While college football takes center stage at this time of year, it’s not the only college sport of interest to sports bettors. NCAA men’s basketball might start quietly but by March it will be the only show in town. In the meantime, savvy March Madness bracketeers will be keeping on eye on the action from the start.

Last year’s NCAA campaigns were often interrupted by COVID outbreaks but there is hope things will be better this season. Another positive development is the expansion of legal online betting in the last 12 months. It means there are more home teams to follow in legal states. There are some local restrictions on college betting but overall you can expect to see additional action in states where the college teams are competitive.

So what legal states are producing the early season form horses? All in all there were seven teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 AP Coaches Poll located in states that allow legal online sports betting. They were as follows:

It’s a mixture of usual suspects and minor surprises. And as the old saying goes, “no plan survives contact with the real world”. The rankings will undergo dramatic changes as the schedule proceeds.


Consistent Contenders

Of the teams listed above, Michigan and Illinois may be of particular interest to bettors and fans. Both teams finished in the Top 8 last year with Michigan at #4 and Illinois at #8. With a nice mix of star returning players and freshmen filling the gaps, both of these teams figure for a big run at the national title in March. As usual, significant injuries can change everything. Villanova is also a veteran team to keep on the radar. They were the highest rated of our seven picks as of Week 1 of the new campaign.

Big Ten games will challenge even the best handicappers when the conference schedule gets underway in January. In addition to Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois, the Ohio State Buckeyes (#19) and Maryland Terrapins (#20) also hold places in the Top 20. Interestingly, Ohio and Maryland are two states in the process of legalizing sports betting. This time next year they will be contenders for our list.

On top of that, the Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, and Michigan State Spartans are knocking on the Top 25 door at this early juncture of the season. So with at least eight quality teams in the mix, bettors will have their hands full. Picking winners in Big Ten games on a nightly basis will be a major challenge.


Rankings Not Set in Stone

In a few more weeks, we should be able to see more of the cream rising in the rankings. Until then, the only sure thing is lots of change. Already we are seeing moves away from the preseason projections. Heading into the second week of the regular season, the “legal online betting” rankings look like this:

  • #4 Michigan Wolverines 2-0 (Michigan)
  • #5 Villanova Wildcats 1-1 (Pennsylvania)
  • #6 Purdue Boilermakers 2-0 (Indiana)
  • #10 Illinois University Fighting Illini 2-1 (Illinois)
  • #11 Memphis Tigers 2-0 (Tennessee)
  • #17 Tennessee Volunteers 2-0 (Tennessee)

Virginia has already dropped out of the Top 25 and Michigan have jumped ahead of Villanova after the latter suffered a respectable loss to #2 ranked UCLA.


Looking Ahead

Realistically, it’s difficult to predict where each of these teams will end up by the end of the regular season. However, there are two things that legal online sportsbooks will be hoping for.

First, that the local colleges will still be playing basketball when March Madness rolls around next year. And second, that these teams will be drawing heavy support from in-state bettors.

The presumption has always been that legalizing sports betting would pique the interest of casual fans who needed an additional motivating factor to become real sports fans. Indeed, the opportunity to bet legally appears to have had a positive impact on both spectatorship and engagement among the US sporting public.

It’s no secret that recreational sports bettors tend to bet with their hearts. While the data is not yet in, the odds are that loyal sports fans are betting on their favorite teams. We expect to see a correlation between success of local teams and betting handle numbers over the coming months and beyond.