Alive to 'All' in the NCAA Final Four
By Michael Kipness, A.K.A “The Wizard”
I am a gambler. Since creating Wizard Race and Sports, I have spent significant time, energy and bankroll wagering on both Thoroughbred racing and major sports. This year, I opted to focus on college basketball futures. This is my 2023 NCAA Tournament story detailing the strategy I followed to make over $2500 in future bets.
There are at least 50 or more teams for which future odds are posted at various betting outlets. Odds change constantly throughout the season. Even this week, before the Final Four is played, odds are posted for each of the four teams. Of course, at that point, odds have dropped considerably compared to odds offered weeks and months before.
This season I decided to apply a completely different strategy. $2500 was set aside as my bankroll for all my future wagers, with no more than 10 bets made and a possible 11th as a hedge late in the tournament. I would watch as many games as possible and keep close tabs, reading about teams that caught my eye. The real time spent was watching the games. I wanted to have my hand on the pulse of play throughout the season. After the non-conference schedule was completed, I kept closer tabs on conference play.
My earliest future plays were made during the Thanksgiving holiday in Las Vegas. The other 7 plays came later. My strategy started by tossing out high profile teams I was willing to play against.
My first toss out was last year’s champion Kansas. I felt the addition of new NIL money and the transfer portal would deliver more parity than ever in college basketball. Such parity would make it almost impossible for a champion to repeat and, of course, Kansas would be over-bet.
I wanted no part of Purdue, a team I felt had inexperienced guard play.
I was sniffing at Alabama but didn’t like their odds at the time. Once the news about the gun incident with their star player broke, followed by Coach Nate Oats’ insensitive remarks, I felt the outside pressure would catch up with the team and they would ultimately get bounced. Bad JuJu is never an ingredient for success in a one-and-done tournament.
Those 3 teams ended up being # 1 seeds: I wanted no part of them. The Houston Cougars were the only # 1 seed I did wager on in futures because I liked their grittiness, their coach Kelvin Sampson, and their elite rebounding. I took them at 8-1. In retrospect, the odds were a bit too low.
Teams like Duke, North Carolina. Gonzaga, and Kentucky all brought what I saw as significant flaws to this season. Duke had the new coach and too many starting freshmen. North Carolina played glaringly poor through January. Gonzaga, other than top players Drew Timme and Julian Strawther, was in my view the weakest Gonzaga team in several years. Kentucky coach Calipari had not inspired confidence in this group’s ability to win a national championship, and he failed to win with better teams than this one. There were countless others for which I could pinpoint flaws. What I was looking for were “under the radar” teams at big odds with coaches I respected. But, more importantly, I wanted teams with these qualities: great guard play, depth on their roster, senior leadership from key players who had stayed rather than jumped, mixed in with some new transfers who made an impact.
I took Texas at 30-1. I knew Chris Beard was fired and his assistant Rodney Terry was elevated to interim head coach. The Longhorns never missed a beat with Terry and continued to improve as the season progressed.
Next was Arkansas. I loved their pace of play, the intensity and competitiveness of their coach Eric Mussleman and the make-up of their team. I grabbed 40-1 with the Razorbacks. But mounting injuries after the bet were cause for concern.
I then wagered on Creighton at 40-1. I loved the make-up of this team. A dominant center, surrounded by great shooters playing an improved defense under the tutelage of a great coach in Greg McDermot.
The next 4 futures were placed in the latter part of conference play and during conference tournaments. I added Marquette at 35-1 because of how well they were playing and how much I respect head coach Shakka Smart. I took TCU at 60-1 because of their toughness and physicality. One of the bets I am most proud of making was Kansas State at 80-1. I loved their guard play, togetherness, and have a special affinity for new head coach Jerome Tang. They were picked to finish last in the Big 12 and, to me, were the most surprising team in the country under a coach deserving consideration as ‘coach of the year’. And there are those monster odds.
Uconn was the one play I was always going to make but wanted to wait on the right price. I was blown away by their start of the season winning 14 straight games. Midway through conference play, the Huskies went into a tailspin losing 5 in row, then began turning it around. I grabbed them at 33-1 in early February.
