NCAA Tournament Futures Predictions
by Robert Ferringo - 02/09/2009
We are exactly five weeks away from Selection Sunday, which means this is Crunch Time in the college basketball world. Things are changing daily, and while some people might think that the championship picture is becoming clearer by the day I would have to say that I think just the opposite.
One thing that is changing daily is the NCAA Tournament futures odds for who is going to cut down the nets in March. Teams like North Carolina and Pittsburgh started the year on top and are currently still two of the biggest favorites on the board. But teams like Oklahoma (30-to-1) and Wake Forest (40-to-1) started the season as middle-of-the-road contenders but have since thrust themselves into the discussion of who is the biggest and the best in the country.
Here's a look at the current odds for NCAA Tournament futures odds:
North Carolina (2.5-to-1) - The odds on the Tar Heels have actually improved as the season has worn on. That's surprising to me considering that without Marcus Ginyard they are lacking their top perimeter defender. However, looking around the country you wouldn't be wrong to say that there are really only about 10 teams that stand a chance of beating the Heels in March. Yeah, they have a stunning loss to Boston College on the resume. But the bottom line is that with Ellington and Hansbrough they have two elite players that can carry this team, and it's going to take a Herculean effort to deny this group for a third straight year.
Pittsburgh (10-to-1) - Sam Young and DeJuan Blair is one of the few duos that can matchup with UNC's (perfect) pair. Those two future NBA talents lead an experienced and seasoned group of role players that should be ready for a deep tourney run. Pitt burned itself out last year with a Big East Tournament title and didn't have anything left in the tank in the Big Dance. They won't make that mistake this time around and I expect this club to be playing in an Elite Eight game. The problems: too many scoring droughts, and Pitt is a consistent March dud.
Connecticut (4-to-1) - The current No. 1 team in the country has been good, but in my opinion this team hasn't even come close to peaking yet. This Connecticut team can win in a lot of different ways and will have been battle-tested by playing in the deepest, most grueling conference in the country. The Huskies dominate the interior and Jeff Adrien is one of my favorite players in college basketball. Stanley Robinson gives them an X-factor guy and Hasheem Thebeet is an NBA lottery pick. The entire key to this team is guard play. When A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson are combining for around 30+ points per game this team is tough to beat. And look for freshman Kemba Walker to really break out come tourney time.
Oklahoma (12-to-1) - Right now this is the best value on the board in terms of the top-tier favorites. Yes, Oklahoma worries me playing on neutral courts. But absolutely no one can stop Blake Griffin. And now that his brother Taylor is getting help from Juan Pattillo down low this club boasts one of the only frontcourts in the country that could outplay Connecticut and UNC. The issue is the guard play. Tony Crocker has a pretty definite ceiling (he's not going to go for 30 and carry this team) and Austin Johnson is probably the worst starting point guard of any Top 20 team. I love Willie Warren and I think that Cade Davis is underutilized. But all in all the pieces are there for a long march through March.
Wake Forest (12-to-1) - This team has proven that it can beat the Top Dog, UNC, and it boasts as much athleticism as any team in the nation. They have nice true road wins at Clemson and at BYU and have a legit go-to guard in Jeff Teague. Also, this team defends. They are No. 7 in FG defense and No. 5 in three-point defense, and we all know that D wins titles. The problem is that this team isn't tested. It's very rare that a team that didn't make The Dance the previous year jumps up and wins the whole thing. And I don't think that's very likely here.
Michigan State (30-to-1) - When this team is good, it's really, really good. And a lot of people jumped off the bandwagon a little early with Sparty. They defend. They rebound. They have outstanding depth. They have a coach who's Been There. They have big nonconference wins at Texas and against Kansas. There are two issues. First, Raymar Morgan and his mystery illness is a deal breaker. If Morgan - whose condition is being described as mono and has floored him for the last four games, and for the foreseeable future - does not return and is not 100 percent then the Spartans have no chance of winning a title. Second, their free throw shooting is getting into Memphis territory. That's not a good thing.
Marquette (40-to-1) - Marquette has spent the majority of the year atop the toughest conference in the country. They have the best backcourt in the country and they remind me a bit of the Simon-Bibby-Dickerson Arizona team that cut down the nets a decade ago. These guys will be a very tough out come tourney time. But their odds are about right because they still don't have a win that makes me tingle. Their best win was a home beating of Villanova, but that doesn't get it done. They host UConn on Feb. 25. We'll know then how strong a play this is.
Arizona State (40-to-1) - With James Harden and Jeff Pendergraph the Sun Devils are another team that has a 1-2 punch that can be unstoppable, even by the most elite of competition. Also, they have enough three-point shooters that if they get hot from the outside they can beat anyone in the country. The issue is that they don't have any big nonconference wins, they just come out flat too often away from home, and they are another team that wasn't dancing last year.
