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UCLA, Duke, Kentucky leading latest odds to win NCAA Tournament

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Legacy programs such as the UCLA Bruins, Duke Blue Devils and Kentucky Wildcats drive interest in college basketball but don’t necessarily create value for futures-focused bettors.

Two months away from March Madness, UCLA, Duke and Kentucky are 1-2-3 on the 2017 NCAA Tournament champion futures board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com at +500, +525 and +550, respectively, on those college basketball odds.

While the Bruins have not been the last team standing cutting down the nets in celebration since 1995, point guard Lonzo Ball and power forward T.J. Leaf have furnished the Pac-12 powerhouse with one of the most potent offenses in the league.

Duke’s odds are likely to slip soon after recent losses to Louisville and Florida State. One should keep in mind how much instability the Blue Devils are contending with – first injuries in the frontcourt to freshmen Marques Bolden, Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum and now the current absense of coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is  recuperating from facial surgery. Duke should still be a force by March.

Kentucky, meanwhile, is 15-2 straight-up and 11-6 against the spread behind the freshman guard combo of De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk. The Wildcats have also been one of the best offensive teams in the country while playing a challenging first-half schedule.

The defending champion Villanova Wildcats, reigning runners-up North Carolina Tar Heels and Kansas Jayhawks are each listed at +1200. It’s been exactly 10 seasons since a team repeated and Villanova, with coach Jay Wright’s ability to temper the pace of games and seasoned holdovers such as SF Kris Jenkins and SG Josh Hart, could be tough in the tournament.

The top-ranked Baylor Bears are still well down the board at +1400, suggesting oddsmakers are dubious about their staying power. But coach Scott Drew preaches inside-the-opponent’s-shirt defense, and has taken a team as far as the Elite Eight (in 2010).

Baylor’s devotion to playing zone defense and physical presence with C Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. and PF Johnathan Motley could make them hard to prepare for in a single-elimination tournament, not unlike the Syracuse teams that have had surprise runs to the Final Four in recent history.

The Arizona Wildcats, at +4000, are also a darkhorse pick. Arizona – who would be the de facto home team at the Final Four if they get that far – is 16-2 SU and 9-8-1 ATS even though PG Parker Jackson-Cartwright has been limited by a high ankle sprain. Arizona also has freshmen catalysts aplenty who could break out in March, including smooth-shooting Finnish big man Lauri Markkanen. The Final Four takes place on April 1 and 3 in Glendale, Arizona.

’85 Sixers-Villanova scrimmage another example of why college teams can’t beat pro teams

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It’s fun to sometimes think about college teams competing against professional teams. It’s pretty much what everyone has been doing this year with the Philadelphia 76ers and Alabama football in their respective sports.

But let’s be real: If it did happen, the games would be so lopsided.

Need another example?

Julius Erving told TMZ Sports recently that his Philadelphia 76ers took on the 1985 National Champion Villanova Wildcats in a scrimmage, and the 76ers ‘dusted ’em off by about 40 or 50 points.’

This is the Villanova team that played “the perfect game” to beat a heavily-favored Georgetown squad.

And while the ’85 76ers aren’t slouches (their record that year was 58-24), it’s pretty clear college teams can’t keep up with any professional teams, no matter how much we’d like to think they could.

Four-Peat: UConn beats ‘Cuse for 4th straight national title

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INDIANAPOLIS — Breanna Stewart and UConn stand alone. Geno Auriemma, too, after another flawless season by the dominating Huskies.

UConn won an unprecedented fourth straight national championship Tuesday night, capping another perfect season by routing Syracuse 82-51. Until now, only the UCLA men’s team had won four in a row in Division I, rolling to seven consecutive championships under John Wooden from 1967-73. With Tuesday’s victory, Auriemma passed the Wizard of Westwood with his 11th national title.

Stewart said when she came to campus four years ago that she wanted to win four titles. She delivered on that promise by scoring 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in her final college game.

The Huskies (38-0) have been nearly unbeatable since Stewart arrived. They lost four games her freshman year and only one since. The win over Syracuse was the 75th straight for UConn – all by double figures. Stewart and her fellow seniors went 24-0 in NCAA tourney games, too.

The three-time AP Player of the Year has said it is up to others to decide her place in women’s college basketball lore. There is no denying she is the most accomplished player ever, winning more titles than fellow UConn greats Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore, who watched from the stands at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Like the other great UConn teams, this version had a killer instinct. The Huskies scored the first nine points of the game. Stewart had 10 points in the first 6 minutes as UConn built a 23-6 lead. When the Orange made a little run to cut its deficit to 25-13, Moriah Jefferson hit a 3-pointer off a nifty play just before the first-quarter buzzer. UConn’s big three of Stewart, Jefferson and Morgan Tuck, who have helped the Huskies to an NCAA record 151 wins over their four years, combined for 26 of the 28 points in the period.

They also handled the Orange’s press with precision passing that led to easy layups. The Huskies were up 50-23 at the half and extended the lead to 33 early in third quarter before Syracuse scored 16 straight points to get within 60-43 with 2:02 left in the period that brought the Orange fans to their feet. Consecutive layups by Napheesa Collier restored the 20-plus point lead and UConn cruised from there.

Stewart, Tuck and Jefferson left the game for good with 1:46 left. They shared an embrace together before hugging Auriemma. The trio then went down the bench hugging every member of the team.

With the victory, UConn continues its perfect run in NCAA championship games. Auriemma has never lost in 11 title appearances. While the names may change, the results are always the same: UConn is still there holding that trophy in the end. This one gave the Hall of Fame coach a sixth undefeated season.

To win her fourth championship, Stewart had to beat her hometown team. Fourth-seeded Syracuse (30-8) had the best season in school history, advancing to its first NCAA championship game. They hadn’t made it out of the first weekend of the tournament until this year.

These two teams hadn’t played since the Orange left the Big East for the ACC after the 2013 season. Syracuse has now lost 24 straight against UConn, a skid that dates to 1996.

Cornelia Fondren scored 16 points to lead Syracuse.

UNBEATENS

With Lubbock Christian and Thomas More finishing off their undefeated seasons Monday night in the Division II and III title games, this marks the third year that all three champions didn’t have a loss. It also happened in 1995 and 2014 – and UConn won the D-I titles those years, too. Lubbock Christian and Thomas More players held the flag during the national anthem before the game.

TIP-INS

Syracuse: The Orange had been stellar in the tournament from behind the 3-point line. They came into the game after making 48 3-pointers, averaging nearly 10 a game, and were shooting 33.6 percent from behind the arc. In the title game, they were just 2 for 19.

UConn: The Huskies were also undefeated in 1995, 2002, 2009, 2010 and 2014. … Auriemma has 109 NCAA Tournament victories, only trailing Pat Summitt (112) for most in the history of the sport. … The Huskies won three straight titles from 2002-04. … Freshman Katie Lou Samuelson had a boot on her left foot after breaking the third metatarsal in the national semifinals. Gabby Williams started in her place.