Hoops Value in Defense This March

Virginia and Villanova are two potential No. 1 seeds for the NCAA tournament and both are favored to win their conference tournaments this week. They also both happen to start with ‘V’ and end in ‘A’. 

That’s not all they have in common, though. 

“For whatever reason, those are two teams that nobody ever bets on. It’s amazing how much TV (exposure) and style of play influence who people bet on but they do,” says Kevin Bradley, oddsmaker for Sportsbook. 

To Bradley’s point - Virginia was sitting at +175 to win the ACC tournament as of Tuesday morning at Sportsbook, and Villanova was +110 to win the Big East. That’s among the best odds you’ll find on either of those two teams for this week’s action. 

When it comes to futures, both Virginia and Villanova have moved from 20-1, where they opened, to 14-1 at regular season’s end. These minor blips came despite the fact that there are just 10 losses between them, and according to conference tourney odds, they are the class of their conferences. 

Both the Cavaliers and Wildcats are overshadowed in their conferences by sexier programs – especially Virginia with the likes of North Carolina, Duke and Miami to contend with. But the public and the major TV networks also don’t tend to do kart wheels over stifling play.

Defense may win championships but it doesn’t win eyeballs. 

Virginia ranks second in the nation in scoring defense with just 59.6 points against per game while Villanova ranks 17th in the country with just 63.3 points against per game. 

On offense, the Cavaliers aren’t exactly setting off fireworks either. They rank 239th in points per game (70.7) and they run a methodical half court offense that could put a crying baby to sleep. 

Villanova isn’t much better at 78th in the country with 77.2 points per game. They share the ball around until teams get dizzy and by the time the ball drops through the netting, you’re watching Netflix. 

But that’s why there could be some value here. 

Sports Illustrated’s Power Rankings and ESPN famed bracket predictor Joe Lunardi are among two outlets that have both these teams headed to the NCAA tournament as No. 1 seeds. And it’s not every year you’ll be able to get potential No. 1 seeds at 14-1 or even higher just a little over a week from the Dance. 

“There’s very little sharp action this year because it’s so wide open,” says Bradley. “You could just put 20 names in a hat and pull one out.” 

That recreational action might also be helping to give Villanova its value. In a year where the favorites are crammed together like pickles in a jar, the average bettor may cling to the stinging memory of the Wildcats blowing up their bracket last year when the Wildcats fell on the first weekend to N.C. State.  

I tend to keep in mind that Villanova has just 12 losses over the past three seasons – which happens to lead the nation over that time span. Right behind them is Wichita State with 14 losses, who just so happens to lead the nation in scoring defense this season, who also happened to be listed as high as 100-1 at a couple of books before conference tourney week began. 

Noticing a theme here?