Late January is a familiar time for college basketball fans around the country.
While no team has solidified itself as the unquestioned favorite to win it all, certain teams have started to pull away from the pack, at least in Vegas's eyes.
On the other hand, very few teams are eliminated from postseason contention, but it is certainly entering the "put-up or shut-up" time of the season with conference play heating up.
Some teams (I am looking at you, Purdue Boilermakers) have more than lived up to the hype they received in the preseason. Others have far surpassed preseason predictions, while there is an unfortunate third group of teams that have vastly underperformed.
Let's take a look at the preseason championship odds compared to which teams Vegas values most currently.
We will see who has impressed college fans most so far this season and try to find some value picks as we inch closer to March.
Make sure to tune in next week as we will take a look at the biggest underperformers so far this season, but first, here are teams that have most exceeded expectations to this point in the year.
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College Basketball "Overperformers" Odds to Win it All
North Carolina Tar Heels (16-3, 8-0 ACC)
+2200 Preseason to +1500 Now
With the Blue Bloods of college basketball, there is always going to be some inflation of preseason odds. Following a devastating season in 2022-23 that saw the Tar Heels go from NCAA runner-up and preseason No. 1 to missing the tournament entirely, several huge question marks were looming over Hubert Davis's squad.
They returned their two stalwart upperclassmen in RJ Davis and Armando Bacot. While minute continuity from the previous season is a big factor in predicting what teams will do early in the season, I had questions about whether Carolina would benefit from a changing of the guard.
Luckily for UNC fans, I don't make those types of calls.
After dropping two close games in a row to current No. 1 UConn and No. 6 Kentucky, the preseason questions asked of the Tar Heels seemed to be well-merited.
But when you have veteran guys who have seen everything college basketball has to offer, the hope is that they will lead you through the rough parts of the season. UNC's leaders did just that, and it have rattled off nine straight wins and opened up conference play at a scorching 8-0.
How has UNC turned it around? Efficient basketball.
KenPom's "Adjusted Efficiency" takes a look at both the number of points a team would score per 100 possessions against an average Division I defense and the number of points a team would allow per 100 possessions against an average Division I offense.
Offensively, UNC has been solid this year, ranking 16th in the country for Adj. Offensive Efficiency. But where the Tar Heels really have separated themselves is on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank fourth overall in Adj. Efficiency.
Defensive success starts with making your opponents uncomfortable by forcing them to take the shots that you want them to take. UNC has excelled in this area, and its effective field goal percentage (EFG%) allowed is only 44.8%, good for 10th best in the country. For those of you unfamiliar with EFG%, it simply adds more weight to 3-pointers when calculating FG% based on their higher value.
When you consider UNC's deeper team metrics combined with the fact that they have an experienced core led by one of the best pure scorers in the country in RJ Davis, it makes sense that the Tar Heels have bounced back from last season.
While I have been impressed and certainly surprised by UNC's performances this season, I do still worry about the team's depth and reliance on Davis. A bad night from their lead man usually results in a bad night for the Tar Heels, and I worry about more teams keying on him as the season goes along. I will be staying away from UNC at this price.
Auburn Tigers (16-3, 5-0 SEC)
+4500 Preseason to +1500 Now
Of all of the teams currently priced at 30-1 or less, Auburn is comfortably the biggest surprise in terms of where they were priced in the preseason. There is certainly an argument to be made that the preseason price did not reflect the strides the Tigers have made as a program under coach Bruce Pearl.
In the previous six seasons, Pearl has led Auburn to 25 or more wins four times, one of which resulted in a Final Four appearance (2018-19). For reference, Auburn had one other season with more than 25 wins in program history and had never gotten past the Elite Eight.
Although they have struggled to reach the postseason heights they did the season prior to COVID-19, the Tigers are certainly on track to win more than 25 games this season and currently sit at the top of the SEC standings at 5-1.
Some people who will dismiss the Tigers' record due to the fact that they only have one win over a team that ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time the game was played.
There is some merit to the doubters' concerns, as Auburn has comfortably had the easiest "strength of schedule" of any top 10 team. According to KenPom, they rank 90th in the country for SoS at this point in the season.
However, Auburn can only play who is on the schedule, and those teams are already getting a lot better. On the remaining schedule, the Tigers have a home game against Alabama, host No. 6 Kentucky, and travel to No. 5 Tennessee.
