This article is part of our DFS College Basketball series.
Let's start out this preview with a little history lesson. Since Ken Pomeroy began his site in 2002, only one team that did not finish within the top-20 in both adjusted offensive and adjusted defensive efficiency has managed to win a national title. Applying that to the 2019 Final Four, two teams fit the bill, and two do not. Both Virginia and Michigan State rank in the top-10 in both categories, but Texas Tech checks in at No. 28 on offense, while Auburn ranks No. 39 on defense.
In addition to KenPom, ESPN's Basketball Power Index (or BPI) is another measure that leans more on the predictive side, and there are trends to note in that system as well. In nine of the last 11 seasons, a team that finished the year top-3 in the BPI won the title. This season, Virginia is the only top-3 team left, though Michigan State cut it close by checking in at No. 4.
Is this the rare Shabazz Napier year that breaks the mold? To me, it seems possible the way Texas Tech is playing defense right now, which might make the old cliche hold true (they rank No. 1 in KenPom's defensive metric, after all). Nonetheless, each team that stands out on the metrics above enters as a betting favorite Saturday.
The winner of each game doesn't actually mean a ton for DFS, however, as we saw Purdue's Carsen Edwards log 47.5 DK points in a loss to the second-best defense in the country just last weekend. Gonzaga's Brandon Clarke (42.0 DK) was in plenty of winning lineups as well. While both Elite Eight games last weekend were tight, playing catch-up can be just as valuable from a fantasy perspective.
With the stage now set, let's move the focus from teams to individual players.
Cassius Winston, Michigan State ($8,800 DK, $8,800 FD): Everyone warrants at least some type of consideration on a two-game slate, but this is not the star I'm looking to pay up for. Sure, he's a first-team All-American with the highest usage rate on the Spartans over the back half of the year. BUT, he draws a Texas Tech defense that is absolutely lights out against guards. Michigan's Zavier Simpson and Jordan Poole combined for just eight points against this defense, recording more turnovers than assists. Buffalo was basically the same story in the game before. It took Josh Perkins and the No. 1 offense in the country to snap this trend, but the Spartans play at a much, much slower pace, so there won't be as many opportunities. Winston is unlikely to be shut down completely – he's had under 25.0 DK points just once all season, and that's playing plenty of grinding games in the Big Ten. There are plenty of mid-tier options more likely to hit 5x, though.
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech ($8,700 DK, $8,600 FD): While Winston is the superior college player, Culver is regarded as the better professional prospect. For $100-200 less, he's averaging over 6.0 fantasy points/game more than Winston during the tournament. He's also surpassed 50 fantasy points twice in the month of March – something Winston has done just once all season. There might be enough value on this slate to use them both, but if you're deciding between the two, Culver is my pick.
Kyle Guy, Virginia ($7,200 DK, $6,700 FD): Guy went off for 42.5 DK points on DraftKings in the OT thriller over Purdue, but hadn't been over 21.0 DK points in any other tournament game. The problem is that he's a bit three-point shooting dependent, and started the tournament 3-for-26 from beyond the arc. Guy has both started and played 26 or more minutes in every game this season, but his possible outcomes range from 15.5 to 44.0 DraftKings points. Auburn is by far the worst team remaining in terms of defending the perimeter, checking in at No. 196 in the country. I like using Guy at his FanDuel price, but understand there is risk attached.
Jared Harper, Auburn ($8,100 DK, $7,700 FD): All season long, anybody in this pricing tier has been an automatic fade when playing the Cavaliers. But like Winston above, we have to look at players in horrible matchups when there are just two games to pick from. Harper is undersized at 5-11, but has been able to use his quickness to get up the court and identify passing lanes, recording 5.8 assists to just 2.3 turnovers. The upside here is he's not as three-point shooting dependent as his backcourt counterpart Bryce Brown. There's still volatility here, perhaps no better illustrated than the fact he has seven games of 40-plus DraftKings points, but also eight below 20.0. That ceiling warrants some exposure, but it's generally not wise to expect a ceiling game from anyone facing Virginia.
Bryce Brown, Auburn ($6,800 DK, $6,400 FD): Auburn lives and dies by the three-pointer, and Virginia happens to be the third-best team in the nation at defending the perimeter, allowing opponents to convert just 28.7 percent from deep. Brown is the best three-point shooter the Tigers have to offer, converting 137 treys on the year and making them at a rate of 41.0 percent. Since the start of March, Brown has made two or more threes in each game, averaging 27.1 DK points along the way. Something's gotta give here. Brown's been hot all tournament, and he's a player I've recommended plenty of times on larger slates. But I'm probably not touching him here.
DeAndre Hunter, Virginia ($6,900 DK, $6,800 FD): Hunter is the best pro prospect in this game, and arguably the best in the entire field, but he simply hasn't looked the part so far. His best game was the opener against Gardner-Webb, where he ended up fouling out. Since then, he's averaged just 19.0 fantasy points on both sites while shooting just 37.5 percent from the field (he shot 51.8 percent during the season). His price sat around $7,500 for most of the year, and now we get a slight break. His overall skill set is enough to at least consider him, but GPPs only.
