If you anatomize the roster of every program in college basketball, you’ll find it a next-to-impossible task to pinpoint one more stacked with prospective pro talent than Duke and its fabulous freshman-laden squad.
With great talent comes great expectations for the Blue Devils. Though they rank fourth and third in the AP and coaches preseason polls, respectively, Vegas odds ahead of the season’s start next week give them a leg up on everyone to win it all. According to the Westgate Las vegas Superbook, they are 4-to-1 favorites to win a sixth title in program history, which would give them a stunning third championship over the past nine years.
Only two other programs — UCLA (1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973) and Kentucky (1948, 1949, 1951) — have won three or more titles in a similar nine-year time period that Duke is well-positioned to accomplish.
Behind Duke is Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina in the preseason betting odds order. Kansas is 6-to-1, Kentucky is 6-to-1 and North Carolina is 8-to-1. Gonzaga, a team I like as a sleeper to win it all, has 10-to-1 odds.
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Gonzaga is No. 3 and 4 in the preseason AP and coaches polls, respectively, and yet its odds are fifth-best entering the season. Not a huge discrepancy, but notable simply because the Zags are already pretty undervalued based on where they’re slotted in preseason polls. With Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura, Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins coming back, there’s strong optimism the Bulldogs can get back to their second Final Four in three seasons.
Nevada was Sweet 16 good a season ago, and it is bringing back virtually all of its stars — namely Caleb and Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline and Lindsey Drew. With that core returning and Jordan Brown, K.J. Hymes, Vincent Lee, Trey Porter (pause, grabs breath), Corey Henson, Tre’Shawn Thurman and Nisre’ Zouzoua all potential impact players making their debuts as members of the Wolf Pack, it’s not unrealistic to think this team could be special. The best college basketball offense may reside in Reno.
This feels like a longshot at 100-to-1. It is not. LSU is going to be superb this season behind sophomore star Tremont Waters, and he’s got star power incoming with five-star freshmen Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams. The Tigers roster, crafted by young coach Will Wade, is extremely sound from top to bottom. They could surprise and challenge for the SEC crown; the national title isn’t an outlandish objective given its talent level.
I don’t feel great about listing the reigning national champions, who have won the title in two of the past three seasons, as a program whose odds may be overvalued. But even with five-star Jahvon Quinerly in the program and Eric Paschall lined up for a leap-year, the losses of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman — the team’s top four scorers from a season ago — make it difficult to envision it being a realistic title contender. But then again, Jay Wright’s a Hall of Famer, there’s definitely something to the touted Villanova culture, and this program is bordering on dynasty levels of success.
The Bruins find themselves here if for no other reason than a stroke of bad fortune. Highly-touted prospects Shareef O’Neal and Tyger Campbell have already been ruled out for the upcoming season, which will shrink UCLA’s expected deep rotation, as will the injury to Alex Olesinski that puts his expected return right around the start of conference play. UCLA’s got two great ones in Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes, but the lack of depth, coupled with the lack of stellar freshmen talent, has me bearish on the Bruins.
Arizona coach Sean Miller is facing the unenviable task of replacing his top five scorers from last season’s roster. And unlike recruiting years of the past, thanks in large part to questions surrounding the FBI investigation into college hoops, the Wildcats don’t have a superstar-studded class incoming to restock the cupboard. Simply getting to the NCAA Tournament may be considered a win this season. Zona is ranked No. 42 in Matt Norlander’s 1-353 rankings. I recommend staying away here, even though its blueblood status at 200-to-1 may be tempting.
Rick Stansbury brings into the season the best team in C-USA, and perhaps boasts the best player in the league, too, in five-star freshman Charles Bassey. The Hilltoppers are going to be a force. With a dominating post presence in Bassey and a superb sophomore in guard Taveion Hollingsworth, WKU making a postseason run — like it did last season in the NIT — is totally feasible.
The Atlantic 10 is a tough one to peg. For my money, I’d recommend Saint Louis. Davidson, Dayton and Saint Joseph’s are all team’s worthy of consideration, too. Overall, though, I like what Travis Ford has behind him: A stellar senior in Javon Bess and promising freshman in Carte’Are Gordon gives the Billikens hope to win the league and advance deep in March.
Loyola-Chicago, the Final Four Cinderella, is the preseason pick to come out of the Valley. But I’m rolling with Dan Muller and Illinois State, a program that has a bona fide star in Milik Yarbrough. If he can stay on the straight and narrow, the Redbirds are going to be a factor in both the MVC and the Big Dance.
At the risk of sounding completely ludicrous, oddsmakers have apparently fallen asleep at the wheel on Mike Daum and South Dakota State. The Dauminator, the back-to-back Summit Player of the Year, has a chance to lead the Jackrabbits to a Summit League tournament title (again). If he gets there all bets are off. Norlander has SDSU as the No. 52 team entering the season, so this squad’s wildly underrated.
Odds to win 2019 NCAA Tournament
via Westgate Las Vegas Superbook
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