NCAA Basketball Handicapping: Possible Long Shots for National Championship
by Trevor Whenham - 2/11/2015
The UConn Huskies, of course, are the defending NCAA Tournament champions. If you looked back a year ago from now, though, you would have really struggled to see them coming. On Feb. 11 last year they were a decent 18-5, but their 6-4 record in the American conference was far less impressive. They weren't ranked, and they didn't scare anyone. Of course, they got things figured out when it mattered -- and rewarded the bettors that had faith in them in March and early April very handsomely. With Kentucky drawing such an overwhelming amount of attention in the futures markets, now is a very good time to look to see if there is another UConn out there - one that will definitely deliver value right now. Here are five possibilities (odds to win the NCAA Championship are from Sportsbook.ag):
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Ohio State Buckeyes (+4000): The Buckeyes had a truly head-scratching loss to Purdue two back, but I'm willing to look past that one at this point. They are one of the best shooting teams in the whole country, and that is going to come in handy over the next two months. What really stands out about the team, though, is the freakish D'Angelo Russell. The freshman leads the team in scoring and rebounds, and he is second in assists. As good as he has been, he just keeps improving - last time out he had a triple-double against Rutgers. The cast is strong, and they have their impressive leader. The coaching is pretty solid, too. This is the kind of team that could be a terrifying draw in March.
West Virginia Mountaineers (+8000): The Mountaineers have lost their last three to ranked opponents, so they have some work to do if they want to be real contenders. They are fanatical about creating turnovers, though, and not only are they good at it, but they excel at creating offense from those turnovers as well. They aren't a great shooting team, but if they can get hot at the right time then their aggressiveness, and the experience of their coach, could lead them far.
SMU Mustangs (+10000): Larry Brown knows a thing or two about winning. His season was rough out of the gate when he lost his star recruit - to China of all places. The schedule did them no favors, either - their early season was just brutal. They have found their stride, though, and have lost just twice since Nov. 25 - both times to Cincinnati, oddly. There are a couple of reasons I really like this team. For one, Nic Moore and Yanick Moreira are a special duo, and they are getting better every day. The team also plays very solid defense and has made a real commitment to it. Brown has this team believing, and he has to be hungry for another run. On top of it all, we know that a team can win out of the American conference - UConn did.
Wichita State Shockers (+10000): The Shockers are cruising through their conference again, and are all but certain to head back to the tournament. They aren't going to sneak up on anyone. They were a No. 1 seed last year when they lost an instant classic to Kentucky, and they made a run to the Final Four in 2013. They aren't getting quite as much attention this year, but they certainly are capable of doing some damage again. The coaching is obviously exceptional, and there is plenty of talent and experience as well. What is most striking about the team is that they play like robots - they just don't make the mistakes you expect college teams to make. Last year had to be a major frustration for the team, and they could be hungry for revenge.
Stanford Cardinal (+30000): Senior guard Chasson Randle is a guy who doesn't get enough attention. He averages better than 20 points a game, and he makes a whole lot happen every time he is on the court. If he gets hot at the right time then he could really lead this team a long way. He has an experienced and talented crew around him, they play pretty decent defense, and they are going to get healthier with time. There is a reason that they are such a long shot, but there are definitely teams with less going for them than this one.
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