Nick Ward, Michigan State ($5,800 DK, $5,600 FD): Ward get a mention here not because of what he's done for us lately, but due to what we know he's capable of. Sure, he has yet to surpass 20 fantasy points on either site in the tournament, as he's recovering from a bone bruise in his hand. Only time will tell how serious this injury actually is, so maybe looking back at his early-season performance isn't the best course of action here. Nonetheless, he was consistently in the 30s right around the turn of the calendar year, and surpassed 47 DK points twice during non-conference play. Texas Tech has a sensational defensive unit overall, but rebounding isn't a strong suit. There's potential for a ceiling game here in what could be Ward's final collegiate contest.
Ty Jerome, Virginia ($8,000 DK, $8,000 FD): No teams remaining are ranked higher than Auburn in KenPom's adjusted tempo metric, so give me the steadiest all-around producer that is facing the only team where a slight pace boost is in play. Jerome has attempted double-digit field goals in seven-straight games, playing 35 or more minutes in each. While the scoring is solid, he gets plenty of fantasy points from assists, rebounds and steals, which brings up the floor. There's plenty ceiling too, as Jerome has three games of 42.0 or more DK points since the start of March.
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State ($$6,700 DK, $7,000 FD): Tillman has been under 30 FanDuel points just once all tournament while taking over both the starting job and most of the minutes from junior Nick Ward (who has dealt with a hand injury off and on). He surpassed 40 DK points for the first time all season against Duke, and has been no stranger to the mid-30s all year. Texas Tech makes all kinds of two-point shots difficult, but that will leave clean-up opportunities for Tillman while matched up against the likes of Tariq Owens and Norense Odiase. I like Tillman more than Kenny Goins ($7,400 DK, $6,900 FD) in this matchup, as the Red Raiders have the personnel to close out and make outside shooting difficult on Goins. He's hit two three-pointers in each of the last three games, but that suddenly becomes a lot more challenging in this matchup. I'm quite confident in Tillman having the better game.
Matt Mooney, Texas Tech ($6,200 DK, $6,000 FD): Since the start of March, Mooney hasn't played under 32 minutes and has scored in double figures seven times in eight chances. He's the primary ball handler for the Red Raiders, and leads the team in steals. He won't wow you with his ceiling, but won't kill your lineup either. However, if salary is a factor and you think Tech will win, consider Davide Moretti ($5,200 DK, $5,300 FD) as well. He's the team's best three-point shooter, and converts 92.2 percent of his freebies as well. If Tech is up late in the game, you can bet the ball is in his hands.
Mamadi Diakite, Virginia ($5,000 DK, $6,100 FD): The price discrepancy between sites alone should be enough to lock in Diakite on DraftKings. He's started each of the last three contests, and is averaging just under 30 fantasy points on both sites. Blocks and rebounds have made his floor rise, but he's also given Virginia an offensive dimension it did not have when Jack Salt held down the starting spot.
Aaron Henry, Michigan State ($5,100 DK, $5,000 FD): Like everyone else about to get mentioned, Henry could have qualified for the "GPPs" section as well, but his price is still low enough to qualify as a value. Henry dropped a season-high 44.0 DraftKings points against LSU, and has averaged 34.8 MPG in the NCAA Tournament. He's been a classic "glue guy," with the majority of his fantasy points coming from rebounds and assists. For that reason, he doesn't need to reach double figures (and likely won't) to get you 4x at this price point.
Danjel Purifoy, Auburn ($3,700 DK, $4,100 FD): Purifoy's matchup is horrific, but there's value to be had at this price point after he logged 32 minutes in the Elite Eight against Kentucky. Those minutes opened up due to the loss of Chuma Okeke (knee) and Horace Spencer getting in foul trouble. I don't trust Spencer to avoid fouls at all, so if I'm looking for a punt, I'm going with Purifoy or McLemore (mentioned below). Purifoy is a unique case, as he averaged 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in his freshman year before sitting out last season due to eligibility concerns. He's never been able to reclaim that level of production, but like Ward above, we know what he's capable of.
Anfernee McLemore, Auburn ($4,700 DK, $4,200 FD): McLemore is the more traditional playing time beneficiary with Okeke (knee) out, as he's more of a post player. He logged a season-high 30 minutes in the Elite Eight against Kentucky, turning that into 22.3 DK points. I expect 4-5x if given a similar opportunity, though personally, I'd take the upside (and lower ownership) of Purifoy.
I mentioned just about everyone I'd consider in this column, but if I missed a player in the pool, or you have any questions about the slate, please jump in with your feedback in the comments section. I'll also be checking up on our RotoWire subscriber Discord channel throughout the week.
Last but not least, a big THANKS to everyone who has read our content and used our tools all season long. If you have any feedback or suggestions to help improve our college basketball DFS tools in 2019-20, please don't hesitate to find me on Discord or drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!!