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.