Hoops Dreams: Backing Texas Tech At Long Odds — With My Heart and Wallet
After giving eventual men’s basketball national champion Villanova their closest game in the 2018 NCAA tournament, two-time Naismith Award winner Jay Wright told Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard that he would find himself back in the Elite 8 at some point. But with only one returning starter, no one expected Beard and Texas Tech to return so soon. Well, almost no one.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the bettor who invested $1,500 on Texas Tech to win the 2019 championship at 200-1 odds in November. I wasn’t fortunate enough to get that value, but I did wager $200 on Texas Tech at 75-1 during my lunch break on October 21st. Not for $300,000 like the other gentleman, but my ticket still offered a substantial $15,000 potential win, and even more exciting, it was riding on my alma mater.
The Texas Tech national championship bet
I went to Bobby Knight Basketball Camp when I was 12 years old, and my grandfather had season tickets for years. I was there during Coach Knight’s first season when Texas Tech lost to T.J. Ford and the Longhorns, and I saw hundreds of students rush the court for the first time in person two years later when Darryl Dora hit a game-winning 3-pointer in double overtime against No. 2 Kansas. Now, nearly 15 years later when attending basketball games, I sport a Patrick Mahomes jersey — to be sure, a 2017 Texas Tech alumnus, quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs and reigning NFL MVP.
Yes, the description fits the profile of someone who would blindly bet on Texas Tech winning the national championship months after the Red Raiders lost 80 percent of their offensive production. I’m actually not someone who bets on Texas Tech to win every year. I rarely bet on Texas Tech football (thankfully) and this was the first position I ever took on a Texas Tech basketball future. There was more to it than my Most Improved Player trophy from Knight Camp and Mahomes jersey.
Like Jay Wright, I believed in Chris Beard. Beard had grinded his way to a job at Texas Tech, making stops at JUCO, DII, and even ABA teams, before turning Little-Rock Arkansas into a 30-win team just one season after they went 13-18. That same year, Beard led the Little Rock Trojans to one of the biggest NCAA tournament upsets of 2016 in a 85-83 double-overtime win over No. 3 seed Purdue. Beard’s name was still relatively unknown, but it was clear he could coach with the best in college basketball.
I also pay close attention to Texas Tech recruiting. I was in Nashville for a bachelor party when South Dakota grad transfer and two-time All-Summit League Matt Mooney committed in May, just a month after St. John’s big man Tariq Owens committed to Beard and the Red Raiders. Anxiously refreshing the Texas Tech recruiting boards most of the weekend, we paused our golf outing for a round of whiskey shots when we got news that Mooney was heading to Lubbock. The whiskey poured into our gullets to celebrate Mooney, not the groom-to-be. Less than a year later, I’d be on my way to Minneapolis with a 75-1 ticket on Texas Tech winning the Final Four and a 55-1 ticket on Mooney being awarded Most Outstanding Player.
It was a perfect storm of being familiar with Chris Beard, paying close attention to recruiting, and yes, being a homer — I didn’t have college basketball futures on any other team, after all.
Pressing in March
The Red Raiders won their first 10 games of the season before losing to Duke 58-69 in a December game at Madison Square Garden. Of course, I wore Mahomes jersey and took a loss on Texas Tech +9.5.
Texas Tech led the first 34 minutes of their meeting with Zion Williamson, proving that even with new blood, this team had potential to compete with the best teams in the country. My faith cost the bankroll a few hundred dollars, but confidence in the October bet reached at an all-time high.
By the time March rolled around I had $667 spread across five tickets to win $41,150 — about 62-1 odds — on Texas Tech winning the national championship.
Arriving in Atlantic City for the first weekend of March Madness, I wasn’t sure how I would navigate my futures position. Texas Tech was still 30-1 to win the tournament, and if they were to get past the first two rounds, they’d face an uphill battle in the West Region with No. 2 seed Michigan and No. 2 seed Gonzaga likely standing in their way.
Sporting Mahomes’ No 15, I walked to the ticket window at Tropicana’s William Hill sportsbook to bet a good amount on Texas Tech -12.5 in their first round matchup against No. 14 seed Northern Kentucky. Texas Tech won by 15 points and Tech backers like myself were lucky to cover thanks to a missed 3-pointer by Northern Kentucky at the end of the game. Next up was No. 6 Buffalo. This time I was concerned, but that didn’t stop me from laying 3.5 points.
I continued to press through the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 and the Red Raiders continued to cover, upsetting Michigan and Gonzaga as underdogs to make their first Final Four appearance in program history.
This is where things get tricky. No, I didn’t contemplate whether I was making the trip to the Minneapolis or not. That one was easy. I needed to figure out what I was doing with my Texas Tech futures bets.
Championship Week in Minnesota
Sportsbooks released new title odds, lines for the four semifinals games, and Most Outstanding Player futures after Michigan State knocked out Duke to earn the final bid to the Elite 8. Auburn was +800, Texas Tech +460, Michigan State +190, and Virginia +125. The title odds weren’t appealing. I also had no interest in adding to my position but, while looking at Most Outstanding Player odds, I noticed something interesting.
