College Basketball National Championship Preview: Using KenPom to Make Valuable NCAA Tournament Future Bets

College basketball NCAA Tournament betting preview, using KenPom to make valuable futures bets ahead of Selection Sunday and March Madness.

Feb 3, 2024; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) dunks the ball
Feb 3, 2024; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Kevin McCullar Jr. (15) dunks the ball / Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Following a loaded weekend of college basketball games that featured four games between AP Poll top 10 teams, we can digest what we saw and contextualize it through advanced metrics.

While the AP Poll is a barometer of recent success, its pretty arbitrary. It takes a snapshot of recent form and some key wins, but I like to use websites like KenPom that hold predictive value in terms of projecting team success in the future.

As I do every week, I'm going to use KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency to provide a snapshot of who projects as National Championship contenders moving forward.

This is simply where we are at today.

Since 2003, all but two teams that have won the National Championship have finished the season inside the KenPom top 20 on both sides of the ball. Teams can move between the thresholds that I have set below -- three groups, including the teams that are top 20 or better on both offense and defense, teams that are top 40 or better on both sides of the ball, and lopsided ones that are only top 20 on one side and outside the top 40 on the other.

This is a moving target, but this is a good way to frame how I view teams ahead of the NCAA Tournament, which is fast approaching as we get set for our first full week of February.

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2024 College Basketball National Championship Odds

National Championship Contenders

A few notes on our group of bona fide National Championship contenders, including Kansas, who had arguably the best performance of the season against Houston over the weekend. The Jayhawks blitzed Houston from the jump, shot 69% from the field and outclassed the best defense in the nation.

That win, coupled with a demolition of Big 12 bottom feeder Oklahoma State pushed Kansas up six spots on both offense and defense and inside the 20/20 threshold.

It's worth noting that Kansas, who is outside the top 300 in 3-point rate this season, may have found its floor spacer that I have been clamoring for in freshman Johnny Furphy, who is shooting 48% from beyond the arc in Big 12 play. We'll see if the Jayhawks can sustain its play through February.

On the other end, Houston remains a National Championship contender, the team is still the best defense in the country, but the warning signs are obvious for the Cougars, who are outside the top 200 in effective field goal percentage on offense.

The Cougs have been an elite team for several years now, but it hasn't translated to the NCAA Tournament because its offense isn't about devastating shot making, but rather overpowering physicality.

The Cougs are fifth in offensive rebounding percentage and eighth in turnover percentage, maximizing each possession. However, when the team isn't dominating the offensive glass, its inability to get clean shots is on notice, as it was in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday.

Fringe Contenders

North Carolina slipped out of the above group despite outclassing fellow fringe contender Duke in the Tobacco Road showdown on Saturday, a testament that the team is on shakier ground than some would expect.

There are several teams that are trending up at the moment, including Marquette, who is fresh off a road win at Villanova and a blowout victory over Georgetown.

Despite battling injuries, the Golden Eagles offense is starting to look the part of a National Championship team. Tyler Kolek has seemingly found his 3-point shot and the team is trending towards the national average from distance, and in turn the team is up nine spots in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency.

Lopsided Teams

The lopsided group has shown its volatility over the last week. Kentucky was seen by many as a National Championship team, and while the team has plenty of talent, its inability to get stops is clear, evident in two home losses over the past week to Florida (who hit a three in the final seconds to force overtime) and Tennessee (who scored 100 points at Rupp Arena).

UK is now outside the top 100 in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency metric, a massive red flag that can offset the team's high ceiling on offense.

These teams are all groups I'd look to avoid come NCAA Tournament time in terms of cutting down the nets, but each team is unique and it could look different once brackets are released. Teams from this group may make the second weekend with a favorable draw, or can outshine projections for a short period because, to be fair, the teams are elite on one side of the ball.

One team to watch through February is Indiana State, who has the nation's highest effective field goal percentage this season.

The Sycamores are 20-3 on the season while playing at the 53rd fastest pace, overwhelming Missouri Valley competition with a spread out attack around 6'10" sophomore Robbie Avila, who poses as a point forward around a bunch of shooters.

This team is potent on offense, and can shine through March with its ability to get hot from the perimeter, but the defense lags behind as the team focuses on cleaning the glass and funneling teams inside the arc.

Overall, the defense is outside the top 80 in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and in two games against KenPom top 20 teams, the team allowed 102 and 87 points to Alabama and Michigan State, respectively.

Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.

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