Final Four Predictions: Futures Odds for NCAA Tournament
by Trevor Whenham - 3/28/2012
Kentucky is an overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA Championship this year. Bovada has them pegged at -150 to win the tournament. Ohio State is a distant second at +300 with Kansas at +500 and Louisville a longshot at +900.
When one team is drawing so much attention and praise you really only have two options. You can accept the low price, buy into the hype, and bet on the favorite, or you can be contrary and look for reasons to believe that the favorite will lose and an underdog will come through.
I’m generally contrary, and I know that anything can happen in the NCAA Tournament. That means that I’d like to convince myself that Coach John Calipari and his Cats aren’t inevitable winners.
With that goal in mind here are three good reasons why Kentucky could lose, and three reasons why each of the other three teams could win:
Kentucky won’t win because:
1. They rely too heavily on freshmen. This is a story we have seen before. Calipari is better than any coach at loading his team up with young talent. All five of his current starters could be first-round NBA picks at some point, so this may be his most talented team ever. More than once, though, Calipari has had a very talented tournament team that has not been able to maximize their potential due to inexperience.
2. They can be caught off guard. In the SEC Championship Game Vanderbilt threw some shifting zone defenses at the Wildcats and they had a very tough time adapting. In their earlier loss to Indiana they also faced aggressive and regularly-changing defenses. Louisville Coach Rick Pitino is the absolute master at in-game adjustments, and Ohio State’s Thad Matta is not too far behind. If any team is going to beat Kentucky it will be because they have confused them, and both teams are capable.
3. Health. When Anthony Davis hit the ground hard in his last game and grabbed his knee he looked like he could have been really seriously hurt. He wasn’t, but it reminded us that even the best player is only one play away from disaster. Davis could easily be showing after-effects from that fall. If that, or anything else, leads to a serious health factor then this team could have real issues. Over the course of a long series a team can overcome an injury with depth and talent, but in a one-and-done situation anything can happen.
Louisville will win because:
1. Peyton Silva is extremely good. Silva isn’t flashy, but he’s the kind of guard that makes things happen, and he can be trusted to make adjustments on the fly. He’s like another coach on the floor, and that’s incredibly valuable at this time of year.
2. Rick Pitino is dialed in. Pitino is, in my mind, peerless when it comes to in-game strategy. He’s had trouble in recent years really maximizing his team’s talent, though. This year he looked like he was on the same path again, but something has changed. He has this team ready to play like he hasn’t had in a few years. They are on an incredible run since the start of the Big East Tournament, and you can see in his demeanor that he’s really feeling it. A confident, focused Pitino is not an easy opponent.
3. They have nothing to lose. Everyone outside of Louisville expects them to lose this game. Pitino is under no pressure at all. Calipari is at risk of being buried under a giant mountain of pressure — which includes trying to live up to the legacy of Pitino at Kentucky. The underdog role is an easy one for Louisville to rally around.
Ohio State will win because:
1. Jared Sullinger is in top form. I’m a Big Ten guy, so I have watched a lot of Sullinger over the last couple of years. For much of his career I have not entirely bought in — he has seemed to perform at a level below his immense talent. Down the stretch this year, though, it’s like he has flipped a switch. He finally realizes how good he can be, and he’s willing to do what it takes. This is a Final Four packed with great players, but Sullinger isn’t overshadowed by any.
2. Aaron Craft is in his element. Craft is the kind of guy who thrives in a situation like this. He is made to play in the Final Four. He controls games, he plays relentless defense, and when he is in the zone he can shoot the lights out. He’s a huge asset for this team.
3. Kansas is a good matchup for them. To win the championship you have to get to the Championship Game. In terms of their skill and the matchups they got the best matchup they could have hoped for in Kansas. They are familiar with the team, they can match up well, and they have what it takes to come out on top.
Kansas will win because:
1. Tyshawn Taylor is back. During the first three games of the tournament it was as if Taylor had forgotten how to score. He was in an ugly slump. He broke out in a big way against North Carolina last time, though, and was a huge reason for their convincing win. He should be able to carry that confidence over to the next two games. If Taylor is firing on all cylinders he will be very dangerous.
2. Defense, defense, defense. The Jayhawks totally overwhelmed and confused the Tar Heels with their strong defense. The saying goes that defense wins championships, so Kansas is well positioned if they stick to their game plan.
3. Thomas Robinson is a rallying point. Robinson’s story is ridiculous. Last year he was a sub who started only twice, and who endured unimaginable personal tragedy. This year he’s an all-American and one of the most ferocious, impressive players in the country. If you saw a character like him in a movie you wouldn’t believe it was true, but it is. That’s a huge thing for this team to rally around.
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