You could find sophomore guard and lottery prospect Jarrett Culver at +650, Davide Moretti +4000, Mooney +5500, and Tariq Owens +10000. If Red Raiders cut down the nets Monday, it would be one of these four that walked away Most Outstanding Player. By betting $100 each on Culver, Moretti, Mooney and Owens— the only plausible MOPs in a hypothetical Texas Tech national championship win– you’d get the following payouts, losses from other MOP positions included:
$100 Culver = +650 = $350
$100 Moretti +4000 = $3700
$100 Mooney +5500 = $5200
$100 Owens +10000 = $9700
Leave it to me to find a way to justify putting more money on the Red Raiders instead of trying to hedge.
With my other Texas Tech futures in play, I avoided betting on Culver but added $100 on Moretti and Mooney, and added $50 on Owens to my betting card.
With or without a ticket that could pay the down payment on my first house, the Final Four atmosphere in Minneapolis was roaring. Virginia fans supporting the Cavaliers showed up in droves, hoping to see the program’s first national championship after a devastating defeat the previous year in the first round, when they became the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 — by 20 points no less against the then-unknown University of Maryland Baltimore County basketball squad. Michigan State had just beaten their kryptonite in Duke, and it was the Texas Tech and Auburn faithful’s first time seeing their teams in the Final Four. You could tell it was unfamiliar territory for both. They (we) were as loud and rowdy inside the bars as they were at the games.
Auburn and Virginia tipped off the Final Four in the most controversial game of the tournament. Down 60-62, Virginia missed a 3-point shot with 0.6 seconds left. Too busy celebrating, the Auburn crowd didn’t realize that Virginia was aided by a late foul call. Celebrations quickly turned to boos as Kyle Guy was sent to the stripe. The junior guard nailed all three free throws, leaving the Auburn fan base in shock. I wanted Auburn to win, too, but decided to take advantage of the Auburn loss.
The U.S. Bank Stadium, one of the NFL’s newest football facilities, wasn’t the best place to watch a basketball game on a small budget. Luckily, some Auburn fans were as automatic to leave the stadium as Guy was at free throw line. Half of our group found Auburn fans willing to sell club level tickets near mid court for a fraction of the price. We migrated from the corner to mid court to watch the team we traveled to Minneapolis for in the first place. The new view was worth every dollar.
Texas Tech’s Final Four contest with the Spartans started slow, but Tech went into the locker room up 23-21 at halftime as Michigan State was favored by 3 for the second half. Knowing Chris Beard’s record after halftime, I decided to add another bet on Texas Tech +3, even if it meant betting against future hall of famer Tom Izzo. Beard’s second half adjustments didn’t disappoint and the Red Raiders beat Sparty 61-51, returning money to Texas Tech backers for the fifth straight game. Matt Mooney, the 55-1 longshot I bet on to win Most Outstanding Player led the Red Raiders with 22 points, putting himself (and me) in a great spot if Texas Tech were to walk away national champions Monday night.
With a day off in between the semifinals and the championship game, I had plenty of time to decide how I’d manage my futures bet before Monday’s title game. It was the biggest day in Texas Tech sports history and certainly the biggest sports betting day of my life.
This time I wouldn’t let my emotions prevent me from cashing in, especially with Owens’ health questionable after a severe ankle sprain in the Michigan State game. As much as I wanted to ride Texas Tech and my futures tickets without hedging, I opted to bet the Virginia moneyline -125. Risking $12,500, I ensured a $9,083 payout if Tech were to lose and at least $28,400 payout if the Red Raiders could bring it home, possibly more depending on which Tech player would win Most Outstanding Player.
Virginia’s controversial win over Auburn cast a cloud of injustice at U.S. Bank Stadium, so most of the 72,000-plus attendees filed in for the championship game on Monday night to root for Texas Tech. Auburn fans were nearly as passionate as Texas Tech fans, putting their “guns up” and joining Red Raider chants. You might have mistaken one elderly lady wearing an Auburn sweater and tiger-striped gloves as the gentleman with a $300,000 futures ticket on Texas Tech. After questionable calls continue to go Virginia’s way, the lady turned around and exclaimed “the powers that be!”
We all know how the game ended. Texas Tech battled, yet Virginia somehow found a way to win another game where they trailed by at least two points in the final seconds.
I’m still heartbroken from the loss, with a sliver of a silver lining that I used the loss to my benefit. My summer vacation is covered, I have a bigger bankroll for football season, and the Mahomes jersey is finally washed.
Just like 2018, Texas Tech is expected to turn over five of their top six scorers from this year’s team, but oddsmakers aren’t doubting Chris Beard like they did this time last year. Texas Tech opened +2500 to win the 2020 NCAA Tournament, tied for the seventh out of more than 200 teams. I’m not sure I’ll have a Texas Tech futures ticket at that price, but I do have an itch to join that Auburn Lady’s conspiracy club.