biggest name of the bunch in Remy Martin. These two bluebloods should be old and good -- and maybe good because, at least in part, they're old. All four here are viable futures bets I'd make, just know Kentucky's number was once 20-1 so it seems value isn't quite there from back in August.
Tier 4: My favorite values
Teams: Duke (16-1), Memphis (20-1), UNC (30-1)
Only Memphis of these three schools have seen a shift in odds since last time we did this. (It was 30-1 in August.) I still think all three are intriguing futures bets. Duke because it might have the best player in the country in Paolo Banchero and two talented sidekicks in A.J. Griffin and Trevor Keels. Memphis because, if Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren hit, this team could go nuclear. UNC if for no other reason than a gamble on talent and what a new system might do for the Tar Heels under first-year head coach Hubert Davis. All three are upside plays projecting best-possible outcomes and knowing the ceiling for them is higher than most.
Tier 5: Longshots to watch
Teams: Tennessee (40-1), Auburn (60-1)
Tennessee's number was 60-1 (!) less than two months ago so the cat is meowing right out of the bag here. Still willing to take a mini flier on this team, though. Victor Bailey and John Fulkerson are back as leaders from a team that earned a No. 5 seed last year and coach Rick Barnes added five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler to the mix to help replace Jaden Springer as well as sharpshooting transfer Justin Powell. Pieces are in place to go from good to real good (or even great). Also very much happy to take Auburn at 60-1. Great transfer additions with Walker Kessler and K.D. Johnson, great recruiting addition in five-star Jabari Smith and an expected leap into first-round territory of Allen Flanigan when he is able to get healthy. There's a lot to like from a coach in Bruce Pearl who is known for squeezing the best out of his talents.
Tier 6: Stay-aways
Teams: Illinois (18-1), Baylor (20-1)
Allow me to preface by saying: I do not believe these teams are bad nor do I hate these teams. It's actually quite likely that both will be quite good. I'm just not willing to touch them either because I do not like the odds, or don't love the team construction, or a mix of both.
Let's start with the Fighting Illini. Kofi Cockburn is a star. Andre Curbelo should be in for a massive year. Just think we're vastly underestimating how good Ayo Dosunmu was for this team a season ago and how hard it will be to replace some key depth in Adam Miller and Giorgi Bezhanishvili on top of that.
Baylor I'm just playing the odds. Only twice in the last 30 years has a team repeated as champions and in both instances the team returned at least its top two scorers. The Bears in 2021-22 are replacing their top three scorers. A really good team remains intact -- Baylor is ranked in the top 10 -- I just don't think at 20-1 I'd wager cheddar on it.
Odds to win 2022 NCAA Tournament
Odds from Caesars Sportsbook