Senior guard Destanni Henderson leads the Gamecocks in assists and steals this season. (John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
It took almost two months, but in the last few weeks, U.S. regulated sportsbooks finally got around to giving us something to bet on in women’s college basketball. No, we don’t have lines on individual games yet — that probably won’t happen until March. But DraftKings, FanDuel and PointsBet have posted odds on which teams have the best chance at winning the national championship.
As frustrating as sportsbooks’ lack of attention to women’s basketball can be, it also provides an opportunity to profit off of them. None of the lines on any of these three books have moved since they were first posted, despite the constantly shifting landscape that gives us new information about teams every week. (Does it really make sense to still have UCLA tied for 13th?)
It’s in that spirit that we dove into the data to find the best bets on this year’s title winner. If you’re new to betting, the main thing you need to know about the odds is that the number following the plus sign is how much money you would make on a $100 bet. For the math-inclined folks, you can find the breakeven point of those bets by dividing the amount bet ($100 in this case) by the amount returned (the original $100 plus the winnings).
As an example, a team with +400 odds would return $500 on a $100 bet (the $100 back and the $400 winnings), so the breakeven point would be 100/500, or 20 percent. This is called the implied probability, and it means you need the bet to have a greater than 20 percent chance of winning for it to be a good bet.
Now, onto the important stuff.
South Carolina, +225 at DraftKings (30.8% implied probability)
The fact that this didn’t move after Missouri’s Lauren Hansen buried the Gamecocks last month is just one of many examples of sportsbooks neglecting to follow women’s sports. Then again, one could argue that it shouldn’t have moved: South Carolina had already separated itself from the pack so much that most people, including AP Poll voters, still view them as the best in the nation.
The best team isn’t always the best bet, but the +225 odds here are hard to pass up. Consider that it’s been over a decade since the champion wasn’t a No. 1 seed; No. 2 seed Texas A&M in 2011 was the last to do it. You even have to go back four years to Arike Ogunbowale’s 2018 Notre Dame squad just to find the last champion that wasn’t the No. 1 overall seed.
After South Carolina ran through the laughably difficult non-conference schedule Dawn Staley put together (pending the upcoming UConn rematch), it’s almost impossible to imagine their end-of-season resume being unworthy of a top seed. That Missouri game was an indicator of how far the parity in this sport has come, but it’s not quite at the point yet where the nation’s best team has to sweat out early-round games. All we need for this bet to have value is a one-in-three chance that South Carolina cuts down the nets.
Stanford, +600 at PointsBet (14.3% implied probability)
Like South Carolina, Stanford was able to withstand a loss without dropping in the AP Poll when they retained their No. 2 ranking after falling to the Gamecocks. Also like South Carolina, this team looks to be on its way to a No. 1 seed.
After an early-season stretch in which the Cardinal were a couple of buckets away from a 2-4 start, questions arose around the loss of point guard Kiana Williams and if this year’s team had enough to overcome it. Subsequent double-digit wins over top-ten opponents Maryland and Tennessee vaulted them right back into the top tier, and the nation was reminded that Tara VanDerveer’s Princeton offense doesn’t always rely on a pure point guard once it starts clicking.
The biggest factor that has allowed Stanford to compensate for its lack of a floor general, however, has been its defense. VanDerveer has generally been content to allow opponents to shoot 3s, particularly in recent seasons. The last four Cardinal teams have allowed opponents to take over 30 percent of their shots from beyond the arc, each ranking outside of the top 200 in 3-point rate allowed.
VanDerveer has changed her defense this season and looked to run shooters off the line, which has resulted in an opponent 3-point rate of just 21.7 percent — good for 12th in Division I. Draining triples is usually the best way to pull off a big upset, so preventing those shots from getting up in the first place is a great recipe for a deep tournament run. This probably isn’t the best bet on this list, but +600 is good enough to have some value.
NC State, +1500 at all three books (6.3% implied probability)
The last time NC State failed to make the Sweet 16, they lost in the second round to Texas and Ariel Atkins, who isn’t even on her WNBA rookie contract anymore. Yet, in the years since that 2017 loss, the Wolfpack have never reached the Elite Eight.
It’s about time. As good as those teams were, this is probably the best team Wes Moore has had in Raleigh. It took a Sarah Ashlee Barker miracle to hand the Wolfpack their only loss since they opened the season with a single-digit defeat at the hands of the team at the top of this list.
The Her Hoop Stats ratings and the Massey Ratings both have NC State in the top three, and after they pummeled previously-unbeaten rival North Carolina last week, it’s easy to see why. Nearly the entire rotation is shooting above 40 percent from 3, which makes this team almost impossible to guard when Elissa Cunane is on the floor commanding attention in the post.
— #4 NC State WBB
(@PackWomensBball) January 11, 2022
At +1500 odds, the implied probability here is 1-in-16, which makes this an automatic value assuming NC State doesn’t miss the Sweet 16 for the first time in Cunane’s career. Once we hit the Sweet 16, all teams would have a 1-in-16 shot if they were equal, and it’s almost certain that NC State will be among the better teams in that group. This line should drop below +1000 at some point. To me, this is the best bet on the board, so grab it now before it’s too late.
Iowa State, +6600 at PointsBet (1.5% implied probability)
Rounding out PointsBet’s list of 18 teams are three teams tied for the longest odds: Iowa State, Kentucky and Tennessee at +6600. The Lady Vols have been the highest-ranked team among the three for most of the season, but the Cyclones are where I’m putting my money.
Ashley Joens and company were mere minutes from a Sweet 16 berth last season before Jordan Nixon happened, and just about the whole rotation from that team came back. Nobody has taken or made more 3s than Iowa State, and if current numbers hold, two of the nine teams in NCAA history to shoot over 81 percent from the free throw line will be 2020-21 Iowa State and 2021-22 Iowa State. That could come into play in March down the stretch of a tight tournament game.
The only blemish on the resume is a nine-point loss to LSU, and that looks a whole lot better now than it did at the time given how Kim Mulkey has her team playing. The Cyclones are in the top eight in the Her Hoop Stats ratings and the Massey ratings, and Charlie Creme’s latest bracketology has them as a No. 2 seed. If those spots hold, this 1.5 percent implied probability will look silly.
We’ll know a lot more about Iowa State after games next week against Texas and Baylor. As it stands, the Cyclones are looking like a serious contender to end Baylor’s reign atop the Big 12. Make sure you manage your bankroll responsibly and bet less on this than on a top team like South Carolina, but it’s definitely worth what those in the betting community would call “lunch money.”
Calvin Wetzel is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering basketball and betting. He also contributes to Her Hoop Stats and Bet Her. Follow him on Twitter at @cwetzel31.
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