Some team will cut down the nets on April 3 to celebrate winning the NCAA Tournament, but at this juncture oddsmakers are just as on the fence as the experts about who’s capable of doing so.
Two weeks out from March Madness, the Duke Blue Devils, Gonzaga Bulldogs and Kansas Jayhawks are listed at +1100, +800, and +700, respectively, on the odds to win the NCAA Tournament at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The top of the board also see two legacy programs, the North Carolina Tar Heels and UCLA Bruins, each listed at +600, while the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats are listed at +1000.
None of the above even seem like a mortal lock for the Final Four, which will be held in Glendale, Arizona on the first weekend of April. Gonzaga hails from the mid-major West Coast Conference, while Duke, which takes on the Tar Heels Heels on Saturday as road underdogs, has a discomfiting tendency to lose its focus late in games. Kansas’ issues with limiting opponents’ looks at three-pointers makes it vulnerable to a hot-shooting team.
North Carolina has an inside track on a No. 1 seed, though, and their stumbles on the road might not matter so much in a string of neutral-site games. Given their soft schedule and reliance on a freshman floor leader, Lonzo Ball, UCLA might be overhyped. Arguably the grittiest, more tournament-ready team coming out of the Pac-12 is probably the Oregon Ducks (+1200) with their leaders Dylan Ennis and Dillon Brooks.
The ACC could have as many as 10 teams in the field of 68. While UNC and Duke have the pedigree and the titles, both teams’ popularity will hurt their odds. The Virginia Cavaliers (+2000) defend as well as almost anyone in the country and should be a tough out in the postseason. For similar reasons, the Baylor Bears (+2800) are being highly touted for a breakthrough in March.
The Louisville Cardinals (+1600) of coach Rick Pitino have hit a wall of late,losing three recent ACC games. Whether they can regain their edge over the next few weeks remains to be seen.
As much as parity is the buzzword in college basketball, anyone trying to pick a champion this early should remember that pedigree might still count for something at the end. There hasn’t been a first-time champion since 2006, when the Florida Gators won the first of back-to-back titles. In the last 20 seasons, there have been only four other first-time winners – the 1997 Arizona Wildcats, 1999 Connecticut Huskies, 2002 Maryland Terrapins and ’03 Syracuse Orange. That ’99 UConn team was the only one to do so in the team’s first trip to the Final Four.
Of the highest 20 teams on the board, Gonzaga is the only one who has never made it to the final weekend.