While the Wildcats and Volunteers are well-documented concerns, Alabama is a huge threat as well with its metrics telling a much different story than their record. The Crimson Tide are currently unranked in both the AP and Coaches Poll, but are No. 8 in the KenPom rankings, and just knocked off the Tigers at home on Wednesday night by a score of 79-75.
While Auburn's road loss to Alabama certainly does not help their case with the doubters, I do not think it dooms its season in any way.
Alabama is a legitimate threat for the SEC this year even after a slow start, and a nail-biting loss away to your biggest rival is something that frequently happens in conference play, no matter how good a team is.
Besides that, why am I still confident in Auburn?
Similarly to other teams on this list of overperformers, Auburn has gotten here on the back of ultra-efficient basketball. They rank 10th and sixth in offensive and defensive adjusted efficiency and are absolutely punishing opposing offenses, limiting them to 42.5 EFG% -- good for third in the entire country.
The Tigers are led by Junior big man Johni Broome, who currently leads them in scoring at 15.8 points per game. Obviously, Broome is a huge contributor offensively, but where he sticks out most to me is as a defensive anchor.
His 2.1 blocks per game are also an Auburn-best and his 1.1 steals per game rank second on the team behind K.D. Johnson. He is one of the best big men in the country and can continue to lead the Tigers to heights not expected of them this season.
So, where do I stand on Auburn at +1500 to win it all this year?
As you can tell, I am very impressed with the Tigers to start the season.
Unfortunately, so is Vegas.
I fear that the time has passed to get value for an Auburn future, but I will be monitoring any changes in odds following the loss at Alabama. Unless they drop significantly, I can't justify a ticket on Auburn at this point with its lack of wins against legitimate contenders.
Tennessee Volunteers (14-4, 4-1 SEC)
+3000 Preseason to +1600 Now
If you are just starting to ease your way into the college basketball season, there is one name I want you to keep an eye on. It may come as a surprise to most people, but it is not Purdue's Zach Edey.
There is no doubt that Edey and No. 2 Purdue have proven to be a must-watch team, and the big man is the largest runaway favorite for the Wooden Award at this point in the season that I have ever seen at -750. But when you return to college basketball following winning the award for CBB's Best Player, people expect great things out of you.
Tennessee transfer G/F Dalton Knecht, on the other hand, was a relative unknown heading into the season after transferring from the University of Northern Colorado. He impressed last year for the Raiders averaging over 20 points per game, but has taken his game and reputation to a whole other level under the brighter lights this season.
In his last four games, the senior has scored 25 or more points and has eclipsed the 35-point mark twice. Last week's home victory over Florida was the third time he scored 35+ already this season.
An electric scoring threat is exactly what Rick Barnes's hard-nosed team needed. Defense has not been a problem for the Volunteers, who have ranked top-5 in adjusted defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons and ended last year as the most efficient defense in the entire country.
Tennessee has picked up right where it left off last season, and is currently No. 2 in the nation in the stat they dominated so impressively last year. They are yet another overachieving team that has made life miserable for offenses, limiting opposing teams to a 43.5 EFG%, fourth best in all of college hoops.
One of the reasons Tennessee is available at the current price of +1600 is due to three consecutive losses earlier in the season. While that is something Barnes and Co. would have liked to avoid, the losses came in a brutal three-game stretch to Purdue, Kansas and UNC.
Although Kansas has struggled some of late, it is still the No. 7 team in the country, and there is no arguing how impressive No. 2 Purdue and No. 3 UNC have been. I would argue that any team in the country would struggle to win more than one game over that same stretch, especially when you consider none of the games were at home.
Tennessee also dropped a game to a mediocre Mississippi State team in the second game of conference play, but UT's SEC game that has stuck out the most to me so far was their victory over Alabama.
I have already gushed enough about the Crimson Tide for you to understand how impressed I was with Tennessee's 20-point home victory, and it is a huge reason I am convinced that the Volunteers are the best team in the SEC.
Time will tell if I am correct, and Tennessee still has a rocky road ahead of it this season with a home and away against Kentucky, a home game against Auburn, and a road trip to Tuscaloosa for a rematch with the Tide.
Between their suffocating defense and a true superstar in Knecht, I am confident that this is the team to finally lead Rick Barnes to a Final Four. I am taking Tennessee to win it all at +1600.
Odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.