Duke, North Carolina enter March Madness as co-favorites on tournament odds

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Tested talent wins, meaning it is not surprising to see college basketball’s bitterest rivals sharing top spot on the odds to win the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels are each listed at +600 on that board at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Blue Devils are in the East Region, considered the thinnest in the field for March Madness although they could potentially face the top overall seed and defending champion Villanova Wildcats (+750) in the Elite Eight if both win three games in a row.

North Carolina, which has brawn under the rim to buttress the offensive leadership of PG Joel Berry and SF Justin Jackson, could have some favorable matchups in the South Region.

While pretty much anyone who has ever printed out a bracket obsesses over picking early-round upsets, the chalk usually prevails when it comes to the tournament champion.

The rest of the board has great hoops lineage, with aforementioned Villanova, the Kansas Jayhawks (+800) and Kentucky Wildcats (+850). Of those three, Kansas with PG Frank Mason III’s steady handle is likely the best pick, since March Madness is a guard’s tournament. Villanova still has the guard combo of Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart, but could run into Duke.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (+1000) have the longest odds of any No. 1 seed, since bowing out before the Final Four is their trademark. The Arizona Wildcats (+1200) are lurking as the No. 2 in that West Region.

In South Region futures, North Carolina (+135) is the biggest favorite of any team to win its region and go to the Final Four. Potential Sweet 16 opponents, Kentucky (+275) and UCLA Bruins (+450), are both freshmen-reliant – Malik Monk on the ‘Cats, Lonzo Ball on UCLA – and that rarely proves to be a winning formula in March.

The No. 4 seed Butler Bulldogs (+1000), with floor leader Kelan Martin and two wins against Villanova on its resume, are the best pick if one wants to go against the chalk in the South.

Kansas (+220) tops the Midwest Region odds in spite of an early exit from the Big 12 tournament. The Louisville Cardinals (+350) have faded, but the No. 3 seed Oregon Ducks (+400) and PF Dillon Brooks might do some damage. The No. 5 seed Iowa State Cyclones (+1000) and PG Monte Morris are the Midwest’s definitive darkhorse.

On the left side of the bracket, Gonzaga (+160) and Arizona (+200) are tightly bunched on the West Region board. History doesn’t play the games and it’s possible the Zags and PG Nigel Williams-Goss are underrated, especially for their defensive tenacity. But coach Sean Miller’s Wildcats are tough-minded.

The West Virginia Mountaineers (+550) are also a premier defensive squad, but it’s hard to keep that up as the opponents get better.

Villanova (+160) tops the East Region board, with Duke (+250) second on the list. While the past two national champions might seem to be on a collision course, the No. 6 seed SMU Mustangs (+800) are an underdog to ponder. The Mustangs won the AAC Tournament decisively and run a five-guard attack – PG Shake Milton is 6-6 – that is almost unseen in Division I.

The UNC-Wilmington Seahawks (+10000), who score 85 points per game, are also a trendy darkhorse.