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Betting roundtable: Our experts' most heartbreaking futures bets
31st March, 13:20With major U.S. sports either canceling or postponing their seasons, the sports betting world is essentially on hold.
Future wagers that may have been winners -- or at least had a shot at a good hedge -- may be refunded. Other futures in college basketball and the XFL, for example, have already been refunded.
ESPN betting analysts Joe Fortenbaugh, Preston Johnson, Doug Kezirian and Jordan Schultz, and Matt Youmans of the Vegas Stats & Information Network share some of the ups and downs from the past year in sports betting.
I was in Hawaii before Thanksgiving for the Maui Invitational and watched Dayton destroy Virginia Tech by 27 points. The Hokies had upset preseason No. 1 Michigan State the previous day. The unranked Flyers were on the rise and the secret was about to get out. So I called Ron Boyles, who has made a living in Las Vegas as a professional sports bettor for more than 30 years, and asked him to shop around for Dayton futures odds and get us down on it. Boyles found 200-1 at two books and made the bets. The next day, the Flyers fell to Kansas 90-84 in overtime in the Maui championship game. The triple-digit odds on Dayton disappeared, and most books adjusted to the 30-1 to 50-1 range.
As Selection Sunday approached, the Flyers were forecast as the No. 1 seed in the NCAA East Region. Dayton (29-2) suffered both of its losses in overtime on neutral courts and went 18-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Toppin, a probable top-five pick in this year's NBA draft, led a complete team with national championship potential. What if? We will never know. There would have been ways to hedge and profit on the ticket even if the Flyers fell short of winning it all.
I held other NCAA futures on Louisville (20-1) and Oregon (50-1) that were live, but those two pale in comparison. I also bet two NBA win totals: Boston Celtics over 49.5 and Golden State Warriors under 48.5. Obviously, this was the worst year for my futures wagers to get refunded.
Fortenbaugh: Let me begin by acknowledging the lack of civility contained within this question. It's like asking Bill Buckner, "How's life treating you, Bill?" as the baseball glides between his legs in '86. These futures aren't officially dead, yet you're asking me to perform an autopsy on myself. Have you no shame, editorial staff?
My worst beat is coming in the form of a massive wager made on the Warriors to win fewer than 49.5 games this season. I loved that bet so much I went back and grabbed more on the under at 49 and 48.5. For all three bets to cash, the Dubs needed to lose 34 games in total.
Golden State lost its 34th game on Jan. 16 with 39 contests remaining on the schedule. The Warriors were 15-50 when the season went on hiatus. Apropos of nothing, I'm now a steady bourbon drinker.
Kezirian: As I posted in early November, I had Gonzaga at 25-1 and West Virginia at 100-1, but I also recognize the nature of the NCAA tournament. So while those are considered good odds based on the betting market, by no means were they likely to cash.
As for one that stings, it's definitely the Brooklyn Nets under 47.5 wins. I sensed last July, on the day Caesars posted NBA win totals, that this coming season would feel like a "gap year." Kevin Durant would not play, and all signs pointed to issues with Kyrie Irving joining another new team. At the time of the stoppage, Brooklyn had a 30-34 record. The Nets needed to win all 18 remaining games for me to lose that wager. That's a tough pill to swallow.
Johnson: I'm with Youmans here, as I had Dayton 155-1 to win the NCAA championship. It isn't too often you can get a No. 1 seed with a 29-2 regular-season record (both losses were in overtime games, to Kansas and Colorado) at this price. Toppin had the ability to lead the Flyers on a deep run, but they were so potent offensively outside of Toppin as well, and that's what made them a legitimate contender. Unfortunately, we'll never see this one play out.
In the NBA, I had the Oklahoma City Thunder +850 to make the playoffs combined with over 28 wins, over 29.5 wins and over 31 wins. The talk is that the NBA will find a way to have some sort of playoff to conclude this season, but I've also heard that may only include a total of eight teams compared to the typical 16. The Thunder currently sit in the five-seed in the West and would miss in this instance, and I'm not sure sportsbooks would grade it no action. The season win totals bets typically need all 82 games to be played for action, so even though they had already flown over every number, those won't likely be cashed either.
Outside of my grouping of OKC bets, my next favorite action in the NBA this season was on Luka Doncic to win the Most Improved Player award at 50-1. I bet him again about two weeks later at 25-1 as well. At the time the NBA suspended the season, it had been whittled down to Doncic and Brandon Ingram to win the award. I know some people wanted to discount Doncic because he won Rookie of the Year the season prior, but Doncic took his game to an MVP level at 20 years old. He was, by definition, the most improved player this year. I'm not sure if we'll get to see this one voted for action but, win or lose, 50-1 and 25-1 were fantastic grabs.