I had 2 futures wagers left. I wanted to save them for after conference tournaments were completed. What I was looking for were 2 more teams which fit my criteria of “flying under the radar” at big odds. I came up with two teams.
The first was San Diego State at 40-1. They owned a great defense, a deep and experienced roster, and a great coach in Brian Dutcher, who I followed when he was an assistant under Steve Fisher.
My final play was Miami at 100-1!! Coach Jim Larranaga recruited and landed more quality guards than Shawshank Prison. One of my favorite coaches, Larranaga made deep runs when he coached George Mason in 2006 and with Miami last year. The Hurricanes were co-champions in the ACC this year, and they certainly had proven time and again they could put up points in a game.
As this year’s tournament progressed, I could see clearly that there would be upsets galore and busted brackets. The transfer portal along with NIL money helped do that. I was just hoping that the marquee names I did not have got bounced out and that some of my futures could be salvaged out of the carnage. One by one the # 1 seeds were eliminated, extinguished, including my wager on Houston. Once Kansas and Purdue were sent home and then Alabama, I started looking at my futures and felt satisfaction. Not because I had any major life altering score on the horizon. But for the first time ever in playing futures, both the strategy I developed and my execution were coming together to accomplish something very difficult to do.
Yes…I did have to rip up my tickets on Kansas State, Texas and Creighton who were all defeated in the Elite Eight…after Marquette and Arkansas were bounced out in the Sweet Sixteen…and TCU in the second round. But from the 4 teams which remain fighting for a shot at the National championship, I had 3 out of the 4…Miami at 100-1, San Diego State at 40-1, and Uconn at 33-1.
The one team I did not have to end up in the Final Four is Florida Atlantic. And, unless you went to the school, played for the school, or were family members of the coaching staff you could not have picked them. And even at that, would anyone really put a future bet on them? I couldn’t even tell you what the future odds were before the tournament started. FAU won more than 30 games during the season and were no Cinderella. As a matter of fact, and perhaps a minor “tell”, Conference USA, which they won, has UAB and North Texas playing for the NIT championship. That conference is a mind-boggling 16-1 in both tournaments. After the fact, it looks much easier to give them a look than just 2 weeks ago. Unfortunately, The Wizard has bupkis on them. If they were to win, I lose my entire investment!
But wait…The Wizard has a plan executed on Monday, 1 week before the Final four. I decided to make one more future and have a strategy if Florida Atlantic reaches the championship game.
I logged into my FANDUEL sportsbook account and my balance stood as $11,468.11. Like most gamblers, we like round even numbers, so I decided to wager $468.11 on FAU at 6-1 odds. If they were to win the National Championship, my profit would be $2,808. So now I had all 4 teams in the final 4 and the last 2 standing. I CANNOT LOSE! This was my 11th and final future play, my “hedge” at the right odds.
The following are the 4 future wagers I have left standing:
Miami: $100 wagered to profit $10,000.
San Diego State: $200 wagered to profit $8000.
Uconn: $250 wagered to profit $8000.
Florida Atlantic: $468 to profit $2808.
With the total of my future wagers at $2768, the worst I could do is basically break even if FAU were to win the National Championship, which would end up being the greatest feat in college basketball history! I stand to win $7232 if Miami wins, $5232 if either San Diego State or Uconn wins.
As I wrote earlier, it’s not the money won that gives me satisfaction. It’s not a life-changing amount as far as return on investment. What I am most proud of is the process I developed and followed in selecting teams at the right prices and how far each of them went before I was bounced out. It’s the journey that is most fun based on strategy and execution. But wait, there could be one last move to make.
I will be making wagers and giving out selections on the Final Four and the National Championship game on my web site at wizardraceandsports.com. Whatever selection I make will be the one that I feel will cover the point spread whether it’s the favorite or under-dog. But the one play I will be thinking of making is if FAU wins on Saturday and they are in the Championship game whether it’s Uconn or Miami, they will be the underdog. Depending on the point spread and since they are the worst possible outcome if they were to win, I would consider making a wager on them taking the points…but only if I feel that FAU is the play I want to make and give out on the site. If not, I will take a pass and if they win so be it. The ride and thrill I got made my Final Four a sweet one.