Syracuse (60-to-1) - From a talent perspective, the Orange can play with anyone in the country when they are healthy. Jimmy Boeheim is the Mayor of Bracketville and after two straight snubs this team will be ready to make a statement in March. The problem is that talent isn't enough when you don't rebound, don't make free throws, turn the ball over and don't show up every night.
Villanova (50-to-1) - Two weeks ago the Wildcats would have been a sucker bet. But now this club is on the upswing. I still doubt that they have the interior players to be considered a serious contender, but they are playing well. They defend, they shoot, they have one of my favorite guards in the country (Scottie Reynolds) and they are led by a bunch of guys that played in the Sweet 16 last year. Could be worth a dabble, but I'm still not sold.
The Long Shots
California (100-to-1) - This team will be in the Final Four in 2010. Just remember that you heard it here first. I love the makeup of this Cal team and I think that if they hit their stride they are capable of making it to Detroit. Mike Montgomery is just a fantastic basketball coach and he has the athleticism that he never had to work with at Stanford. They have a sweet point guard, two go-to guys on the perimeter, and strength on the inside. The only thing they lack is experience. And with zero seniors on the roster that's the only knock. But keep an eye on the Bears.
Kentucky (75-to-1) - As streaky as they come, I don't know anyone that would want to play the Wildcats in March. Jodie Meeks can hit you for 40 (or 50) if you're not careful. This team gets up an down the court with anyone, they defend the basket and they sweep the boards. The problem is that, like I said, they are streaky. They beat Tennessee by 18 and went toe-to-toe with Louisville. But they also lost to VMI.
Purdue (40-to-1) - Don't sleep on the Boilermakers. This team has been banged up all year long so they are undervalued. But if Robbie Hummel's back is OK and if Chris Kramer can keep his edge then this is another team that might be sandbagging until Tourney Time. They may be a year away, but I wouldn't be stunned if this club pulled itself together for a strong run. They are so good on the road and they have already proven that they can play with teams like Oklahoma on a neutral court.
Clemson (60-to-1) - Yeah, this isn't a bet I'm willing to make. But you can't deny the odds. K.C. Rivers and Trevor Booker aren't on the same level as the other dynamic duos that I've listed here, but they are without a doubt the most underrated pair on an elite team in the country. This unit is not as good as last year's team. And they haven't proven themselves against elite competition. But that pair, along with X-Factor Terrence Oglesby, could be a force.
Xavier (60-to-1) - Every year people sleep on the Musketeers and every year they come to play on the biggest stage. Let me state right off the bat that I don't think that their freshman point guard is good enough to get the job done. But other than that this team is loaded with winners. Two years ago they were a 35-foot shot away from beating runner-up Ohio State. Last year they were a game away from the Final Four. That's good momentum - but not enough to cut down the nets.
The Sucker Bets
Duke (10-to-1) - If you can't rebound or defend the basket you can't win the national title. The Blue Devils were exposed against Wake Forest and Clemson as a soft team that will cry when punched in the face. Their perimeter players can overwhelm teams that don't defend. But teams with a strong frontcourt and capable guards will cut through the Blue Devils defense like Swiss cheese. These odds should be about triple what they are.
Louisville (8-to-1) - Maybe I'm in denial, but I still don't think that the Cardinals are good enough to win it all. I know, I know. It's crazy. But I will go back to the same point that I focus on with this team all the time: they do not shoot the ball well enough from the outside. If they have an off night and their opponent is tough on the boards then I don't think that the Cards are good enough to overcome that. Terrence Williams is a stud All-American and can carry this team. But I just don't see a champion when I look at the Cards.
UCLA (12-to-1) - Stop me if you heard this before: the Bruins are the Final Four favorite out West. Hey, UCLA has had a great two weeks and are playing out of their minds. But four home games in a row will do that for you. This UCLA team isn't anywhere close to as talented as the last three Final Four clubs. If they couldn't win a title, this team can't.
Gonzaga (40-to-1) - These guys are in a situation similar to UCLA - how many times are we going to hear that they are a title contender only to watch them fall on their face against elite competition? Now, I'm not ready to give up on the Zags making a run. But I don't see the athleticism on this squad - particularly around the basket - to beat the best teams in the country.
Memphis (40-to-1) - It's easy to get excited about this group after watching them roll into Spokane and bitch-slap Gonzaga on national TV. But - and stop me if you've heard this one - but this team is not nearly as talented as the one that was two minutes from a title last year. They are led by a freshman, and one that isn't as good as other first-year players that couldn't get their teams into the Sweet 16 each of the past two years (Kevin Durant, Mike Beasley). This team has peaked.